Best Practices | Syllabus

A syllabus is an important document in any class because it informs students of how the class will operate, the policies they must adhere to, when assignments are due, etc. In an online learning class, the syllabus is an even more important document because it is the primary information source about the class. The syllabus for an online learning class requires much more detail and specific information than a syllabus used in a traditional class.


Because distance learning students often do class work during evenings and weekends, and they are very likely to have questions at this time, their questions may go unanswered if the instructor is not available to answer email and discussion board queries during off-hours. A detailed syllabus can eliminate many of these problems.


It is also important to note that the content of the Syllabus must be in synch with the information contained in the online course. Much of what would traditionally have been found in a Syllabus can now be placed in an online course. However, determining what should go where and how much overlap should exist between Syllabus and course is a delicate balance that takes finesse and fine-tuning.


Benefits of a Well Designed Syllabus

A well-designed syllabus can have the following benefits for instructors and students in distance learning classes:

  • Students need less clarification on class details, saving time for both instructors and students.
  • A syllabus helps students who join a class determine if it is the right class for them, allowing them to drop out if necessary.
  • Students have all the details about the class in one document, making it easier for them to find your requirements, policies, etc.
  • A detailed syllabus can serve as a contract between students and faculty.


Elements of an Online Learning Syllabus

There are some elements of an online learning syllabus that are highly recommended. Some other elements are optional (you could place this information into the course), but may provide additional clarification for students depending on course requirements.



  • Instructor Contact Information, including your Contact Policy (availability, how quickly students can expect responses)
  • Course Overview/Goals/Objectives
  • Required (and/or Optional) Reading
  • Course Prerequisites, including technology skills, content knowledge, previous courses, etc.
  • Assessment & Evaluation, including a list of assignments and their point values, and their weight in relation to total points in the course
  • Late Assignment Policy
  • Plagiarism, including definition, policy, and penalties
  • ADA and Students with Disabilities


  • Schedule of Assignments / Activities (you might consider making this a separate document)
  • Netiquette & Discussion Expectations, including student interaction guidelines (consider placing this information directly in the course)
  • Learning Community Overview, including participation, community building activities, etc.