How to Create an Online Course Outline: 9 Steps

January 23, 2023

Online learning is a multi-billion dollar industry and it’s growing at a remarkable pace. 

In fact, the global e-learning market is expected to reach $350 billion by 2025. 

If you want to launch your own successful course, creating engaging course content is a must! So, how do you craft a high-caliber program that delivers all of the skills and knowledge you want to share?

It starts with a structured outline. 

In this post, you’re going to learn how to identify and assemble the building blocks of your winning digital course outline. Grab a hot beverage and let’s dive in. 

Write a Winning Outline for Your Online Course with These 9 Strategies 

Determine the Learning Goals 

What is the final outcome that learners will reach?  This is a fundamental question to ask yourself before you dive into course creation. 

Your learning goals are an overarching theme that’ll guide your entire course creation process — it’s not just an abstract concept you write once and forget about. 

To determine your learning goals, ask yourself questions like: 

  • What hard and soft skills do I want my students to learn?  
  • What questions will my students have answers to once they finish all of the modules?
  • How will their lives change as a result of completing this course? 

Once you’re clear on your learning goals, it’s time to dive into the next step. 

Analyze Your Target Audience

It’s essential to research your target audience to ensure your course is relevant to your learners. Some areas to investigate include: 

  • What your learners already know about the topic
  • What they want to learn about it 
  • What’s being taught in the market already 

Compile your market research and identify how your course fits into it.  And if you’re struggling with market research, my Ultimate Market Research Kit has everything you need to understand your target audience and how to stand out in your niche. 

Identify Your Modules

Modules are the high-level building blocks of your online course. You can organize them by time period (for example, you can release new modules weekly or bi-weekly), type of content, or another variable. 

What matters the most is that the sequence of topics effectively bridges the learner’s gap and makes sense to the learning journey. 

To identify your modules, list all the steps your students must take to reach the transformation you want them to achieve by the end of the course. 

For example, if your course’s learning outcome is to help your students build a healthy relationship with food……what are the steps they need to take to get there?  They might need to learn about: 

  • The importance of micro & macronutrients to overall health
  • Mindful eating habits
  • Navigating restaurants and eating out

…and other important skills or knowledge they need to reach the goal. 

These steps will become your modules. This is how you gradually walk your learners to the final outcome, module by module. 

Outline Your Lessons 

With your high-level modules figured out, it’s time to brainstorm the information that will go into them. 

Identify the mini-steps that your learners will need to complete for each module (while keeping your learning goals in mind). 

Let’s continue with the example of the relationship with food program above.  For the first module on nutrients, you may need to include information such as: 

  • What are macronutrients?
  • What are micronutrients?
  • How do these different nutrients support our health?
  • Ways to maximize your nutrient intake on a daily basis

These mini-steps will become the lessons in each of your modules. 

When creating course content, remember that the lessons in your modules need to be substantial enough to stand on their own……but digestible enough that people can take action on them. 

Avoid creating very long modules with too many lessons in them. The clearer your online course content is, the better. 

Assemble Your Course 

Now that you have your modules and lessons mapped out, it’s time to put your course together and create a high-level outline. You can do this on Google Docs or Notion.

(And if you need more recommendations for simple — and often free — tools that’ll help you with creating and selling an online course, check out this blog post.) 

For now, just organize your modules and lessons into a basic course outline template……leaving space to indicate the format in which you’ll deliver your content and any bonuses that might be included. We’ll get to these in the next steps. 

Decide How You’ll Deliver Your Content 

One of the most important parts of creating a course outline is figuring out the format of your lessons. You can create content in the form of: 

  • Live trainings 
  • Recorded videos
  • PDF resources (such as workbooks or checklists) 

For example, one of your lessons can be a recorded video going over the topic with a PDF checklist that outlines the action steps your learners should take next. 

Or, you could do a live training and ask learners to complete a workbook to solidify what they learned. As long as you’re focusing on the student’s outcome, there are no rules.

The key is to use the different formats to your advantage and deliver your course as effectively as possible. 

Figure Out Bonuses & Extras

Are there any supplemental or bonus materials included in your course?  Some examples can include: 

  • PDF guides & worksheets
  • Workshops 
  • Checklists and templates

For example, the program that we’ve been using as an example in this post can include complimentary grocery shopping lists or meal plans. 

The course bonuses are not requirements, but anything that adds value will increase buyer appeal. Brainstorm what supplemental materials you can create and how they’ll fit into your course outline. 

Just remember to keep your course objectives in mind (see step #1). Bonus materials may be extra, but they should be strategic just like the other elements of your curriculum.

Choose a Catchy Name

Now that you have a more detailed vision of your online course as a whole, it’s a good time to brainstorm a memorable name for your course.  First impressions matter – the course name is typically the first thing your potential customers will see.  

  • Research what your audience resonates with. Speaking to Gen Z is very different from speaking to Gen X. But what’s even more important than demographics is figuring out the deeper psychographics of your audience. What drives them? What do they want most?
  • Focus on the transformation. You’re not really selling modules and worksheets. You’re selling a certain change. Highlight it in your online course’s name.
  • Stay memorable. The shorter you go, the better. Think 3-5 words.
  • Clarity over cleverness. No cutesy, imaginative names. 

Get to Work

It’s time to roll up your sleeves and get started on content creation and developing your curriculum into slides and videos. 

Creating a course and crafting an effective structure for it — especially if it’s your first time doing it — can be a lot to handle. 

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