Syllabus Strategies for Interactive Learning Materials
Strategy What How Why
Thematic An interesting thematic or Divide the materials into sections. Themes provide a sense of the interrelationship of
Organization topic-oriented structure for Provide each section with a header materials, piquing students’ interest and inviting interactive
the course materials, as that identifies the theme or topic. learning within and between the sections. This simple but
opposed to a flat list of conceptually useful structure supplies part of the cognitive
readings. scaffolding necessary for students to build their own
meaning from the course materials.
Diverse A variety of different types Link to or list materials relevant to Different students learn differently. For example, visual
Materials of materials that can be used the thematic sections. In some cases, learners will benefit from maps, images, charts, etc.
to learn the course concepts it may be easiest to link to separate Provide choices so that students can take ownership of the
and achieve the learning lists, for materials that are too content and become more actively engaged, constructing
objectives. Also a wealth of numerous to list in the syllabus their own learning paths.
supplementary resources for and/or resources that are reused in
exploration. different parts of the course.
Reasonably Readings, resources, and Assign only key parts, such as Concise readings focused on essential concepts encourage
Sized assignments that have been specific chapters or passages that close reading and active engagement, which lead to lasting
Materials distilled to their essentials represent the concepts of the learning. Long or vague assignment of materials, such as
and/or broken into chunks course. Break the material into reading an entire novel, invite skimming, cramming, or
suitable for students with pieces, with critical questions or skipping entirely, and the result is often fleeting, shallow
short attention spans. follow-up tasks associated with each learning.
Critical Questions that trigger Include relevant questions Challenge students to start thinking about the significance
Questions student thinking. throughout the syllabus. of the materials before they even start using them.
Transform “flat” materials to be “covered” into “deep”
materials to be actively explored.
Rich Links within the course Provide links in the syllabus that Referring to materials from other parts of the course as
Connections materials and to resources literally connect one part of the well as outside the course builds a rich, interactive context
Strategy What How Why
outside the course. syllabus to another, to other course for understanding. Repeated contact with the connected
materials or activities (such as materials, especially in light of new concepts, reinforces
discussion forums), and to outside learning.
Social Opportunities for students Provide links to discussion forums Engaging with other students brings diverse perspectives
Learning to communicate with each and group projects related to the to the materials and provides opportunities for students to
Opportunities other, demonstrate their materials. learn from each other. Social behaviors such as
expertise, and work together collaboration, competition, and peer pressure make
for richer understanding of students’ engagement with the course materials more
course materials. dynamic and provide additional motivations for learning.
Learning Statements of the goals of When materials are designed to help Help students understand the relationships between
Objectives the course as they pertain to students achieve specific learning course materials and learning objectives. Provide them
Clearly Tied materials. objectives, make the connections with the opportunity to shape their interaction with the
to Materials clear and explicit. State the objective materials in a way that most effectively addresses one or
at that point in the syllabus or link more specific learning goals. Demonstrate why the
to it. materials are relevant to specific outcomes.
Assessments Quizzes, self-tests, Tailor activities to be explicitly tied Focus the student’s engagement with the learning
and assignments, and other to specific materials and include materials by requiring them to engage in activities that
Assignments activities that require the these activities at the appropriate measure and/or demonstrate what they’ve learned.
that Focus student to demonstrate points in the syllabus. Materials or activities that appear to be random or do not
the Learning understanding of the have a clear purpose are more likely to be ignored. When
Materials materials. students set their own priorities, they need to have an
understanding of exactly which materials and activities will
help them most efficiently and effectively address their
learning goals, and then they need to be able to measure
their progress toward those goals.
Deborah Everhart (email@example.com), Adjunct Assistant Professor, Georgetown University
Shirley Waterhouse (firstname.lastname@example.org), Director, Educational Technology, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University