Jalil Hamdani April 3, 2024

How to Create a Winning Course Outline in 11 Practical Steps?

Course Outline by GroupApp

Isn’t it awesome when you get that aha moment and have a great idea about your online course? Everything feels right and you are all set to crush. Out of nowhere, comes a roadblock: where do I start? Frustration and brain-frog creeps in, followed by a rush of overwhelming feelings. If you are experiencing the same dilemma, you are not alone. It happens to the best of us! 

But, it shouldn’t come in your way of creating a successful online course. That’s where you need a course outline. A course outline is a savior. It helps you put the puzzle together correctly and complete the picture of your course. 

Now, it’s easy to fall into complexities here. But, this guide is for you. This guide enables you to create a simple yet winning course outline with 11 practical steps.  

Let’s get into it.

What is a course outline?

A course outline is a plan that puts learning elements together in a specific order to form a complete online course. It sets a learning path with strategically placed modules that include video lectures, lessons, checkpoints, and live sessions. 

It maps out the trajectory you must create for your learners to achieve the transformation your course offers. It also helps you create a streamlined and well-thought-out course without missing crucial information or even worse adding unnecessary elements.

course outline

You can also see it as a start-to-finish line. Learners have problems and frustrations related to a specific topic at the starting point. Conversely, the solution and skills are present that learners will achieve through your course. 

For that, the learners must complete milestones and go through a transformation. The milestones can be like completing lessons, attending live classes, taking quizzes, and making assignments in the right order, to achieve their learning goals.

Once you have the course outline, you are halfway there. You can use a course-building platform like GroupApp to put your outline to use. A course-building platform helps you to incorporate media, resources, and links to form modules to create a complete online course. 

GroupApp Webpage and Mobile App

Next, let’s learn about the six building blocks of a course outline.

6 Course Outline Building Blocks

The building blocks of a course outline are essentially the learning elements

You have all the course information and vision in your mind but you need to communicate it to your learner in an organized manner or format. That’s where these learning elements come into play.

Here are the 6 building blocks of a winning course outline:

1 – Overarching Goal

This is the ultimate goal of your online course. Think of it as a transformation your learners will achieve after completing your course. For instance, when learners complete your course on Instagram Marketing, they will be able to create and implement an Instagram growth strategy for a business.  

2 – Course Description

A course description provides a brief overview of your online course. It essentially includes your overarching goal, the content covered, and the skills they will acquire after completing the course.

3 – Learning Objectives

A course outline is incomplete without clear learning objectives. You can include 4-5 learning objectives for the whole course. However, I recommend adding learning objectives for each module of your course. It expands the impact of your course and helps the learner to clearly understand what a certain module offers. 

4 – Modules & Lessons

You can break down your course topic into small digestible pieces known as modules. Further, you can divide a module into sub-modules or lessons. The number of lessons per module depends on the nature of the topic. Just make sure all the lessons present a holistic picture of the module.

You also need to determine what sort of content you need to add to a specific module, i.e. videos, PDFs, live classes, quizzes, assignments, or audio. The nature of the content must align with the learning objectives of a specific module.

5 – Quizzes & Assessments

A quality course is incomplete without quizzes and assessments. These elements act as checkpoints and must be strategically placed in a course outline. Quizzes and assessments help you to check the impact of your course, ensure accountability, and measure information retention in learners. 

6 – Learning Resources

It’s highly recommended to add learning resources to support your learners. These resources can help the learner to dig deeper, develop a good understanding of the topic, and build context between topics.

3 Optional Building Blocks for a Course Outline

Here are some optional building blocks that you can add to your course outline.

Course Policies

Having a clear set of course policies helps you to communicate expectations, maintain a fair and safe learning environment, eliminate misunderstandings, and make sure all learners know their responsibilities. 

You can create policies for recorded lectures, attendance, missed exams, assignment submission, classroom conduct, and webinar attendance.

Feedback

A very important element for a course outline. You can incorporate two types of feedback in your course outline. First, you can incorporate the feedback given to the learners about their performance. 

On the other hand, your learners can share feedback about the course content, instructor, and any other aspect of the course. You can either put feedback at the end of the course or with each module.

Course Schedule

You must include a course schedule if the course is going to start and end at a set date, like the cohort-based courses. You can leave the schedule if your course is asynchronous or self-paced in nature.

Now that you know the building blocks of a course outline. But, how do you put them together? We’ll find out next.

11 Steps – How to Create a Winning Course Outline?

Now, let’s sit down and create a course outline.

Before we begin, you need to know one thing: a course outline has to be simple. It’s meant to facilitate you and fast-track the course creation process. 

All you need to do is to follow the practical steps below. Each step tells you exactly what you need to do and takes you closer to a winning outline. Please note that this outline is not rigid. You can change it through your course creation process as per your needs.

The steps are divided into 2 sections to help you progress with an informed approach. 

SECTION 1 – The Groundwork for Course Outline

The first section is the Groundwork that will prepare you and set you in the right direction. The steps included in this section do not directly become part of your outline. These steps give you a strong start as you climb the ladder up!

Let’s get started.

1 – Explore the Topic

You are already clear about your course topic! Now, it’s time to explore your topic for your outline. Please note that this isn’t the research stage. You just need to skim through the information or resources available on your topic and take notes.

A simple search on Google with the correct keywords turns up a good chunk of information on any topic. However, the best approach is to look up the information and material by other subject matter experts (SMEs). This not only helps you to enhance your expertise but also helps view the topic from different perspectives. That ultimately helps you refine your course content.

To cut the hassle, you can specify the following:

  1. 3 SMEs: Search and pick the three best subject matter experts, using LinkedIn or Google Search.
  2. 3 Courses: Look up similar courses and choose the three best courses to use as references. You can easily find similar courses on sites like Udemy, Alison, and Coursera.
  3. 3 Guides: Guides are highly resourceful and easily available. Look up free guides related to your course topic.
  4. 3 Top Videos: You can easily find long-form videos related to your topic. Run a quick search on YouTube and pick the best three.

Feel free to add more than 3 options per category if you feel a specific resource is important. Next, you can skim through the information and take notes.

2 – Understand your Target Audience

The whole point of creating a course is to help a learner go through a transformation to achieve learning goals. But, who’s that learner? 

To find that, you need to specify your target audience. It’s important to know your target audience as it helps to build a personalized learning experience. You need to be specific here. One of the biggest mistakes course creators make is trying to create and sell a course to a wide audience.

Building a learner persona is one of the best ways to learn about the problems and goals of your target audience. It’s a fictional representation of one ideal customer who will pay for your course. 

To create a learner persona, you just need to specify the following:

  1. Common problems
  2. Barriers to learning
  3. Basic demographics
  4. Main learning goals
  5. Knowledge level
  6. Preferred content format

You can collect this information in the following ways:

  • Conduct polls, pre-assessments, and surveys.
  • Use industry reports and data.
  • Talk to potential learners directly.

3 – Choose a Course Platform

Imagine: You create a killer outline only to find out that your course platform is inadequate. 

You need to pick a course platform that supports your course outline. A well-rounded course platform supports all content types, offers native video hosting, has a resource-hosting facility, and offers the tools to create learning modules.

GroupApp checks off all the boxes! 

GroupApp community Web interface and GroupApp mobile app interface

GroupApp’s Course Creator is a one-stop solution that lets you create, deliver, and monetize an online course. You also get a platform to nurture your learners and keep them close to your courses. On top of that, you get a range of features to create a personalized learning experience.

With one platform, you can create a thriving learning ecosystem!

Best GroupApp Course Creator Features:
  1. Multimedia Support for Course Content
  2. Native Video Hosting
  3. Community Library
  4. Course Management Dashboard
  5. Course Analytics
  6. Drip Release
  7. Course Landing Page Builder
  8. Custom Access Levels & Segmentation
  9. Course Moderation 
  10. Course Pricing
  11. iOS & Android Mobile Apps

That’s everything you need to create, manage, and deliver your online courses.

Grab your 14-day free GroupApp trial and create your first course!

SECTION 2 – Creating a Course Outline

All done with the groundwork! Let’s start creating your course outline.

4 – Write a Course Title and Description 

A well-thought-out course title and description will let your course stand out and appeal to your target audience. 

Your course title must communicate the topic of your course. Don’t be afraid to be creative but keep the title simple. 

Visit course marketplaces like Udemy or Coursera for inspiration. You can also see how your competitors’ courses are titled. Don’t fall into the analysis-paralysis of finding the perfect title for your course. You can pick a temporary title for your course to start and change it later.

Next, you must complement your course title with a well-written course description. A course description is a concise summary of your complete course. You must create a learner-centric description highlighting their problems and how your course will help them. Don’t forget to be creative!

It’s good to write your course description before you create an outline. Writing a description upfront helps you to stay focused.

A course description touches on aspects like your overarching goal, problems faced by the potential learners, main topics included, learning mode, and the nature of the learning resources.

Here’s an example of a well-written description for a course titled “Canva Masterclass for Social Media and Content Creation.”

Online course description

5 – Create Learning Objectives

You want your learners to know what skills and knowledge they will acquire through your course. For that, you must define learning objectives for your course. You can also create learning objectives for all modules.

A learning objective tells what the learner is expected to learn after completing the course or a specific module. It has to be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound). Learning objectives provide clarity to the learners.

4 Steps For Crafting Learning Objectives

To define learning objectives effectively, you must determine the desired outcomes. Next, complement them with an action verb and evaluate your learning objective.

Let’s simplify it for you.

1 – Determine the Desired Outcomes

Specify what you want the learners to gain from your course. That depends on what your course is about. Think about what’s your end goal. Is it the acquisition of specific skills, attitudes, and knowledge?

2 – Select your Action Verb

Pick an action verb for your learning objective. An action verb clearly describes what you expect the trainee to be able to execute at the end. Plus, action verbs motivate the learner and set clear expectations.

Tip: Avoid using generic verbs like understand, aware of, etc. Make sure you use action verbs that are specific and measurable.

3 – Create a Learning Objective

Connect your action verb and desired outcome to form a concise statement.

Keep two things in mind. First, make sure you write it from a learner’s perspective. Because learning objectives are focused on what the learner will be able to do at the end of your course.

Secondly, make your learning objective SMART, which is specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound.

4 – Evaluate your Learning Objective

Check your learning objective. An articulate learning objective is a combination of four components. They are the audience, behavior, condition, and degree of mastery.

Here’s an example, “After course completion (condition), the learners (audience) will be able to explain and execute (behavior) a sales strategy (degree of mastery).

Repeat the process to create more learning objectives for each module. Keep the learning objectives in mind as you create each module and choose content formats for the lessons within each module.

6 – Breakdown your Course Topic

Now, you are all set to break down your topic into smaller modules or sub-topics. So, what’s the best way to do that?

Here’s a good approach: Work backward from big to small! 

Take the overarching goal of your course and reverse engineer it. 

For instance, the overarching goal of a course for your learners is to learn advanced SEO from scratch.

Here you can take two ways:

First, you can think of your main goal as the main problem, faced by your learner. In this case, you can work backward and break it down into smaller problems that are easy to solve one at a time. 

Secondly, you can simply ask yourself questions. Ask yourself what your students need to learn to master advanced SEO. 

In both cases, you need to identify subtopics that can act as modules. After completing each module, the learner should feel that they are a step closer to the ultimate goal.

In the case of the main goal or topic “learn advanced SEO from scratch”, you can come up with sub-topics such as introduction, keyword research, local SEO, off-page SEO, and competition research.

For each module, you must specify

  1. Title & Short description
  2. Content type
  3. Learning outcomes
  4. Estimated time required
Break your Modules into Lessons

Let’s take a step further and break your modules into small digestible lessons. Think of these lessons as smaller problems or mini goals. 

Let’s say we have a module with the learning goal “Learn about off-page SEO.” We can further divide this goal into mini-goals or lessons like:

  • Learn all the types of backlinks
  • Learn how to build backlinks
  • Understand and implement the best practices of off-page SEO.

You can divide a module into 3-7 lessons, depending on the topic. Don’t fret if you cannot come up with more lessons. You will discover more sub-topics or lessons during the content creation process as you get into the details. You might end up splitting a lesson into multiple mini-lessons.

Each lesson must have three components:

  1. Introduction – What the lesson is all about?
  2. Objectives – What objectives the learner will achieve?
  3. Content – How to solve a specific problem?
  4. Conclusion – Closing remarks (if any)

7 – Create a Course Outline using Modules & Lessons

You have the modules and lessons now! It’s time to string the pearls and structure the outline. For that, you need to order your modules in a way that creates a logical flow of ideas. 

Here, you need to bring your expertise into play. As per your experience, line up the modules in a way that aligns naturally with the progression of ideas or problems in a real-life situation. Start from the fundamental sub-topics and gradually lead towards more advanced sub-topics. 

Course Outline Example

Let’s consider the example of the advanced SEO course and create a basic outline using modules and lessons.

Course – Learn Advanced SEO 

  • Module 1 – Introduction 
    • Module title, description, and key details
    • Lesson 1 – What is advanced SEO?
    • Lesson 2 – What are SERPs?
  • Module 2 – Keyword Research
  • Module title, description, and key details
  • Lesson 1 – What is a keyword?
  • Lesson 2 – Different types of keywords
  • Lesson 3 – Methods and tools for keyword research
  • Module 3 – Off-Page SEO
  • Module title, description, and key details
  • Lesson 1 – What’s off-page SEO?
  • Lesson 2 – Introduction to different types of backlinks
  • Lesson 3 – Link Pyramid and Link Wheel
  • Lesson 4 – What are the best link-building practices?

8 – Specify Content Types for Lessons

Content makes your course what it is! 

For each module or lesson, you need to specify the type of content best suited to help your learner achieve a specific learning objective.

Let’s round off the main content types.

  • Recorded Video Lectures: Perfect for explaining complex topics and building a strong relationship with your learners.
  • PDFs: Well-suited for long-form content and supporting material like worksheets, ebooks, and checklists
  • Slides: To walk your learners through multiple phases of a process or different aspects of a topic.
  • Live Sessions: Go-to option for live classes. 
  • Audio Files: Best for mini-courses and podcasts.
  • Screen Recordings: Ideal for software tutorials with commentary.
Course Outline Example

Let’s assign content types to the lessons in the advanced SEO course.

Course – Learn Advanced SEO 

  • Module 1 – Introduction 
    • Module title, description, and key details
    • Lesson 1 – What is advanced SEO? – Video
    • Lesson 2 – What are SERPs? – Slides
  • Module 2 – Keyword Research
  • Module title, description, and key details
  • Lesson 1 – What is a keyword? – Video
  • Lesson 2 – Different types of keywords – Slides
  • Lesson 3 – Methods and tools for keyword research – Screen Recording
  • Module 3 – Off-Page SEO
  • Module title, description, and key details
  • Lesson 1 – What’s off-page SEO? – Video
  • Lesson 2 – Introduction to different types of backlinks – Slides
  • Lesson 3 – Link Pyramid and Link Wheel – PDF
  • Lesson 4 – What are the best link-building practices? – Video

The choice of the content type depends on the nature of your topic. Plus, you need to consider the learning preferences of your students when choosing content.

GroupApp gives you the freedom to leverage all types of content for courses. With just one click you create modules and lessons. To add substance, you can choose any type of content that suits you and your learners.

GroupApp course builder with content types

9 – Add Checkpoints

You are all set to create your online course. But, how do you plan to assess the impact of your course?

That’s where you need checkpoints. Checkpoints help you determine the extent to which your learners have been able to achieve the learning objectives. Feedback from checkpoints is useful for improving your course. 

Let’s round off the main types of checkpoints:

Quizzes

You can incorporate both graded and non-graded quizzes into your course outline. Quizzes provide you with a quick assessment of how well the learner has been able to retain knowledge. You can choose to add quizzes to each module.

Graded Assignments, Submissions, & Exams

Checkpoints like graded assignments, submissions, and exams enable you to create a robust assessment system. You can accurately measure learner’s performance and knowledge. Based on the results, you can see whether the learner is eligible for the completion certificate.

Group Projects

Group projects are perfect to foster a social learning environment and instill a sense of teamwork. They come in handy when you need to analyze and evaluate skills like conflict management, critical thinking, and negotiation.

Let’s see what our outline looks like with checkpoints.

Course Outline Example

Let’s incorporate checkpoints into the advanced SEO course outline.

Course – Learn Advanced SEO 

  • Module 1 – Introduction 
    • Lesson 1 – What is advanced SEO? – Video
    • Lesson 2 – What are SERPs? – Slides
    • Quiz 1
  • Module 2 – Keyword Research
  • Lesson 1 – What is a keyword? – Video
  • Lesson 2 – Different types of keywords – Slides
  • Lesson 3 – Methods and tools for keyword research – Screen Recording
  • Quiz 2 – 
  • Module 3 – Off-Page SEO
    • Lesson 1 – What’s off-page SEO? – Video
    • Lesson 2 – Introduction to different types of backlinks – Slides
    • Lesson 3 – Link Pyramid and Link Wheel – PDF
    • Lesson 4 – What are the best link-building practices? – Video
    • Graded Assignment – Analyze the given case study on off-page SEO and write a 500-word reflection paper.
  • Final Exam & Submission

The nature of the checkpoints will vary depending on the topic and scope of your course. Don’t forget to set clear evaluation criteria and policies for all checkpoints and share them with your learners.

Important – Your choice of adding checkpoints to your course solely depends on your course platform. If your course platform does not support quizzes and assignments, you have to rely on third-party tools. 

That’s not the case with GroupApp! With GroupApp, you can easily add checkpoints like quizzes and assignments to your courses. Not only that, you can add questions with multimedia, set up the passing score, enforce graded quiz completion, show correct answers, and set retake limits.

GroupApp Drop-down menu for quizzes and assignments

10 – Incorporate Learning Resources

Learning resources complement your course content and support your learners if they want deeper knowledge. Research and add supporting resources that help your learners to strengthen their knowledge. 

Some examples of learning resources are PDFs, practice sheets, e-books, templates, access to free tools, workbooks, case studies, and guides.

Only add relevant resources. Do not add any resource just for the sake of it. Go for the resources linked with your overarching goal, that will genuinely help your learners become better. 

Course Outline Example

Let’s incorporate learning resources into the advanced SEO course outline.

Course – Learn Advanced SEO 

  • Module 1 – Introduction 
    • Lesson 1 – What is advanced SEO? – Video
    • Lesson 2 – What are SERPs? – Slides
    • Quiz 1
  • Module 2 – Keyword Research
  • Lesson 1 – What is a keyword? – Video
  • Lesson 2 – Different types of keywords – Slides
  • Lesson 3 – Methods and tools for keyword research – Screen Recording
  • Quiz 2 
  • Resource – Search Engine Journal’s Guide to Keyword Research in 2024
  • Resource – Keyword Research Checklist for Beginners
  • Module 3 – Off-Page SEO
    • Lesson 1 – What’s off-page SEO? – Video
    • Lesson 2 – Introduction to different types of backlinks – Slides
    • Lesson 3 – Link Pyramid and Link Wheel – PDF
    • Lesson 4 – What are the best link-building practices? – Video
    • Graded Assignment – Analyze the given case study on off-page SEO and write a 500-word reflection paper.
    • Resource: Off-Page SEO Worksheet
  • Final Exam & Submission

Good-to-know: Before you decide to offer learning resources to your learners, you must know about a problem that tags along. 

The problem is hosting for resources. You require third-party tools to host your resources. It’s an option with less data protection. Plus, you will be required to give access every time a learner needs the resource. That adds to the hassle!

GroupApp eliminates the problem with its Built-in Library. It’s a dedicated resource hosting corner in your learning ecosystem that lets you set custom access levels with lock screens and segmentation. 

The best thing is that you can monetize your resources separately as digital downloads using the library. Plus, it doubles as a lead magnet. How cool is that?

That’s what you call going the extra mile to facilitate the course creator!

11 – Add Interactive Live Sessions and Guest Webinars

Don’t forget the cherry on top! 

Incorporating interactive events like live sessions and guest webinars that enhance the value of your course. Such elements help you foster a strong relationship with your learners. This helps to create a loyal learner base and an opportunity to upsell.

Holding interactive catch-up live sessions bridge the gap between you and your learners. That gives you a good opportunity to gather feedback, give feedback, and learn about their problems. 

If feasible, you can also arrange interactive webinars and invite SMEs as guests. This gives you an edge over your competitors and increases learner engagement.

With GroupApp’s Advanced Event Manager, your events are all sorted! With Event Manager by your side, you can host and monetize exclusive sessions for your learners. 

You can also create a learning community to complement your courses. GroupApp lets you monetize community memberships. That comes in handy to create an alums network for your courses. 

Check Out: Creating a Successful Course Funnel for Your Business

Create your Course Outline Now!

A well-thought-out course outline can make all the difference! If you give your course outline the time and effort it deserves, course creation will be smooth sailing. A course outline will keep you on track without missing vital learning elements. It will clear roadblocks and put you in a flow state. 

Still, it’s not like you cannot change your outline during the course creation process. A course outline is meant to facilitate you with its agile nature. You have the absolute liberty to add or remove elements from your outline, based on your experience and needs.

At the end of the day, the success of your course depends on two things:

  • Course Outline: Helps to channel your energy only into things that are important and streamline the content development process.
  • Course Platform: Your course outline will only yield desirable results with the platform with course creation as its forte, not an afterthought. The right platform offers the complete feature set for course building in one place. That saves you time, energy, and cost without juggling between platforms.

That’s what GroupApp is all about! With course creation and community-building at heart, GroupApp puts the course creator in absolate control to create a thriving learning community.

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