Have you ever had to do a project and couldn’t figure out where to start? Was it nearly impossible to pick the perfect idea to even begin with? Maybe you didn’t approach the project from the right perspective – its end goal.

Knowing the end goal of every project will give you clarity from start to finish. It’s like taking a trip to a known destination, for which you can plan the entire experience and ensure you have everything you need down to the finest details.

Creating an online course can be considered a bold project that can overwhelm even the most experienced instructors. However, having a complete picture of the final impact you want your course to have on your prospects, will clarify the path of the entire process of designing your course.

How to design great online courses? Begin with the end in mind!

Online courses are not so different from offline ones. You still have to begin somewhere and know exactly where you want to be in the end. When designing an online course everyone plans some sort of timeline, usually from point A, in the present, to point Z, in the future.

Nevertheless, this take on designing courses is not necessarily effective since you can lose the perspective of what’s important to your audience and what’s consistent with the outline of your course. There are a few aspects that back up the opposite approach. Here’s why you should begin with the end in mind:

Begin with the learning outcomes

After you study the market and you know who your audience is, you can predict what your learners’ needs are. Make sure that your course’s learning outcomes are important and meaningful for them. Let them know from the beginning what they have to gain from taking your course and answer their “What’s In It For Me” questions.


Read more: The entrepreneur’s guide to buyer personas for online courses [Part 1]


Learners, in general, are more motivated and engaged when they know what to expect from you and your course. This, in turn, translates into a higher percentage of learners who finish the course, which is the desire of every online instructor.


Read more: What you can do about low online course completion rates?


Plan out the assessments

Work backward from the learning outcomes and plan out the assessments. Ask yourself how you will know whether or not your learners have achieved their learning goals, both throughout the course and at the end of it, and how you can measure that.

Choose the types of assessments that are best aligned with the learning outcomes and include them throughout the course. Also, monitor your learners’ achievements and provide personalized feedback when necessary to ensure they stay on track.


Read more: How to give the best feedback to your online learners


Use assessments as a measure of course content

When you want to improve your course content, the best thing to do is to see if you can answer the following questions:

  • What do learners need to know to ace the assessments and achieve the learning outcomes?
  • How well do they need to know it?
  • What exactly do you need to communicate and share through the content of your course to impart that level of knowledge and skill?

Once you answer these questions, you can provide specific and relevant content that allows learners to develop the skills you have envisioned for them until the end of the course.

Scaffold the learning process

Instructional scaffolding, as a concept, refers to the support educators give learners throughout their knowledge acquirement process, building a new set of skills on pre-existing knowledge and experiences. To do that, you have to be aware of your learners’ possible prior knowledge and what gaps you might need to fill in.

Don’t fall into the trap of taking learners’ background knowledge for granted when creating your content. This will demotivate them and decrease the chances of them finishing the course. Instead, consider the possible gaps between what your learners know and what you want them to know by the end of your course and bridge them.

By constantly tracking your learners’ results, you can adapt your content and provide further information to help them navigate through your course and reach the goals you’ve set for them.

Create your course content

When you have the outcomes in mind and take into consideration the steps I mentioned so far, you can finally create your course content. Remember that, in the context of learning, there is no such thing as “nice-to-have” content. Everything is either critical to the understanding and success of your learners or an opportunity for them to become distracted, confused, or overwhelmed.

Decide what needs to be taught to achieve the learning outcomes and create only content that serves this goal.

Wrapping up

There is no such thing as a plain ending. There has to be a goal behind it. Knowing this goal from the get-go provides you with the best of beginnings. You can’t fail. As a course designer, you know exactly where you want your learners to be and how to get them there. The only thing that’s left is to give them stepping stones to pave the path towards their final goals. Make sure you give clear guidelines and relevant content to your learners and the whole learning experience will be a success.

Enjoy the process!

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