As an instructor, you are leading the learner on a journey. It’s both an exciting and a very purposeful mission. The scope of the transformation is for them to solve a problem and improve something in their lives. So, if your approach to designing courses is problem-solving, you are already one step ahead.

Of course, before starting to create your course, you should have a clear image of who you are designing for — much like how any other product is designed. So although we are not talking about buyer personas today, you should keep this in mind throughout reading the article.

Another thing that you should know: this is the fun part! No seriously, you can approach this creative project however you like. Use mind mapping tools, spreadsheets, or the humble pen and paper to visualize your ideas. Go talk to people and ask for what they think and what they need. Be curious and don’t get stuck in details, after all, the course needs to be engaging and useful — not perfect!


Read more: 11 tools for upgrading your e-learning game as an entrepreneur [Infographic]


That being said, here are some steps that you can take when designing your online course:

Have clear course goals and objectives

As with any project, you need to decide exactly what you want to achieve through a course. Let’s say that your buyer persona is Busy Ben. He needs to manage his time more efficiently. He will choose your course because you are offering a solution to his problem.

How? Start with the general learning goals, such as: improve productivity or master your schedule. These are important since you are going to list them on the course landing page, welcome page, etc. so future clients know what to expect.

As you move further, you need to set learning objectives that are more detailed. Let’s have a look at this example:

Learners identify the top three time wasters to eliminate from their weekly schedule.

That is a measurable and specific objective. Choose around three learning objectives for each module. Set goals and objectives early on and then refer to them frequently as you design your course.

Create a course outline

Making it up as you go won’t cut it. Any course needs a clear outline, which will serve as your structure. Stick to it! Even if you make smaller changes as you go along, the content outline is the backbone of your course.

You are creating a learning experience that has to make sense for your learners. Let’s go back to our example, Busy Ben. He needs to better organize his time, but does not know the most effective tips and tricks to get things done. You have to step into his shoes and anticipate what he needs to learn. For example:

  • The basics of time management
  • Time vs. task management
  • Productivity killers
  • Procrastination
  • Prioritization
  • Creating a schedule

And now you have a basic outline. Each section or sections represent a module that can be broken into lessons. Remember to add the learning objectives (see number 1. on this list) and you will be ready to add content in no time.

Design for your future learners

Have you ever started an online course, but could not get past the first module? I can’t stress this enough: know your audience.


Read more: How to build an audience for your online course


Even if it’s your first time creating a course, you probably know that the format doesn’t need to follow a cookie cutter pattern. Instead, whether you create videos, PowerPoint presentations, or even ebooks, it largely depends on what your audience prefers.

For example, for the time management course, people might want more video content, that is short and to the point. For a creative writing course, learners will want to analyze texts so you need to prepare enough reading material.

People with similar needs as your audience can give you many ideas. This can be done through face to face discussions, surveys, polls, online forums, and so on.

Make it easy to navigate

If there’s one thing that you don’t want for sure is learners getting lost when navigating through your course. That is why choosing a user friendly platform is so important. Most platforms offer the option to create modules that are then divided into multiple lessons.

These are some examples of what an intuitive navigation system looks like:

  • The platform shows the content outline clearly
  • The ability to easily navigate to any module
  • Clearly see each lesson that belongs to a module
  • The ability to seamlessly switch between lessons (think previous-next arrows)

Plus, it really helps if the course is visually appealing and makes use of a nice, customizable color scheme.

Manage the duration of your course

Choosing just the right duration for each module is tricky. Your learners are most likely to be busy people and each of them has their own learning pace.

They don’t have the time and patience to watch hour-long lectures. What they can do is find 10-15-20 minutes to make some progress on the course. So, if the entire course takes five hours to complete, and each module takes one hour, divide that hour into more manageable chunks. Don’t forget to also take into account how much time would it take to complete a quiz, for example.

If you are still unsure of how much should a lesson take to complete, try to test it out with the help of a friend.

Don’t forget about accessibility

Most online courses follow accessibility standards such as Section 508. These guidelines are also in place for online instructors to know how to create accessible content. Here are some examples of how you can achieve this:

  • All videos have captions
  • Simple font and color schemes
  • High contrast background for improved readability
  • Underlined links
  • Support for screen readers

Stay tuned!

Designing your course, especially as a beginner, can be a challenging job. That shouldn’t keep you from pursuing this passion. You don’t need to be a teacher or experienced instructional designer to share your knowledge. In fact, many people would benefit from what you know, even if it’s your own personal experience.

Taking some steps first such as clearly defining your audience, course goals and objectives, or a solid outline makes it easier to create more value for more people.

But this is not all! Stay tuned for Part 2, in which we will talk more about content design.

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