In Chapter 1, we covered how to create an online course. In this chapter, we will discuss why you need a high-quality course outline to get the most out of your online course. Your outline will determine how your course flows and how attentive your students are during the course. This chapter will define what a course outline is, the best practices for creating one, different course formats, and how to structure the delivery of your course material.

What Is a Course Outline?

A course outline is your guide and plan for your course. It's a way to structure and order the information you'll use in your online course. You might structure it using a list, storyboard, or slide deck.

The outline should include things like objectives, goals, activities, and different course sections.

Without a course outline, you might lose track of formatting and objectives while you put together your course. Sections can be disjointed, and you could lose a lot of value through inefficiencies.

Your course outline will ensure you pack the most value into your course. It ensures your students get the most for their money.

Before officially starting on the outline, there is some information you need to gather and jot down. You can come back to this information later to adjust it, but you should put something together before starting, so you have bigger goals in mind.

These are the focuses for your outline:

Course Name

Even though it seems simple, the course name is a big decision. It needs to be quick, punchy, and descriptive. If someone reads your course name, they should immediately understand what your course is about and what unique information you bring to the table.

Meta has a course titled "Introduction to Social Media Marketing by Meta," and it's a great example.

In just seven words, you learned:

• The target audience: beginner marketers
• The value added: The marketing genius team at Meta made this
• The topic: social media marketing

Course Description

Once published, the course description will be a one-liner that talks about the unique selling point of your course.

In your outline, it can be longer and more involved.

Basically, you want to describe the subject matter you want to discuss, the major topics you'll highlight, and the value you want to add.

Think of it like an introduction to your course.

Course Information

Course information revolves around the details of your finished course. Things like:

• How students will access the course
• The schedule of the course or how long it should take
• Different due dates
• Assessments and when they're scheduled
• The final exam
• What course format you'll use

It's okay if you don't have all the information, yet. Going through this checklist is just a way to start thinking about course information — you can always revisit this topic once you start making your course.

Course Requirements and Prerequisites

Some courses require software and tools that the students need to get before starting the course. In an engineering course, a requirement might be 3D CAD software, and a prerequisite might be a certain level of understanding of physics.

Your requirements and prerequisites will revolve around your industry and specific online course. Do students need special hardware, software, materials, or knowledge before getting started?

Student Learning Outcomes and Available Accreditation

Finally, what's the goal of your course? After completion, what do you hope your students learned? If you have a few major takeaways or general ideas, write them down now. Learning outcomes will heavily play into the rest of your course outline.

In certain cases, you can get a stamp of approval from educational institutions that translates to accreditation for your online course.

Six Steps to Creating a Successful Online Course Outline

In this chapter, you'll learn a lot about the six steps to creating a successful online course outline. More specifically, you'll learn how to:

1. Research the Subject Matter Extensively
2. Study Your Audience
3. Create Learning Objectives
4. Establish Modules and Lesson Plans
5. Map Out Assessments
6. Identify Supplemental Resources

1. Research the Subject Matter Extensively

To start on your outline, you need to do some homework. You might be an industry expert, but you should still start with extensive research into the subject matter.

Before becoming the teacher, you need to go back to being the student for a while.

Something you learned ten years ago might be obsolete now from new studies and technology. Spend at least a few days brushing up on the subject matter and re-learning the ins and outs.

This information is invaluable. For one, it ensures your content is relevant. On top of that, it helps you see how other people put together content on the subject matter — you can use this in your course.

Look into the main topic and any subtopics you might address in your course. Keep a running file with notes from your research. If you find anything new that might be important to include in your course, highlight it.

2. Study Your Audience

Your course revolves around teaching a certain skill to a certain group of people. Who is that group of people?

You want to define this clearly because it will be a major part of your messaging and marketing. Once you know who your ideal customer is, you need to be able to show them that you understand where they are now and can get them where they want to be.

You should spend time studying your audience and learning all about them. Identify who they are, their level of experience, what motivates them, how educated they are, and how they like to learn things.

You can do this through online searches or surveys sent to prospective students.

When you have a great picture of your audience, you can tailor your content to be specifically applicable to them.

3. Create Learning Objectives

The learning objective is the goal of your course. What do you want to teach your students?

Your course might have a dozen different learning objectives that all fall into one category. It's good to know this information, so you can create a clear framework for developing the course content and assessments.

Defining the learning objectives before launching your course will help determine whether the course effectively achieves its intended outcomes. Not only does it provide a measure of success for your students, but also yourself as a teacher.

4. Establish Modules and Lesson Plans

So now you have a starting point and learning objectives. The way to connect the two is through modules and a lesson plan.

You want your course to be in the most logical order to get the student from where they are now to the goal. While you outline your modules, remember what it would be like if you were the student going through this course.

When you break down the topic into different subjects, how can you give the student small wins per module? Show students what they are getting out of each module before you start the lesson. Make it clear what they will learn when they have completed each section. Keep this up through the entire course.

Typically, modules result from breaking your course down into categories or subjects. If your online course is about training dogs, your modules might look like this:

1. Introduction and definitions
2. Understanding how dogs think and how dogs learn
3. How to teach basic commands
4. Teaching a dog to behave on a walk without a leash
5. Tips to unlearn bad behavior in your dog
6. Conclusion

As you see, the course follows a natural progression. The later topics can get more complex as more information is learned through early modules.

The lesson plan is the act of sitting down and brainstorming what specific things you want to mention, how you'll organize each module, and how you'll achieve the learning goals.

5. Map Out Assessments

One of the best ways to gauge attention and learning is through assessments. Just like in school, online course assessments are used to ensure your students are getting the right knowledge from your course and actually retaining it.

Assessments are also a good way to see if your course is working. If students aren't retaining the information you're presenting, you should re-evaluate how you present it. Maybe you need to give less information, make the topic more fun, give deeper explanations in each module, or reduce how many words are on each slide.

These assessments can be graded, ungraded, or simple self-assessments to see where the students are in their learning.

Assessments might fall in the middle of each module or directly at the end. It's up to you how many you include and how specific the assessments are.

When mapping them out, try not to have too many back-to-back — assessments will slow down the pace and pause your students' learning.

6. Identify Supplemental Resources

Supplemental resources are additional material that helps enhance the learning experience. The resources are optional and typically in-depth explanations of topics you might briefly explain.

For instance, an online course about defensive driving might mention a study that shows how many accidents are due to aggressive driving. The course designer can include the full study results as a supplemental resource. If students want to learn more about the study, they can use the resource. If they don't want to, then they can continue through the course.

As you're outlining, write ideas for supplemental resources you might include in each section. Make sure the resources are relevant.

You can refer to videos, blog posts, articles, websites, books, news articles, and more.

Types of Course Formats

Online courses can come in a few different formats. Picking the right option is a major decision you'll need to make during your outline process. After all, it will determine how information is presented and how the student progresses.

For help creating an effective course, use Simplero's course creation tools.

Here are four of the more popular options:

Drip Courses

Like drip-feeding, drip courses don't give you everything at once. Course content is delivered to students on a pre-determined schedule, and they receive new course material at regular intervals, typically daily or weekly.


Drip courses help students retain information and stay engaged with the material over a longer period. This format also helps students develop solid study habits and stay on track with their learning goals due to its structured approach to learning.

For larger courses with many modules, a drip course makes things less daunting. Instead of looking ahead at the next 20 modules, the student only has to focus on the module they're currently in.


The downside of drip courses is that it takes a lot of control away from students. They're forced to go through the course according to your schedule, which isn't very flexible. Some students may find the slow pace of drip courses frustrating and prefer to have access to all course material at once.

Community Courses

A common topic in online courses is the sense of community that you'll look to achieve. One way to achieve this is by structuring your class as a community course. A community course is an online environment that lets students ask questions and talk through topics with like-minded people who share interests.

You'll see this a lot in lifestyle courses. The course itself will give a certain amount of information from a subject matter expert, but most of the learning will come from the online community. It has to involve forums, an ability to call each other, and a means of open communication.

It also means that the subject matter expert has to be available in the community to interact with and answer questions. When people purchase the course, they largely purchase access to the expert.


The biggest benefit is that students get to learn from other people who know about the subject matter. They can get answers to their very specific questions.

With a strong sense of community, student engagement will skyrocket. They'll turn to you and their peers to learn more and grow bonds with your course as a whole.


Unfortunately, community courses are tough to maintain and moderate. Depending on the size of the community, you might need to employ moderators to go through and keep conversations appropriate.

In addition, community courses aren't for everybody. If an introvert wants to learn the topic on their own and doesn't want to actively engage with the group, then this model isn't right for them — by creating a community course, you're excluding people like this from enjoying your course.

Another problem is that this course will require a lot of ongoing effort. Other courses require most of the effort in making the course, and then you can relax after the course is rolled out. With community courses, you're the backbone of the conversations. You'll need to be constantly present and frequently available for your students moving forward.

Cohort Courses

Cohort courses most closely mirror classroom learning. In this format, all students will go through the course simultaneously.

When students purchase your course, they'll need to wait until the start date. Then, every student gets access at the same time and moves through the course. There will be certain release dates for each module, which ensures students don't skip ahead.

Here's an example of how a cohort course is run:

• The course opens for enrollment on September 1st. Students can now purchase a seat in the class.
• The course begins on October 1st. The first module is open, and students can only go through the first module.
• The second module opens on October 8th. Now students can access the second module after finishing the first module and passing the assessment.
• This timeline is repeated until the final module and assessment are released. Typically, a final exam is given at the end.

Even though the students will learn independently, they'll all be learning the same module and topics simultaneously.


A cohort course does a good job of blending together a community course and a drip course. You'll get the same level of community without the added effort on your end.

Cohort classes are very familiar to students. After all, this is the model that they experienced all throughout school.

With forums available, students can discuss modules as they go through them. Other students can join the conversation since everyone is working through the same subject.


One drawback is that the revenue stream can be unfavorable. If you launch your course twice a year, that means that you'll only get paid twice a year. Since students enroll and take the course at the same time, there will be big gaps between payments.

Another issue is that cohort course learning is not for everyone. Some people dislike the rigidity of the format and would rather go at their own pace.

Self-Paced Courses

As the name suggests, a self-paced course is when students get access to all the modules and are allowed to complete them at their own pace. Some students might dedicate a week to finishing the entire coursework, and others might do the same work over three months.

There are no release dates for courses like this. Instead, all of the content is available upon purchasing the course.


Self-paced courses are the most flexible model. It allows students to learn at their own pace and fit classes around their busy schedules.

It also allows students to enroll whenever they want, which translates to a year-round revenue stream for you.

Allowing immediate enrollment and access maximizes the student's excitement for the course. They might lose interest or forget about your course when they have to wait for enrollment periods.


Since there is no strong sense of community, students might be less engaged. It's very supportive to have peers go through the same modules at the same time and leave comments. Since self-paced courses don't have that, you'll need to consider other ways to boost engagement.

Some students might have difficulty going through the course. Since the whole course is open and available, they might not be motivated to go through every module section and work towards the end.

In simple terms, self-paced online courses are a more casual and leisurely way to offer a course. There's nothing wrong with that in many cases — it depends on your course and subject matter.


In this guide, you learned how to create an online course outline. You learned about the different course formats, what goes into an outline, and the six steps to creating a successful online course outline. Now, you'll need to learn how to effectively market your course by reading Chapter 3. Feel free to revisit Chapter 1 to refresh your memory on putting together an online course.