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Learning objectives for this lesson:   

  •  recognize how a syllabus can address specialized needs of distance learners

  •  identify essential components in a syllabus

  •  evaluate online template syllabi from other institutions

Why is a syllabus more important to distance learners?

Distance education students have characteristics and needs that differ from traditional learners. Workman and Stenard (1996) identified five special concerns of distance learners:

  •  consistency and clarity of the programs, policies, and procedures

  •  self-esteem (they tend to view distance learning as frightening and intimidating)

  •  identifying with the school (they tend to have stronger ties with the college community)

  •  social integration (they tend to establish links with other students and faculty)

  •  accessibility to learning support services

To address the aforementioned concerns, faculty should try to provide more information in their syllabi regarding course structure, course expectations, group work, institutional technical support, among others. Ko and Rossen (2004) recommend that "in an online environment, redundancy is often better than elegant succinctness" in an online syllabus (p. 76). In other words, a more comprehensive syllabus is usually warranted in an online course because students do not have the opportunity to participate in the opening day syllabus discussions which is common in many traditional courses. In providing a comprehensive syllabus, faculty can help release distance learners' certain anxieties so that they can adapt more quickly to a successful online education. Continue to read more about the importance of a syllabus for faculty and for students.

What are essential components of an online syllabus?

A syllabus is a good syllabus regardless whether it is online or face-to-face. What constitutes a good syllabus includes a clear layout of  such components as communication practices, assignments, and grading policies. Such a layout is not only the first gateway to your course, but also a written document to communicate with your students about course expectations. The following bullets list some, if not inclusive, components that are usually included in a syllabus. The Tip next to the components links to suggestions for an online syllabus.

  •  instructor contact information Tip
  •  course description or overview
  •  course objectives Tip
  •  text(s) and required materials
  •  course topics
  •  course format/structure Tip
  •  evaluation and grading policy Tip
  •  participation requirements (e.g., how often to post) Tip
  •  classroom rules of conduct (e.g. respect different opinions in the Discussion Board)
  •  course schedule (e.g., a tentative schedule) Tip
  •  communication practices (e.g., emails) Tip
  •  technology policy (e.g., Helpdesk) Tip
  •  university policies (e.g., academic dishonesty and accessibility)
  •  late-work policy Tip
  •  other information (e.g., Orientation Aids) Tip

What are unique components in an online syllabus?

  •  communication plan
    when instructor checks and answers emails (e.g. within twenty-four hours or three days).
    -- when instructor is available for phone calls.
    -- how often instructor will post to the Discussion Board.
    when is an online office hour, if any, and in what format (chat room, phone, e-mail, etc.).
  •  participation expectations
    -- how often students will post to the Discussion Board.
    -- if Chat Room is used, what is the expectation for student participation?
  •  Internet Netiquette
    -- what
    is the informal code of conduct that students need to follow.
    Netiquette includes respecting different opinions, perspectives, and values in discussion board and in all other class activities.
    -- Netiquette includes not sending e-mail or messages in ALL CAPS or with too many !!!!!s, or even asking repetitive questions
        in forums that have FAQs posted.
  •  student resources and support
    -- how to access course materials in course management systems.
    -- how to post to Discussion Board, submit assignments via digital drop box, etc.
    -- how to access information on the digital library, if any.
    -- how to get technical support (e.g., can't log in or post, etc.).

How to create an online syllabus?

Create your syllabus by using an online syllabus template.
and evaluate online template syllabi from other institutions.
An interactive introduction of writing a syllabus (PowerPoint).

Ko, S., & Rossen, S. (2004). Teaching online: A practical guide (2nd ed.). Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

University of Washington Faculty Resources.

Workman, J. J., & Stenard, R. A. (1996). Student support services for distance learners. DEOSNEWS, 6(3). Retrieved October 15, 2005, from

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