Exploring the Components of Online Syllabi

Time frame for this activity: (30 mins)

Learning Objectives:

  • Understand how and why the genre of the online syllabus differs from the on-campus course syllabus (Knowledge and Comprehension)
  • Understand the specific components that should be included in a syllabus for an online course (Knowledge and Comprehension)
  • Discuss the implications of the structure and language of a syllabus (Knowledge & Comprehension)

The syllabus should do more than list course topics, rules and penalties, institutional policies and instructor contact information. The syllabus should ignite excitement about learning in general, and the course topic, specifically. It should be more than just a contract between the instructor and the student; it should inspire students to think about why they are taking the course, and the course's purpose within the broader scope of their educational program.

The syllabus creates a first impression about the instructor's passion for the subject, and his/her 'withitness' to design a constructively aligned learning experience. It reveals whether or not the instructor has meaningful and measurable learning goals, and how the choice of instructional materials, and design of learner interactions and assessments will enable learners to achieve the course goals.

In an online course, the syllabus is the road map to guide students as they navigate throughout the course LMS and outside it. One reason, the paper based syllabus fails to work for online learning is because it lacks hyperlinks to create interactivity so online learners can explore various resources and materials in and outside the virtual classroom. The virtual learning environment also has distinct features that will encourage and enable students to continually refer back to the syllabus for clarification, recommendations, deadline information, guidelines and grading criteria, and access to these hyperlinked resources and learner support sites.


1. Read "Create an Effective Online Syllabus" (approx. 10 mins.)

2. Click here to learn more about the essential components of an online syllabus. (approx. 10 mins.)

3. Knowledge Construction and Sense Making (approx. 10 mins.)

Reflect on one or more of the questions below. Share your thoughts in the comment section and reply to another participant.

  • From both a student and an instructor perspective, why would a syllabus for an on-campus course need to be redesigned for an online course? What problems may arise if it isn't? What components may be missing?
  • How can you design your syllabus to ensure learners will revisit it throughout the course and to serve as a guide for how learners spend their time on your course outside the virtual or physical classroom?
  • What features within the LMS can you use to encourage students to refer back to the syllabus?


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