The Ultimate Guide To Creating Your Online Course Outline Template

sofiaazo   0

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.

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Structuring all your expertise in an online course might feel overwhelming. And sure, you can just sit down, start writing, and hope for the best. But that's a risky approach to building an online course that often results in many hours of wasted work.

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?

Your course outline is your course's structure. And its structural building blocks should resemble the layers of an onion: one grows around the other. In fact, peeling an onion resembles teaching the course's lessons — you unfold the most approachable layers first.

Think about transmitting your knowledge and developing your students’ skills as a process you build upon gradually. Therefore, your course outline must represent the logical sequence of lessons you’ll teach as students move through your course.

In academic institutions, lecturers and professors refer to the course outline as their course syllabus. But, in the course creation industry, the most frequent term used is "course outline."

Another term you might find similar to "course outline" is "lesson plan." However, we use the term “course outline” more comprehensively here. We treat lesson plans as the individual pieces that make up the entire course outline puzzle — very important pieces, though!

However, it's no use having all the best lessons and digital assets available for teaching a topic if you don't know what order to teach them in. And often, organizing your lessons and teaching materials in a way that makes sense to you isn’t necessarily what works best for others.

That’s why it’s always important to align your training materials in a way that optimizes learning outcomes for your students. Your learners should easily understand the lessons you teachas fast as possible.

To do this, you’ll need an effective and efficient course structure that works. And lucky for you, we’ve put together a course outline example you can start using immediately in this article.

But, before looking at the template, let’s talk about what effective outlining can do for your course creation business.

Benefits of a Well-structured Course Outline

Here's a list of all the great things an online course outline template can do for you and your learners:

  • Guide you through the course creation process more quickly

  • Clarify if you need to create more course materials from scratch or repurpose assets you already have

  • Quickly assist you in:

    • Creating your course's navigation menu

    • Populate the course with your training content and resources

  • Help your students get their desired learning outcomes

  • Prevent you from stuffing your course with unnecessary and time wasting information

  • Keep your lessons short, engaging and to the point

  • Ensure you don't forget any important lessons

  • Communicate your knowledge clearly to non-subject matter experts

  • Illustrate your course learning path to students

  • Help you plan, schedule, and create learning activities and assessments for students

  • Make your course easier to follow

  • Help students understand the course’s value, final outcomes and benefits

  • Give your students a way to check their progress while taking your course

  • Save you time when it comes to writing scripts and filming video lessons

Now that you know how using a course outline template can benefit you and your students, it's time to discuss how to write one.

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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 the course’s:

  • Name

  • Description

  • 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!

Course Schedule

We all live busy lives... 

That’s why including a course schedule section in your course outline will help your learners better manage their time. And all you have to do to create your course schedule is define the following in your course outline:

  • The course's start and end dates

  • The dates of each live session

  • The due dates to complete each learning activity and assessment

Learning Outcomes

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.

Content Breakdown

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.

Instructional Methods

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: 

  • Interact

  • 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...

3 Tips for Your Online Course Outline

Always keep these final three tips in mind when creating your next online course outline.

Leverage Your Own Expertise

We get you — you're on a mission to share your knowledge with others!

You know what you're teaching down to the smallest detail, so own the topic. Use your years of experience to help learners see the topics you’re teaching from your expert perspective. This personal touch will help students engage more with you and your course. And of course, whenever students feel motivated and excited about a topic, they learn it better!

Know Your Learners

Your course outline will help your learners achieve the desired knowledge, skills and behaviors you want to teach them. So, make sure you define your course prerequisites thoroughly.

Because teaching advanced learners is totally different from teaching beginners, the students’ level must be reflected in your course outline. Remember that it’s one thing to teach how to edit family photos for fun, but an entirely different thing teaching how to edit wedding photos for cash.

Understanding your audience's level and learning style (and communicating that level in your course outline) is absolutely critical as it will guide which training methods you’ll need to use when teaching your course.

Add Bonuses

Everyone likes a few unexpected extras. So, make sure to surprise your course students with exclusive access to complementary bonus materials — and don’t forget to include them as such in your outline! This will make the course even more attractive to prospective students.

Simple digital downloads like workbooks, checklists or ebooks are great examples of exclusive bonuses.

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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!

Just remember that effective learning requires a well-structured course and lessons. And although your course might be perfectly organized in your mind, your lessons must effectively translate that information into your audience's mind too. That's where your course outline template comes in.

There's no way you can deliver an effective learning experience if you can’t deliver the right information — in the right order! And a course outline allows you to achieve that goal quickly.

You must always teach first things first, and by using the online course outline template showcased in this article means you now have a clear roadmap on how to do that. 

And once your course outline is complete and you’re ready to actually build your online course, make sure to check out Thrive Apprentice. You’ll be shocked at how easy this online course builder makes transforming your course outline into a premium course you can sell.

Why? Because Thrive Apprentice has the most intuitive drag-and-drop visual editor for WordPress — complete with pre-designed course templates you can visually customize to your heart’s content!

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by sofiaazo  August 11, 2021


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