Creating a learner-centered syllabus

As we are winding down this semester and looking forward to more normal operations in the fall, instructors should take the opportunity to review their syllabi. Resources posted on CTL encourage faculty to create more inclusive, welcoming and learner-focused syllabi.1 Research shows a learner-centered syllabus increases positive student perception of the course and instructor and generally leads to better learning outcomes (Wheeler, Palmer & Aneece, 2019).

Traditional syllabi focus on policies and requirements and create the “contract” between the instructor and student. These content-centered syllabi can translate as mandates, dictating what a student must do to achieve a specific grade. A learner-centered syllabus removes the emphasis on requirements to pass and instead provides information on how and what students will learn in the course. Existing syllabi can be revised to shift the focus from rules and policies to what students will learn, how they will learn it, why it is important and facilitate positive interactions student to student and instructor to student. The learner-centered syllabus welcomes students and invites them to actively participate in their learning.

A learner-centered syllabus benefits the diverse student populations we have at the university. Below are suggestions to include in the syllabi.

Non-Traditional Students

Non-traditional students are those who are 25 or older. Most are working or caring for family, and they have existing financial, family and social commitments. Despite their maturity and experience in the “real world,” these students can be apprehensive about the college experience (Barr 2016). You may want to include a statement like the following in your syllabus:

Stuff Happens Clause. As we have experienced the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s important to remember outside factors have a great impact on our daily obligations. I know you have lives outside of this class. Cars break down. Kids have functions or sports. Things will come up that interfere with classes. Your physical and emotional health is important to me. If you encounter extenuating life circumstances at any point in the semester, you may request an extension on any assignment. No explanation required.

First-Generation College Students

While definitions vary among institutions, generally, a first-generation college student is one whose parents do not have a baccalaureate degree. First-gen students may lack knowledge of the student role and campus experience. Like non-traditional students, first-gens may work outside of school, live off-campus, have children or care for others in their household. Syllabi should provide information or links to resources, like tutoring services, academic advising, financial aid and other academic or social support services for first-gen students. Many of these resources and contact information can be found in the current UAF Syllabus Template (link will ask you to make a copy). Offering extended office hours can also benefit first-gen students. The Stuff Happens Clause is appropriate for these students as well.

Indigenous Students

One of the UA Alaska Native Success Initiative goals is “improving the participation and success of Alaska Natives through educational achievement statewide.” Instructors can help meet this goal by using a culturally appropriate introduction that identifies the instructor as a person, their family relations and community to create a relevant connection to Indigenous students (Topkok, 2018). This introduction can be as simple as stating who you are and where you are from in your contact information, biography or introduction.

Remote Synchronous Students

During the pandemic, many instructors used synchronous video conferencing to teach remotely. While this technology facilitated instruction, instructors should be aware of the effects that video conferencing can have on students of all populations. Requiring synchronous class meetings through video conferencing ultimately defeats the flexibility and convenience of online education. Students may be reluctant to turn on their video due to concern with their children or pets interfering with class or the appearance of their personal space. Other students may not have the internet capacity to join class through video. There are also privacy issues with requiring to participate via video. In your syllabus you may want to include a statement like:

I respect your privacy. I understand where you participate in synchronous class meetings is your personal space and not my classroom. I will not require students to turn on their video feed or webcam. Regardless of how you join the class session, I expect you to fully participate in the meeting by asking questions and offering discussion relevant to the topic.

Diversity and Inclusion of All Students

Students of all backgrounds and from all walks of life attend our classes. Each person at our campus has their own lived experiences, identities and beliefs that need to be acknowledged. Including statements in your syllabi showing how you value diversity allows all students to feel welcome.

“I recognize we are all unique individuals with our own unique identities, beliefs, experiences and voices. I acknowledge that I come into this class with my own personal identity, beliefs, experiences and voice, which may or may not be similar to yours. I believe learning comes from respectful and civil dialog among individuals with differing perspectives and positions. I promise to hear you and respect your person and your contributions to learning. I ask in return that you are respectful and civil to others while in this class. I understand I am still growing and learning as an individual, and sometimes I make mistakes or misspeak. I encourage you to hold me to the same expectations I have of you.”

For more examples of diversity and inclusion syllabus statements, visit The Harriet W. Sheridan Center for Teaching and Learning.


Barr, J. (2016). The plus 50 population in higher education: Challenges and triumphs. Journal of Continuing Higher Education, 64, 51–55.

Ricks, J. R., & Warren, J. M. (2021). Transitioning to college: Experiences of successful first-generation college students. Journal of Educational Research and Practice, 11, 1–15.

Topkok, C. Sean Asiqłuq. (2018). Supporting Iñupiaq arts and education. Journal of Folklore and Education, Volume 5(1). Retrieved from

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).

1Syllabi references on CTL

  1. Demystifying trauma-informed teaching
  2. Creating Inclusive Syllabi
  3. Address uncertainty in your syllabus
  4. The Effective Syllabus
  5. Effective syllabi – tips for success

Deana Waters

Deana Waters holds a BA in English and History and completed her M.Ed. in Online Innovation and Design in 2020 at UAF. She has been the paralegal studies department program coordinator since 2015 and is proud to offer one of the first completely online, ABA-approved paralegal education programs in the nation.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *