The syllabus

Goals, to-do lists, calendar, and calendar alerts

In the dynamic landscape of online education, the syllabus stands as a cornerstone document for both educators and students. It is often the first document students see and repeatedly refer to throughout the course (Richmann, et al, 2020). In a course of any modality, the syllabus plays a significant role, serving as a roadmap and communication tool that guides the entire course and contributes to students’ success.

Missouri Online Recommends

Missouri Online recommends that the course include a syllabus, including a printable version, that communicates all necessary basic information, expectations, and schedule for the course (See items #3–5, 7, 9–10, and 14 in the 5 Pillars Quality Course Review form.


Let’s dive a bit deeper into why a syllabus is important in the first place and how it contributes to student success in a course:

  • Transparency: The syllabus allows for all important course information, including guidelines, policies, and expectations, to be clearly communicated to students from the get-go, eliminating confusion, ambiguity, or surprises as much as possible. Even if your course includes synchronous sessions with your students during which you will be communicating important information to them, it is still important to have this information included written in your syllabus — among other documents. Students often miss important details that are only spoken during synchronous class time and not written down (Yong, 2017).
  • Roadmap: A syllabus often includes a schedule or outline of learning activities and synchronous sessions, if any, with dates for the course’s term. In addition to course-level objectives, this information allows students to have a quick “map” of the route they will be taking throughout the course and intended end-goals.
  • Communication tool: It is inevitable that students will need to reach out to you here and there throughout the term of the course. However, this will be minimized and save you and them valuable time if information is communicated to them in writing in the syllabus from the beginning so they can simply refer back to it as often as they need.
A syllabus provides transparency, a roadmap, and communication for students.


The syllabus details to students how their learning will be assessed as well as both the instructor’s and students’ roles in the learning and assessment process (Habanek, 2005). It should contain all necessary information for students to know how to succeed in your course. This can include, but is not necessarily limited to, the following elements:

  • Contact & communication information: How and when can students contact you? How and when will you respond?
  • Measurable course-level objectives/outcomes: By the end of this course, what are students expected to be able to do and produce?
  • Instructor expectations: What are your attendance and participation policies? What is your netiquette policy? How often should students interact with course content, and what should that interaction look like? (This is especially important in an online modality since the shape of participation can vary greatly in online courses.)
  • Student expectations: What should students expect of you? When should they expect to receive feedback on their work? How will you engage with them throughout the course, such as in discussion boards, announcements, etc? 
  • Grading criteria and policies: What are the grading categories, points, and weights? What grading scale will be used? What is your late work policy?
  • Academic policies and support information: What are the academic integrity policies for your course and for your institution as a whole? Where can students go for support, whether it be academic, disability, etc.?
  • Course schedule/outline: What are the weekly activities and due dates at a glance for the course?
Suggested syllabus content includes course-level objectives, grading criteria and policies, a course schedule, instructor/student expectations, academic policies, and contact or communication info.


While the content of the syllabus is, of course, important, keep the following things in mind as well when writing your syllabus, as they can often be overlooked:

  • Tone: Pay attention to the language and tone of your syllabus, as these can have an impact on the students as well as on the impression they get of you. The tone should be friendly and approachable, model enthusiasm for the knowledge and skills that students will learn throughout the course (Parks & Harris, 2002), and “reflect the aspirations and dreams an instructor has for their students” (Wheeler, et al, 2019).
  • Consistency: Always, particularly before the start of a new term, check to make sure that the information in the latest versions of your syllabus and course site (and other related documents) is consistent to avoid confusion. This can include grade information (categories, weights, points), assignments/due dates, policy updates, and more.
  • Accessibility: Ensure your syllabus meets accessibility standards. Add alternate text to images (if included), make hyperlinks meaningful, use high contrast colors, and ensure proper screen reading of the syllabus, including any tables. In addition, it is recommended to include a printable version of your syllabus alongside any information provided on the course site Syllabus page. Having the information available and presented in multiple ways will be very helpful to and appreciated by English language learners and students with learning disabilities (Yong, 2017).

Feel free to check out the following sprints that also help you learn more about creating syllabi for courses.


Habanek, D. V. (2005). An Examination of the Integrity of the Syllabus. College Teaching, 53(2), 62–64.

Parkes, J., & Harris, M. B. (2002). The Purposes of a Syllabus. College Teaching, 50(2), 55–61.

Richmann, C., Kurinec, C., & Millsap, M. (2020). Syllabus Language, Teaching Style, and Instructor Self-Perception: Toward Congruence. International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 14(2).

Wheeler, L. B., Palmer, M., & Aneece, I. (2019). Students’ Perceptions of Course Syllabi: The Role of Syllabi in Motivating Students. International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 13(3).

Yong, D. (2017). How Transparency Improves Learning.

Created on: December 8, 2023