What Should an Online Course Syllabus for a Machine Learning Class Include?

January 21, 2021 • Zachary Amos


Maybe you’re a machine learning professor planning to offer a course through the internet for the first time. Alternatively, perhaps you’re a potential student investigating the options for learning about the subject. In any case, the online course syllabus is a kind of roadmap that sets expectations for the duration of the class. Here’s a look at the matters to discuss in the document. 

Key Dates

A list of dates for exams, projects due or anything else related to successful participation in the course should be part of the document. It’s up to individual students to create reminders for themselves, but the person making the online course syllabus should be as forthcoming as possible with the necessary details. 

Putting the information in a bulleted list format is a simple solution. Instructors should be sure to update the content as necessary and alert students to any changes. 

The Attendance Policy

Checking attendance for an internet-based machine learning course is likely not as straightforward as for traditional classes. For example, the professor may not have a sheet they use to do a roll call but could require learners to log into a portal to indicate they are in class. 

Many people taking the course might enroll to pivot their careers, especially with machine learning in high demand. That situation makes it especially likely that students will log on at different times according to their work schedule. Giving specifics in the syllabus about attendance-related expectations avoids uncertainty. 

Required or Recommended Materials

Do people need particular computer programs to participate in a class successfully? Would having certain resources enhance their experiences or make them more enjoyable?

An online course syllabus should mention those things. If people have a clear understanding of what they must have and what materials, tools or products are nice for students to have, they can decide which investments to make towards their outcomes. 

Specifics for Accessing the Course

Whereas some learners may get their internet course content directly from a university website, others may log in through a portal provided by an education brand. Jeff Maggioncalda, the CEO of learning site Coursera, said that a machine learning course from Stanford University was the provider’s second-most-chosen course recently. More people are getting on board with online learning, but they don’t all access courses in the same way.

An online course syllabus should spell out where people should go to find the course materials. It should also go into when instructors post new lessons, and what enrollees should do if they have trouble getting to the content for any reason.

Grading Methodology

Students appreciate having a grade scale to see where they fall on it after taking a test or getting an assignment returned to them. It might say any numerical score from 91-100 equals earning an A, for example. 

When learners have that clarification, they can know where they stand in a course without uncertainty. It’s ideal if this part of the online syllabus also discusses the grading breakdown. What percentage of the person’s outcome depends on attendance versus projects submitted? 

Topics Covered

How a person teaches an online machine learning class will likely differ from their in-person methods in several ways. One expert who assists people with transitioning traditional coursework to the internet realm recommends that teachers analyze their courses to determine which parts people could do online. 

They should then take those internet-friendly segments and then organize them into chunks. Whether the material consists of a video lecture or a reading assignment, separating the content into smaller pieces makes it easier to present. Instructors are then in good positions to tell students what they will learn and how the course will progress. 

Acceptable Contact Methods and Times

Many people firmly believe that learning through the internet represents the future of education. The method allows people to log in from anywhere at any time. There’s also no need to arrange a commute to arrive at a physical location. These flexible elements can work in favor of everyone involved. However, they could also give students the impression that instructors are always available to assist.

The online course syllabus should discuss how students should reach out to teachers, as well as specific timeframes. For example, a professor might not take phone calls about the class after 7 p.m., but they will monitor their email accounts until 8:30 p.m. on weekdays. 

The Best Online Course Syllabus Is a Comprehensive One

When teachers take the time and put effort into making a useful online course syllabus for their students, everyone will start from a place where there is less confusion, causing more opportunities to learn.

The elements discussed here are excellent starting points. The ideal approach for syllabus creators to take is to consider them but also let their experience and student feedback guide what to include or leave out.