Key difference: Essentially, a syllabus is a descriptive outline and summary of topics that are to be covered in an education or training course. The syllabus will usually provide specific information about the said training course and is often drafted by the governing body or by the instructor of the course. A curriculum is the set of courses, and their content, offered at a school or university. A general curriculum, in the broadest sense of the word, may list all courses offered at a specific school. A curriculum is prescriptive, which means that is issued by the governing body and lists topics the must be understood by the student at the end of the course, and what level to achieve a particular grade or standard.
Essentially, a syllabus is a descriptive outline and summary of topics that are to be covered in an education or training course. The syllabus will usually provide specific information about the said training course and is often drafted by the governing body or by the instructor of the course. Syllabi, on the other hand, are the plural form of a syllabus.
According to Dictionary.com, a syllabus is:
- An outline or other brief statement of the main points of a discourse, the subjects of a course of lectures, the contents of a curriculum, etc.
- A short summary of the legal basis of a court's decision appearing at the beginning of a reported case.
- A book containing summaries of the leading cases in a legal field, used especially by students.
A typical syllabus will contain information on how, where and when to contact the lecturer and teaching assistants; an outline of what will be covered in the course; a schedule of test dates and the due dates for assignments; the grading policy for the course; specific classroom rules; etc.
The purpose of a syllabus is to ensure consistency between courses thought at different colleges under the same governing body. A syllabus issued by the governing body, i.e. the board of education, the head of department, etc, may be modified by the instructor as long as it is consistent with the curriculum.
The syllabus also serves as a means for the students to be aware and understanding what they will be thought in the duration of the course. Wikipedia lists the various purposes served by a syllabus:
- fair and impartial understanding between the instructor and students such that there is minimal confusion on policies relating to the course
- setting clear expectations of material to be learned
- setting clear expectations of behavior in the classroom
- setting clear expectations of effort on student's behalf to be put into the course
- providing a roadmap of course organization/direction relaying the instructor's teaching philosophy to the students
- providing a marketing angle of the course such that students may choose early in the course whether the subject material is attractive
- clarifying student understanding of specified material such as grading policy, grading rubric, late work policy, locations and times
- providing contact information for instructor and teaching assistant such as phone or email
- listing materials required and/or recommended such as textbooks, assigned reading books, calculators, lab vouchers, or other equipments
- listing outside resources for subject material assistance, including extracurricular books, tutor locations, resource centers, etc.
- important dates in course such as exams and paper due-dates
- tips for succeeding in mastering course content such as study habits and expected time allotment
- suggested problems if applicable
- necessary pre-requisites or co-requisites to current course
- safety rules if appropriate
- objectives of the course
Types of syllabus include:
- Notional-Functional syllabus
- Grammatical syllabus
- Lexical syllabus
- Situational syllabus
- Text-based syllabus
- Skill-based syllabus
- Task-based syllabus
- Learner-generated syllabus
- Mixed syllabus
- Online course syllabus
A curriculum is the set of courses, and their content, offered at a school or university. The term, ‘curriculum’ is derived from the Latin word "Currere" which means to run/to proceed. Currere refers to the ‘course of deeds and experiences through which children grow to become mature adults.’
Dictionary.com defines curriculum as:
- The aggregate of courses of study given in a school, college, university, etc.: The school is adding more science courses to its curriculum.
- The regular or a particular course of study in a school, college, etc.
A general curriculum, in the broadest sense of the word, may list all courses offered at a specific school. A curriculum is prescriptive, which means that is issued by the governing body and lists topics the must be understood by the student at the end of the course, and what level to achieve a particular grade or standard. It may also refer to a defined and prescribed course of studies students must fulfill in order to complete the course. An individual teacher may refer to the curriculum to ensure that her lessons are covering all the topics as required by the curriculum.
The various purposes served by a curriculum:
- may refer to all courses offered at a school
- may refer to a defined and prescribed course of studies
- lists course of studies which students must fulfill in order to pass a certain level of education
- may discuss how the sum of lessons and teachings will help students learn the basics
The main difference between a syllabus and a curriculum is that a curriculum is a more generalized or an overview of the subjects or topics that the students are meant to learn. However, a syllabus is a more detailed overview of the subject of study. For example: a math curriculum may list basics of algebra, basics of geometry and basics of trigonometry. While, the class syllabus will list what topics will be covered under each of the basic topics, what will be the concepts that students may understand by the end of each topic, and it may even list what exercises or problems in the textbook will be covered during class. Hence, it can be said that syllabus is a subset of curriculum.
A great way to start the semester is to begin by properly appreciating the role that syllabi play in higher education. The syllabus should be an instrument to get students and faculty starting on the same page for the semester.
"The syllabus is a small place to start bringing students and faculty members back together."Sharon Rubin, "Professors, Students, and the Syllabus," Chronicle of Higher Education, Aug. 7, 1985, p. 56.
A successful semester begins when both teachers and students are brought together through the course syllabus.
Tips for Faculty about creating an effective syllabus that helps students to learn.
The syllabus is a great place for faculty members to begin helping students appreciate the nature of a given course. As educators, we must not assume that our students explicitly understand why they are taking a given class, how it relates to the college curriculum, or what is meant by the requirements that we carefully outline in our syllabus. The stereotypical response that students give about the course being required, while humorous, reveals the need for faculty to become more explicit in their syllabus construction as a teaching tool.
Sharon Rubin outlines several questions that many syllabi fail to address. Carefully crafting our syllabi to address some of these questions would help our students as they learn in our courses.
1. Why should a student want to take this course? How does it make a difference as part of the discipline? How does it fit into the general-education program?
2. What are the objectives of the course? Where does it lead, intellectually and practically?
3. Why do the parts of the course come in the order that they do? Most syllabi note the order in which topics will be discussed, but make no attempt to explain the way the professor has chosen to organize the course.
4. What is the purpose of the assignments? Students are frequently told how much an assignment will "count" and how many pages long it must be, but they are rarely given any idea about what it will demand of them or what the goal is. Will students be required to describe, discuss, analyze, provide evidence, criticize, defend, compare, apply? To what end? If students are expected to present a project before the class, are the criteria for an excellent presentation made clear?
5. What will the tests test? memory? understanding? ability to synthesize? To present evidence logically? To apply knowledge in a new context?
6. Why have the books been chosen? What is their relative importance in the course and in the discipline? Is the emphasis in the course on primary or secondary materials and why?
When we make explicit such information to our students, they become better learners.
CTE Resources on Syllabus Construction
Tips for Students about the importance of the syllabus in the learning process.
A great discovery that I made early in college was that the course syllabus was like a roadmap with directions for succeeding in the class. Try to think of the syllabi as maps that give you directions to arrive at the end of the semester successfully. Here are a few tips to navigate your semester using the syllabus.
1. At the beginning of the semester, carefully read the entire syllabus and take note of the important dates when exams, assignments, and papers are due.
2. Just as you check a map or directions for various intersections along your journey, check the syllabus before each class for reading assignments and to gain an idea of the day's topic.
3. If you have ever used something like Mapquest, you know that directions and maps can sometimes be confusing or even mistaken. When something about the syllabus is unclear, talk to the professor. Ask them to help you to understand an assignment, or why a certain topic is being covered at a given point.
4. Professors put a lot of time planning their syllabi, and nothing disgruntles a professor more than a student who does poorly because they failed to consult the syllabus.