How to outline your online course
Creating an online course can be overwhelming. The best way to get started is by creating a solid outline. This can help you stay on track while creating your course content and make sure that you’re saying what you actually want to say.
If you haven’t narrowed down your course topic yet, check out this blog post and then come back to follow these steps to create your outline!
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Where should I start outlining my online course?
Okay, so you know what your online course is going to be about, but how do you start actually creating the outline?
The first thing that you need to know is what is the outcome of this course? What do I want people to have achieved or learned by the end?
Focusing on what you want them to achieve is very important. Your online course is going to be much more successful if people can come out of it with something tangible that they have accomplished, rather than just something that they have learned. So, along the way I encourage you to keep this outcome in mind.
What is the tangible thing that you want people to have accomplished by the time they have finished your course?
Use your tangible outcome
Then it's time to get down to the nitty-gritty. If you start with that outcome, what are all the steps that are required to get them there?
Start from the very beginning. Think about your audience and ask the following questions:
Before starting your course, how much do they already know about this topic?
Is it possible that some people taking your course will know little or nothing about this topic, or do they already have some knowledge?
Will your audience be starting from the beginning of a process or have they already done some work in this area?
Who is this course intended for?
Remember that you have so much knowledge on this topic - it doesn’t hurt to assume that your audience knows less than you think they do.
Ok, so think about where your audience’s starting point is. And then think about that end point, that tangible outcome, and work your way backwards through all the steps that are in between.
What needs to happen to get to this outcome? Work your way backwards from there. I find it helpful to put these steps on sticky notes so you can move them around as needed.
Or if you have the type of brain where you would rather start from that beginning point and work your way forwards, that's fine too. Just make sure you're keeping that outcome in mind.
Create your action items
Once you have all of your steps outlined, then think about what is required to complete each step.
Each step is probably not one single task. It's probably a group of tasks to achieve one overarching thing. So break that down even further. Really think about what the action items are for each step.
Again, if you can give people something tangible that they can do at each step, that's going to help them move through the process more quickly and effectively.
At this point, you may have a lot of steps and a lot of sub-steps - and a lot of action items. I want you to take stock of everything that you have created so far and ask yourself a very important question: is all of this necessary to get to this outcome that I originally stated?
You may find that there are things in there that aren't really needed in order to get to this specific outcome. There might be steps that people could skip. There might be steps that are optional. If you can simplify your course down to the steps that are really necessary to get from the starting point to the outcome, people are more likely to finish your course. They're more likely to find it easily digestible and easy to follow.
Make sure that you're not cluttering it up too much with unnecessary things or things that are optional. Now, there might be things that you don't want to entirely get rid of, or maybe they are things that apply to some people but not others. You could put these in an optional lesson or module, or you could have them be additional resources or optional steps at the bottom of a lesson. That way people taking your course would still have access to them but they don't have to complete them in order to move on to the next lesson or module.
Organizing your course
Speaking of lessons and modules, it's up to you how many modules you want to organize your course into and then how many lessons you want in each module.
It may be something like each step in that process from your starting point to your outcome is a module, and then the action items within that step are the different lessons.
Or you may not need that many modules. Maybe you only need a few modules and the steps are different lessons. Whatever makes the most sense for your specific thing that you are teaching.
I would recommend trying to keep your lessons fairly short and, again, try to include some sort of action or achievement for each lesson as much as possible.
It's up to you how to order your modules. If it’s important that people taking your course complete each step in a specific order, that is the order your modules should be in.
Another way to order your modules is by topic. Maybe everything related to a specific topic is all in one module and then the next module is everything related to a different topic.
Again, whatever makes sense to you, your brain, and the information that you are trying to teach.
I hope that this has helped you get clear on how to outline your online course. If you have questions, let me know down in the comments or feel free to reach out.