Want to know how to create the perfect online course outline?

Get your outline right, and it’s going to help you build better courses faster, so it’s time for you to learn the secrets.

Here’s how to create a course outline template. 

Why is Your Online Course Outline So Important?

Online courses are there to help people learn new skills and overcome the big challenges they face. If these challenges were easy, they wouldn’t need your help addressing them, and they wouldn’t be handing their hard-earned money over to you. 

So, what you’re trying to achieve with an online course isn't easy. 

You’ve got to:

  • Have expert knowledge
  • Understand the challenges your students face
  • Share complex ideas in an easy to understand way
  • Ensure your materials are engaging
  • Make sure students are keeping up with the learning
  • Create excellent e-learning outcomes for the vast majority of your students

You can’t hope to sit down with no planning and create a course that achieves all of these goals. No matter how good a teacher you are, it’s simply not going to happen.

What you need is a detailed online course outline and we’re going to show you how to create just that. 

7 Essential Steps When Creating Your Online Course Outline

This is much more than just a lesson plan. It’s a complete roadmap that’s going to help you make your course creation process much more efficient.

Let’s take a look with this step-by-step guide!

Step 1: Decide How You’re Going to Deliver Your Course

One of the first things you need to decide is how you’re going to deliver online courses to your learners. Generally, there are going to be 3 options to choose from. 

  1. Build a course platform within your website
  2. Sell downloadable course materials from your website
  3. Use a 3rd party website to host your courses

The key thing to remember here is that marketing online courses isn’t easy. You’re going to need a detailed course marketing strategy (here are some content marketing ideas you can use) and have a clear picture of how you want to reach your target audience. 

To do this, you need complete control over all your marketing strategies and if you host your courses on a 3rd part platform like Udemy, then you’re giving up a lot of that control.

It sounds daunting, but what we would recommend is building a WordPress website and using a learning management system (LMS) to create a student area and host your courses. 

Modern software actually makes this incredibly easy. With a top plugin like Thrive Apprentice, you’ll have access to tons of amazing templates, and you’ll be able to make edits using the visual drag-and-drop builder. No coding or design experience needed, just a friendly user experience. 

Thrive Apprentice sales page

If you choose this option, you’re going to have complete control over how you build and market your courses and it will give you clarity moving forwards with your online course outline. 

Check out Thrive Apprentice's pricing!

Step 2: Narrow in on Your Target Audience 

Before we even start discussing lessons, we’ve got to take a look at the people you’re trying to sell your courses to. 

One of the most common mistakes people make in marketing is trying to be everything to everyone. It just doesn’t work. 

We all have specific goals and challenges that are holding us back from achieving those end goals - your job is to understand exactly what they are. 

For instance, you could create a course on How to Be the Best Marketer in the World, but there are so many different types of marketing. How can you appeal to someone who wants to create TV ads and someone who wants to be a digital marketer at the same time?

We won’t lie to you.

Making sales is hard - you’ve got to get your copy (here’s a great beginner guide on copywriting), sales funnels, and everything else spot on. The more you narrow in on your ideal student and tailor your offerings to them, the easier it’s going to be. 

Identify your target audience

So, what do they look like? 

Describe your ideal student, the person most likely to buy your course and then give it a prominent spot in your online course outline. 

Step 3: Work Backwards from Big Problem to Small Problem

Any big problem is made up of a series of smaller problems. 

As we said, the reason students come to you is because they face a problem that they’re trying to overcome. That might be learning how to fold a napkin in the shape of a swan or it could be building a rocket that reaches the moon - but each one is made up of lots of smaller problems that, when solved, allow you to solve the main problem. 

Let’s say we want to build a course topic on Creating a Great Home Page for Your Website. There are a lot of challenges a potential student is likely to face:

  • What platform should they build their website on?

  • What’s the best software to help them edit their homepage?

  • What should they be trying to achieve with their homepage?

  • Creating an outline to work from

  • Understanding the basics of copywriting

  • Understanding the basics of web design

  • Understanding lead generation

  • Time saving tips to speed up their build

  • Editing processes to ensure quality

  • Pre-publish checklist

These are all the small problems that come together to form the big problem. Look at the list again. Already, we’re starting to form what looks a little bit like an online course outline. 

Step 4: Ensure a Logical Flow of Ideas

We all know that when someone isn’t a very good teacher, it becomes almost impossible to follow along. Students lose interest, or just can’t keep up, no matter how hard they try. 

There are lots of techniques you can use throughout your courses to keep people engaged, but there’s one thing you won’t be able to overcome: a poor flow. 

Your course modules and lessons need to lead learners through the course in a natural, logical way. If you’re constantly jumping between different ideas, then people will quickly lose track. 

The course outline is the only real place to get this right because once you start creating the course material, it becomes difficult to change track. 

Remember that, unlike you, your students don’t have expert knowledge. Put yourself in their shoes and then ask yourself if you’re addressing the problems they will face in the order they’re likely to face them. 

Create a hierarchy which looks something like this:

  • Course > the ultimate goal the student has
  • Modules > the medium-sized challenges students have to overcome to achieve the ultimate goal
  • Lessons > the small problems students face while trying to solve the medium-sized challenges

So let’s look at our example course again, Creating a Great Home Page for Your Website. We can start to categorize the problems we listed into medium-sized (modules) and small (lessons).

What You’ll Need to Build the Perfect Home Page

  • What platform should they build their website on?
  • What’s the best software to help them edit their homepage?

Preparation and Planning for Your Home Page

  • What should they be trying to achieve with their homepage?
  • Creating an outline to work from

Basic Frameworks to Use When Building Your Home Page

  • Understanding the basics of copywriting
  • Understanding the basics of web design
  • Understanding lead generation

Editing Your Home Page

  • Time saving tips to speed up your build
  • Editing processes to ensure quality
  • Pre-publish checklist for your home page

Now we’ve got something that sets out what we want to achieve with our course and outlines our subject matter, but we’re not finished yet. 

Step 5: Create an Outline for Each Module/Lesson

Whenever you create content, the structure is vitally important. 

However, it’s very difficult to keep track of your structure when you’re in the process of writing a script or lesson. It’s easy to go down a rabbit hole and start wandering away from the essential information. 

This is where a lot of courses creators struggle.

You’ve got to appreciate and value your students’ time, and that means offering maximum value throughout. Too much fluff and not enough actionable information and students will quickly notice. 

To make sure you keep every lesson on point, you can break your outline into 4 sections:

  • What is this lesson about (the problem it’s solving)
  • Why is it important (to solve the problem)
  • How does the student solve the problem
  • Where is the proof that this is the best way to solve the problem

Once you’ve got these pieces of information, then you ask one final, crucial question.

What is the take away from this lesson? 

What steps should someone take the moment they finish the class?

If your lessons don’t make this obvious, then it’s going to struggle to help students achieve their learning objectives. 

Step 6: Decide How You Want to Deliver Each Lesson

One of the great things about creating an online course is there are many different formats to deliver the content. 

Looking at the course outline you’ve created so far, you should get a sense of which lessons are best suited to certain formats, whether that’s a video lesson, written course content, podcast, or something else. What you’ve got to consider is how you can offer maximum value to your students, and in today’s world, that’s probably going to require a combination of different mediums. 

Online course video

In the long run, your course isn’t going to be judged on sales. It’s going to be judged on how successful it is in helping students achieve their goals, because that’s the only way you’re going to build a loyal customer base and sustainable business. 

So, give this question a lot of thought and decide on the best way to deliver each individual lesson.

Step 7: Make an Assessment Plan

Let’s build on what we talked about in the last section.

Expert Tip

"In the long run, your course isn’t going to be judged on sales. It’s going to be judged on how successful it is in helping students achieve their goals. That’s the only way you’re going to build a loyal customer base and sustainable business."

You’re going to be judged on your students’ outcomes so you have to have a good picture of how they’re progressing throughout the course. 

We take this for granted in a formal education setting - we expect there to be quizzes and assessments, but for some reason, when it comes to online courses, we forget about this part. 

Go through your outline and add in sections for where you would like to test your students' knowledge. 

This is incredibly easy to put into action with Thrive Apprentice, because it has built in assessments. You can create quizzes, ask students to submit written or video assessments, and much more - there’s even automated marking!

Bonus Step: Think About Your Bonus Materials

You’re going to face a ton of competition when selling your courses (there are endless learning resources out there), so how are you going to stand out from the crowd?

One of the best ways to do this is by raising the perceived value you offer. It’s about those extra little details you take care of, and guess what?

People love bonus martials!

This could be a webinar, a 1:1 coaching session, interactive workbook, essentially, anything that’s going to give your course an extra edge. 

It’s much easier to build these elements into your course while you’re at the planning phase. 

Now Set Up Your Online School 

By now you should have an effective course outline, so what do you do next?

Now it’s time for action!

One of the first things you should ensure is that you’ve got the infrastructure to provide students with a brilliant learning experience. This probably sounds a little daunting, but with Thrive Apprentice (our online course platform), it’s actually very easy. 

We’ll walk you through the whole process, and you can lean on our tried and tested templates to get you started. 

Now you’ve got your course syllabus together, you want to start implementing it and building the foundations of a successful course business, so make the most of this momentum. 

Give Your Online Course Outline the Time it Deserves

At Thrive Themes, we always talk about RAPID implementation. 

The idea is that it’s best to take action and get the ball rolling, rather than be paralyzed by doubts. 

However, when it comes to planning and outlining your course, you need to give it time and thought. If done well, this blueprint will make it much easier to create your learning materials, and ultimately, it’s going to help you sell more online courses. 

Want even more tips on creating great courses?

We’ve got you covered:

Now there’s just one thing left to do.

Get Thrive Apprentice today and start building your successful online course business!

About the Author William P

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