How to Create an Outline for your Online Course (that delivers results)

How to Create an Outline for your Online Course (that delivers results)

I’ve spoken with several Course Creators over the past few weeks. They have an online course idea and know their ideal customer inside and out.  Some of them even have some presentations they have given and would like to turn that content (and more) into an online course. However, they don’t know how to organize their content or even where to start. If this is you, you’re not alone. Even if you have conducted live workshops in the past, have an ebook covering your exact online course idea or spoken at a conference about your topic, it can sometimes be hard to organize your content in a way that makes sense for an online course.

One mistake that many online Course Creators make is putting anything and everything into their online course. After all, you want to be sure you are providing value for your students. The reality is your student only wants to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible and they are paying you to get to their outcome in the shortest path. Their time is valuable and they don’t want to spend 10+ hours per week in your course week after week.

But where do you start?

Here are the steps in creating an outline that gets your students to their desired outcome as quickly as possible:

Step 1: Identify your ideal customer.

In this step, you want to be very clear on who you will serve. What does your ideal customer look like? Let’s say that you were a coach who supports women who want to publish a book to establish their expertise in the marketplace. You will paint a picture of this individual and name her. What’s her age? Where does she live? What’s her marital status and education level? Where does she go to get information online? What are her dreams and desires? What does she want to accomplish in her business or life? What keeps her up a night?

Ideal customer

Step 2: Interview at least 10 ideal customers.

You will want to interview at least 10 individuals who are your ideal customer so you can gather insights related to your course. The preferred method is via phone as this will allow you to have a deeper conversation with your ideal customer. Nuggets of gold tend to arise during a phone conversation that you just don’t get through an online survey. The goal of your interviews is to find out her pain points. What migraine does she want to get rid of? What end result does she expect from your course? How much money would she pay for this result?

Step 3: Write down the result you will deliver in your course.

Based on your interviews, what did your customer want to accomplish? What is their desired result they want to achieve after finishing your course. It is important to know what your student sees as a determinant of their success. For instance, let’s assume that you are teaching a course on how to launch an ebook. Does success for your student mean that they are offering the book on Amazon or only on their website?  Or does success for your student mean that they have $x amount in sales of the book. The expected result will help determine the content of your course.

Step 4: Brainstorm all possible content ideas for your course.

Using Google docs, a Word document or even a pen and paper, brainstorm all possible content ideas for your course that you need to include to achieve your student’s desired result. At this point, don’t worry about putting them in a specific order. That will come later. Anything goes in this step

Brainstorm all possible content ideas for your course.

Step 5: Use a mind map to organize your content into modules and lessons.

Using a mind map like Coggle (which is free for the basic version), in the center of your map, put the result you will deliver in your course. Think about what steps your students need to take to get from their current state to your end result. Then, from your brainstorming content, start organizing your content into steps or modules. Under each module, you have lessons that include the content for that module. This is a fluid mind map and you can continue to modify until you are satisfied with the modules and content within each module. Keep in mind that each module and lesson will have a learning outcome. This is the result that you want your student to master once they complete that section of your course.

Tips for success: break down your modules and lessons into bite-sized content. You want to create small wins along the way. For instance, let’s assume you have a course on Pinterest. A small win may be a 5-minute lesson on how to optimize their profile.

Step 6: Decide upon your course enhancements and bonus material.

Determine where you need extra worksheets or cheatsheets to help your students succeed. List these enhancements on your mind map under the specific lesson or module.

Think about what bonus content you may want to develop to help promote your course. For instance, if you are writing a course on how to gain X views on Pinterest, then a bonus could be “X ways to save time on Tailwind.”  

Step 7: Title your modules and lessons.

Now that you have your mind map complete, it’s time to title your lectures so they make sense for the student. Depending upon your topic, it is possible that your student may jump around in your course to focus on exactly what is needed for their personal needs. Let’s assume that you’re teaching a Pinterest course that also focuses on how to use Tailwind. Perhaps your student has been using Pinterest for a while and already has set up their business account. What they really want to focus on is how to use Tailwind and optimize their account for success. They may jump directly into the module to get to their end result faster. Title your lessons to make them click worthy and sexy>>>just like a blog post title!

Step 8: Set up your organization system.

Once I have my outline complete, I like to set up my system on my computer so I can keep my files organized. You can use Google Drive, One Drive or Dropbox for this system. Be sure you are using a cloud based system so none of your files are accidentally lost. The main folder should be the name of your course. Then set up files for each module: e.g. Module 1 (name), Module 2 (name), Module 3 (name), etc. Under each module, you will create folders for each lesson.

Organize computer files

There you have it! That’s my process for creating an outline for your online course that delivers results.