If you’ve already chosen your online course topic but don't know how to get started outlining it, this article is for you. And even if you already know how to outline your course, stick around because you might want to tweak your online course outline template after reading this article.
A course outline template will guide you through the process of bringing your course to life. You'll feel less lost during the course creation process, and your audience will trust that YOU are the authority in your subject matter. You'll kill two birds with one stone!
So, here’s your opportunity to either review your current course outline template or create your first one. However, you don't need to develop it from scratch! You’ll get our refined course outline sample, plus some useful tips that will get you started.
But first, let's get on the same page as to what a course outline is.
What Is a Course Outline?
Think of an online course outline as the roadmap for creating your online course.
Without it, you’ll lose your way and create an online course that’s unstructured and difficult for your students to follow or gain value from.
A poorly designed course leads to poor reviews, refund requests, and a damaged reputation. If you’re serious about teaching online, you can’t afford to let this happen.
That’s why you need to prioritize outlining all your online courses.
But, creating a course outline is a time-consuming process – especially for beginners.
It involves taking all of your research and planning, and turning it into a logical, streamlined curriculum that reflects your course’s objectives. This task can take anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of weeks to complete.
And if you plan on creating courses regularly, you’ll lose a lot of time in creating a specific outline for each course.
This is why you need an online course template to save you time and make it much easier (and faster) to structure and create your online courses.
A good online course template:
Guides you through the course creation process faster
Clearly shows you the course materials you need to create a successful course
Helps your students get their desired learning outcomes
Prevents you from stuffing your course with unnecessary, time-wasting information
Keeps your lessons short, engaging, and to the point
Makes your course easier to follow
We’ve put together a course outline template you can start using immediately.
How to Write an Online Course Outline Template
Follow the steps below for any online course you create. The steps are pretty standard and streamlined, so feel free to personalize them as needed.
Basic Course Information
This section of your outline should contain:
- Your course's name
- A clear description
- Detailed course requirements
Including these basic details about your course will help you promote, pitch and sell the course.
With a carefully written course description that's captivating and complete, you’ll attract a more engaged audience. The course description should state what the course is about and how it'll help your students.
The course requirements define the prerequisite knowledge and skills your learners will need to successfully complete your course. Important prerequisites might include things like work experience, the completion of other courses, or passing marks on a proficiency test.
The more prepared your students are before taking your course, the more likely it is they'll achieve their desired learning outcomes upon completing your course. As a result, they'll perceive your course as valuable and likely become returning customers!
Include a course schedule section in your course outline to help your learners better manage their time. Your course schedule should show:
- The course's start and end dates
- The dates of each live session
- The due dates to complete each learning activity and assessment
Listing your course’s learning outcomes is an essential component of your course outline.
Defined outcomes provide both you and your learners with a clear understanding of whether your course is transferring your knowledge in a way that learners understand and retain.
Additionally, the learning outcomes set expectations for what the learners should know or be able to do after successfully completing your course. With that in mind, use action verbs to describe those expectations in the learning outcomes you list.
At this point, start outlining your actual course content in blocks — ordered in a way that will make sense to your students. Here’s how to do that...
1. Define Each of Your Lesson Plans
Break down your main course topic into smaller subtopics. From there, organize your course’s subtopics from least to most complex. With your subtopics ordered, you can then break your subtopics down into easily digestible lessons.
An excellent way to plan your course’s subtopics is by using a hierarchy of modules, chapters and lessons. A module can contain chapters and lessons (or just lessons alone), whereas chapters can only contain lessons.
Explained another way, lessons are the individual learning blocks that make up your course, whereas the chapters and modules just help organize your lessons. If your course is about a highly complex subject matter or is very comprehensive, consider organizing your lessons into both modules AND chapters. If your course is quite simple or doesn’t contain many lessons, consider organizing your lessons into modules alone.
If you feel it is difficult to define the hierarchy, organize the subtopics into categories (and possibly subcategories). This will also come in handy when connecting your subtopics to learning outcomes and ensuring no content is missing.
Next, name your lessons with catchy titles (so your learners won’t be able to resist clicking on them inside your course).
From there, you can create skim friendly outlines for each of your course lessons. For each lesson plan, define three parts:
- Introduction — to explain why the lesson is important
- Content — to dive into the lesson's topic in detail
- Summary — to wrap up the lesson's content
Don’t forget to include learning activities in your lesson plans to:
- Break the ice at the beginning of the course
- Consolidate knowledge before moving on to teach new things that depend on prior lesson understandings
- Practice skills before developing new ones
Show your learners that the course's topic and each lesson's content will help them solve real-world problems. To do this, plan practice activities such as scenario discussions, case study analyses or demonstrations. For instance, if you're teaching photo editing, create an exercise that requires students to apply each new editing technique they learn to a raw photo as they progress through the course.
2. Create an Assessment Plan
Whereas learning outcomes state what your students will learn from your course, assessments evaluate their learning quality. Assessments help YOU — the course creator — understand the degree to which your learners mastered the knowledge you taught them. Assessments are also important to learners as unsatisfactory results indicate where more effort is needed to acquire the required skills.
Eventually, you can improve your course with the feedback you get from analyzing your students’ learning outcomes. If you judge your assessment plan is aligned with the learning outcomes, you're doing things right!
Place assessments in the last lesson of each module or chapter — depending on how extensive your learning blocks are. For instance, if a module teaches critical skills or subtopics required for the next one, you should offer an assessment at the end of the earlier module.
You can also test your students on what they learned from earlier modules, chapters or lessons as they move through your course. For instance, a final group project might test to what extent students developed key skills from all the course's modules. It's an excellent opportunity for your learners to integrate the knowledge they learned in chunks earlier in the course.
Assessments are a risk-free way for students to utilize lessons learned from your course before applying them in the real world. Just a few of the many types of assessments you can include in your course are quizzes, individual assignments, group projects and even debates. There are many more at your disposal!
3. List Essential and Complementary Learning Resources
For each lesson, don’t forget to list, link to or attach the learning resources your students require to complete each lesson successfully. Don’t forget to include any optional learning resources, which students might find useful after the course ends.
Your lesson resources can vary in format and include books, articles, podcasts and videos. These resources should help your students retain both the essential and complementary knowledge you expect them to master.
Diversifying your learning resources will also help you cater to different learning styles. It’s important to do this as some students learn better by reading text while others learn better by watching videos or listening to audio recordings.
You have plenty of online teaching methods to choose from, but let us showcase a few of the most common options for you here:
- A video of yourself talking to the camera paired with a screen recording of your presentation slides
- A screen recording of your presentation slides synced with a high-quality audio recording
- A screen recording showing how to achieve something with either software or a step-by-step demonstration (also paired with a high-quality audio recording)
Your learners want to feel connected and supported! Therefore, you should promote a sense of community between yourself and your online students.
Often, you can use your online course platform to create spaces for students to:
- Discuss topics
- Ask questions
- Make lesson comments
- Address concerns
Sometimes, using an online forum or group chat can even do the trick!
Regardless, with the course outline template we laid out for you in this article, you'll be on the right path to launching a successful course.
But before you go! Here’s a few more tips you need to know to make sure your online course outline operates at peak performance...
Build a Thriving Online Course Business on a Platform You Own
If you aim to be a successful online course creator, you need to think beyond just creating great courses.
You need to focus on creating a high-value online course business that provides an exceptional experience for your students and makes them want to buy more of your courses.
There are a lot of third-party platforms out there that promise to host your courses for you so you can sell them with ease – but they all come with limitations, even the best ones.
The best way to create an online course business you love – and generates revenue – is by building and owning it yourself.
Now, if you don’t have the strongest technical expertise…the thought of building your own platform might scare you. But, it doesn’t have to be like that.
You can build an impressive online business (complete with a professional-looking online course space) without needing to code or purchase overly expensive tools.
With WordPress and Thrive Suite, you can set up and launch your online course business in a matter of days.
WordPress is a free, flexible Content Management System that millions of entrepreneurs use to run their online businesses, and it can work for your business too. With the right plugins, you can create an awesome user experience for your customers and course students.
Thrive Suite is an all-in-one toolkit that provides you with the plugins you need to build a smart, professional-looking business website, with an impressive online course platform to match.
And for your online course platform, Thrive Suite gives you access to Thrive Apprentice, the best WordPress LMS plugin in the market.
Thrive Apprentice is the only LMS plugin for WordPress that gives you total design freedom over EVERY aspect of your online course.
Use our set of fully customizable course templates and the drag-and-drop course builder to create a course platform that totally matches your brand.
Here are a few of the many things you can do with Thrive Apprentice:
Create text-based, audio, or video lessons, and provide supporting resources
Include quizzes to test your students’ knowledge and ensure they’re following your
Use drip scheduling to control when and how your students access a lesson
Boost your students’ experience by displaying a customized course completion page when they’ve finished your course
Reward your students with a fully customized online course certificate (and add a QR code for extra verification)
Access detailed reporting & analytics to monitor your students’ and improve your online course business
…and so much more.
Thrive Apprentice lets you run your online course business on your terms, with no hidden costs, no strange ads, and no third-party branding…you’re in charge.
And with Thrive Suite, you can create an online business that puts you miles ahead of your competition.
In addition to a theme builder, page builder, and LMS plugin, Thrive Suite also gives you access to:
A quiz plugin to boost engagement with your audience, or create quizzes for your online courses
A countdown timer plugin to run time-sensitive sales and get your site visitors to purchase your courses and other products faster
A lead-generation plugin to convert more of your visitors into leads
A testimonial management plugin to help you collect & display all the glowing reviews your students
…and so much more
Does this sound like the solution you need? Check out Thrive Suite Pricing here.
Points to Keep in Mind
Now that you know the tricks of the trade when it comes to creating a powerful course outline, it's time to roll up your sleeves and make one for your next course!
Here are a few additional, free resources to help you in your online course creating journey:
- How to Teach Online: A Complete Guide for Beginners
- The Ultimate Online Course Launch Checklist: Everything You Need to Know
- How to Use a Free Online Course to Sell Your Premium Online Course
- Build Online Courses Your Customers Will LOVE with Thrive Apprentice