The key to success with any online course creation is creating a program that solves a problem for your audience. You want them to walk away with a deeper understanding after completing your course, while staying engaged with your content. The best way to ensure this success is to create a course outline before you publish your content.
When you create a course outline, it gives your online course a roadmap. This way you’re not all over the place while you’re recording videos, creating quizzes, and whatever else you want to add.
So if your high school English class was the last time you had to create an outline and you’re not sure where to begin, don’t worry — we’ve got you covered.
Know your target audience
Before you begin creating your course outline, you need to know who you’re developing this for. Your course will be too vague, and have a hard time selling, if you don’t have an objective and a specific person in mind. You want the person who’s taking your course to feel like you’re answering their questions.
Knowing your target audience helps you with the following aspects:
- Content creation and flow
- Overall tone
- Which mediums you’ll use (videos, articles, self-guided tutorials, live instruction)
- The cost of the course
To determine your target audience, jot down basic details:
- Do they work inside the home, outside, self-employed, or for a business? Stay-at-home parent?
- Hobbies and interests
- Knowledge on course subject (this may be defined later in the process)
Understanding what your audience needs most from an e-learning experience shapes the structure of your course and is useful as you’re creating your course outline.
So how do you know who your target audience is before you’ve created your first module? Start asking questions and gaining information in the Facebook groups you’re active in. Take it to Twitter and ask for opinions. Pose a question in Reddit or maybe create an Instagram story. You likely already have platforms where you can gain information.
Research, research, and then research a little more
Once you’ve narrowed down who you think would benefit from your online course, then it’s time to become the subject matter expert! Before you think we’re suggesting you obtain a formal degree or certificate, don’t get intimidated by this part. Research can be completed no matter what your degree or personal experience is.
Let’s use an example of creating a course around setting up a website — specifically setting up a WordPress site and blog from start to finish. To become more authoritative, you would go through the process yourself. You could take notes of potential obstacles and how to solve for them.
You can research by conducting interviews with other experts. Do your interview answers have a common theme? If so, this is likely helpful for someone else. There’s no limit to the information you gather — your course outline template will guide and structure your research for your audience.
Solve a problem
As you begin to pull your research together and you have your target audience in mind, it’s important to understand how your information can solve your student’s problem.
Will your course provide basic information so a newbie who has never been exposed to your subject can get started? Or perhaps your topic is quite niche and solves a more technical or complex problem.
The best courses solve a problem for the student.
In our website set up example, you could further research the site creation by joining a Facebook group and asking the members what the toughest part of the set up was for them.
Perhaps you find out numerous people get hung up on setting up additional pages on their website. You’d definitely want to address this in your course and perhaps provide a visual teaching aid because it’s more technical.
The technical hang up is the problem, and your course that walks the person step by step through it is how you solve their problem.
Your course outline
Now you have your audience defined and your material in raw form. It’s time to pull it together and create the template.
Organize the information
The first part of your course outline template is to break up your information into bite-size chunks. These are your lessons, or your teaching modules.
At first, the information in your head is likely a jumbled mess with no clear order. When you are familiar with a topic it can be hard to break down into organized parts. A great way to start to make sense of all the information is to use a mind mapping software, such as MindMeister or Coggle.
Just start brain dumping the information into the mind map and you’ll start to see organization form.
Generate the modules
You can have as many modules as you need, but be careful not to go so crazy that you overwhelm someone. If someone sees your course has over a hundred modules, then they might think twice! However, if your course truly needs a large number of modules in order to teach a complex subject, then you should stick with it.
A module can be anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes long. You can go a little longer or shorter if necessary— but again, try to imagine how your information is broken up into smaller elements.
As you’re creating your modules, don’t forget to:
- Title your lessons
- Organize your ideas
- Produce your talking points within each module
Add your teaching mediums
You’re wonderful and your voice is great, but sometimes you need to break it up and give your audience a different method of teaching.
Once your modules are defined, it’s time to add in your additional teaching mediums. There is such a wide range of tools available to teach people. As you’re developing your course, focus on what you believe your target audience will respond to. You could add-in:
- Pre-recorded videos
- Recorded lessons
- Text-only lessons (through articles)
- Emailed lessons
- Live lessons
- Group sessions, like a Zoom call
It’s amazing the variety of ways you can teach someone, so use it to your advantage and add it to your teaching modules.
Going back to our website example, if your target audience is men and women, ages 18 to 34 who need a website for a side hustle, then a live lesson might not be appropriate. It’s likely they have another day job or are a stay-at-home parent to young children.
A pre-recorded lesson would be a more convenient method so they can listen at any time during their busy schedules.
Plus a video recording showing how to get through the common technical challenges would be super helpful. Something they could pause and backup to rewatch a section is awesome when you are trying to follow along in a tutorial.
But if your teaching module is so technical, where they need help with adding in code for a website, then offering a group session or Zoom call might be appropriate. That way they can get their questions answered as they work.
If you want more information on how to create a course, check out this article.
Supplemental lessons for increased productivity
As you’re developing your course, look for ways to challenge your students beyond watching a video or writing down a few notes from a pre-recorded lesson. Look for opportunities to enhance their learning and get them more involved in the lessons.
Adding a supplemental lesson can help you with this — and it can make them more productive.
- For instance with the website example, have your students do work on their own, like purchase a domain name in module one, before they move on to module two.
- Or if you’re teaching a course on modern Italian cooking, put together a shopping list and a sample recipe for your students to attempt before they complete the course.
- If you’re creating a course on setting up Pinterest campaigns, have your students set up their Pinterest business account before moving on.
In other words, give your students action items that keep them motivated. You want to move them along their journey so they’ll continue the momentum after finishing your course.
As you’re pulling together your research and finding your nuggets of wisdom you’d like to share, don’t forget to give credit and give your students the information too.
Add references at the end of each of your modules, where appropriate. This is a huge help to your students when they go back and reference your course as they’re progressing.
It’s not only a reference for the material you used (a website, a book, a podcast), but it’s information you think brings value to your student and the problem they’re trying to solve.
You might include references and additional information such as:
- Books and audio books
- Recommendations for Facebook groups
- Additional courses (think affiliate marketing opportunities!)
- Blog posts
- Links to helpful products or equipment
Test the flow of your information
Once you’ve pulled all your information together, it’s time to make sure it flows.
Ask one or two people to read who are familiar with the subject to review it and see if you have any gaps. Walk through it yourself and make sure you’ve included all the steps and important information.
Not only should you look for gaps, but look for areas where perhaps you’ve provided too much information and might lead to confusion. Don’t be afraid to make it more simple, depending on your audience.
Create an online community
You may associate a course as only lessons and quizzes, but truthfully, you have an opportunity to create an entire community centered around the problem you’re solving. Chances are high the students you’re would benefit from a community of people in the same boat as them.
There are several ways to add value to your course by creating an environment for further communication. For your students, you can:
- Create a Facebook group for anyone who takes your course
- Create a monthly group session where it’s an open question and answer period
- Create an email campaign announcing the launch of your course and provide them exclusive access to other teaching materials
And finally, in the spirit of creating open communication, ask for feedback via email or a survey at the end of your course. Remember, you’re in control of your course content, so you can (and should) tweak it as you receive feedback.
Final thoughts on creating a course outline
When you are creating a course, it can be tough at first to get your head around all the information you want to cover. Using a mind mapping software can help get the information out of your head and into an organized format.
But don’t just stop at the information. Also think about medium you’ll use to get the information across as well as supplemental materials you could use to enhance understanding.
Adding structure to your course is a great way to check the quality of your information and identify potential gaps or roadblocks. With the right course outline, you’ll be ready to launch your course and start earning sooner than you think.