Course Creation & Design

How to Create a Course Outline [With Templates]

Androniki Koumadoraki Content Writer LearnWorlds
12 min
Learn the process to create an online course outline.

Do you have a great idea for an online course but don’t know where to start? You’re not alone – getting started is the most overwhelming part of course design for first-time course creators, who struggle to put their ideas together and turn them into a well-structured course.

The solution to your problem is something as simple as a course outline.

Creating a course outline will help you overcome your mental block and start building your online course.

In this article, we will guide you through the process of designing an online course outline following instructional design principles. We’ll also offer you 18 amazing course templates to spark your creativity.

💡 If you are more of a visual learner, watch the following video on how to create an online course from Idea to Outline with Rachel Reclam.

Table of contents

What is a Course Outline?

A course outline is a plan of the course that contains all the learning material, structured in the order you’ll use it in your online course. It can be in the form of a storyboard or a simple list.

A course outline usually includes the following:

An outline is not just a tool to create an optimal learning path but also a resource to share with your learners.

An example of an online course outline

How to Write a Course Outline Step-by-Step

Let’s go over the steps you need to follow when creating an online course outline:

 

💁 The LearnWorlds WorkBook will guide you through all the necessary steps, offering additional items you can go through.

Step #1 – Build a Learner Profile

How well you know your audience has a massive impact on student learning. The better you know the people who will be attending your course, the more beneficial the learning experience you can build for them.

A learner profile should include the following:

Pre-assessments can help you determine the learners’ knowledge of the subject matter, while a survey can give you information regarding their demographics, their reason for taking the course, and potential roadblocks.

Step #2 – Write the Learning Objectives

Learning goals are broad, general statements of what we want our students to learn – they’re the end goal of the course, the bigger picture. For instance, if you’re teaching social skills, the learning goal is to improve the learners’ social skills. But that doesn’t really say much, right?

When creating your online course outline, break this broad goal down into learning objectives, which are specific and, whenever possible, measurable. So, in this case, ask yourself:

Write all these objectives and make sure to a) use them as a reference point when creating your content and assessments, and b) clearly mention them in your course description and syllabus.

Step #3 – Break Down the Course Into Modules

Now that you know the learning objectives, the next step is to break down the course into smaller learning modules, keeping in mind that you need to keep each module short and sweet and increase the level of difficulty gradually.

A helpful practice creating a topical outline of your course to organize subtopics under general topics. This way, you’re creating the backbone of your course, upon which you will create your course content. In the LearnWorlds’ Course Creation Workbook, visit pages 7-8 to see how to create a topical outline.

Lesson workbook

Step #4 – Choose the Learning Activities

What learning activities are you going to include in your course? Before choosing, think about the content you may already have and can repurpose. For example, you can use the highlights from a blog post to create PDF infographics.

Most importantly, before adding any activity to your lesson plan, think about whether it serves the learning objectives of the course. Anything that doesn’t directly support the learning objectives should be offered as additional/supportive learning resources.

Why? Because bombarding the learners with a mountain of videos, eBooks, and what have you will inevitably lead to cognitive overload.

LearnWorlds supports a wide variety of learning activities to choose from, some of which you can also sell separately as digital products, like:

learning activites digital products

Step #5 – Plan for Interactivity

Remember that what separates a great course from a good-enough one is interactivity. This single “detail” can skyrocket not only learner engagement but the effectiveness of the course, as it allows for in-depth conversations and meaningful connections.

If you can’t include real-time sessions, then at least make sure to build an online community, like a discussion group, where you will interact with your learners and enable them to communicate with one another and exchange knowledge.

Step #6 – Include Knowledge Checkpoints

Last but not least, make sure to include several assessments throughout the course and for different purposes. Let us give you a few ideas:

Training Course Outline: How is it Different?

An online training course designed for employees, customers, or partners, like employee onboarding or customer education, is different from an online course addressed to a wide audience.

Goals are set based on company priorities and result tracking (on multiple levels we’ll explain below) is non-negotiable. Employee training is often mandatory and crucial. All this means that your outline might look a little different.

Assessment Evaluation

The first major difference is an assessment evaluation. If you are tasked with creating a training course, there are good chance the company hiring you has already assessed their training needs and documented them.

If not, you should perform an assessment evaluation and identify the training needs of the company. These are similar to learning goals and objectives but focus specifically on the people or departments requesting the training to improve specific deficiencies.

Adult Learning Principles

Training is addressed to adults. They might be coming with some industry or work experience and will be looking to implement their newfound knowledge and skills in their work. As such, they have different preferences and needs than younger students.

Adult learning principles will help you make training more relevant to their needs:

Remember to make the training more practical, using real-world examples and allowing learners to draw from their years of experience.

Training Evaluation & Tracking

Lastly, evaluating the results is a huge part of training. More often than not, it’s the key stakeholders who will decide the course prerequisites and how success is measured.

For example, compliance training might include a specific number of video watch hours and a final exam with a passing score of 80%. It’s also possible that you should include a certificate to award learners at the end of the course.

You might additionally need to collect grades, assignments, or physical examinations. Some advanced learning management systems, like LearnWorlds, include a gradebook or reporting features you will need to meet these requirements.

Include evaluation activities such as exams, on-site testing, scenarios, or other forms of evaluations to the course outline for training, and plan on certifications or reporting requirements.

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18 Course Outline Templates to Download

The best way to create your own outline is to use a good example as a guide.
Our team of experts reviewed LearnWorlds’ course creators and prepared 18 course outline templates based on the most popular course types.

Here is a sneak peek of the templates:

Assessment courses

These courses help you and your potential students assess their skills. This course type can also be used as a powerful lead magnet to gather students’ emails early in the process.

 An example of an assessment course template.

Presell courses

Presell courses serve as a storefront for an upcoming course. They can help you validate a course idea and build an email list of your potential students before officially releasing a course.

An example of a presel course as a template including a welcome and live class session.

Orientation courses

An orientation course provides an overview of all your courses. They can build student engagement and interest. Don’t forget to add a walkthrough of your academy and the online community, as well as the instructor’s contact details.

The beginnings of an orientation course as a downloadable template.

Orientation courses can also help mobile app users onboard faster. Be sure to add an orientation-style course on your roadmap for user training!

Μini-courses

Mini-courses are versions of full-sized courses. Like presell and orientation courses, they serve as teasers that make students enroll in a course. However, in contrast to the other two categories, mini-courses provide real educational value: a full summary of what will be taught in the full-sized course.

A mini-course template example. Including the first 2 sections of a mini course.

Live courses

This course type includes mostly scheduled live sessions, which you can enrich with different types of material, like quizzes, discussions, transcripts, and downloadable PDF files. Live courses could also have office hours, during which learners can reach the instructor for questions, feedback, or support.

An example of a live course and how it can be setup.

Workshops

Workshop courses consist of a series of videos where an instructor demonstrates practical tasks while describing the process for the students to follow through. Workshop courses are usually about arts & crafts, painting, sewing, fitness, content creation, etc. You can also share top highlights of your event for your social media as part of your marketing strategy.

How to create the outline of a workshop. An example of a downloadable outline.

Professional training courses

Professional training courses aim to build knowledge, skills, and competence in a group of individuals or a team. Companies deploy employee training & development initiatives to improve employee performance, smooth out productivity issues, and enhance the soft skills of their workforce.

A template for professional and training courses, showing an example of the introduction sections.

The “X days challenge” courses

Through an “X Days Challenge” course, an instructor guides the students through daily or weekly small achievements to reach a more challenging end goal at the end of the course. Deploying gamification gimmicks, like badges, is good practice in these courses, as they motivate and reward learners along the way.

A good example of a challenge course is “Create your first mandala painting in 14 days” or “Improve your sleeping habits in a month.”

Challenge course template. A guide on building your challenge course for X Days Challenges.

Certification courses

Certification courses verify the skills and knowledge the learner has obtained in the course in the form of a (usually sharable and printable) certificate. They require learners to pass a final exam or perform a practical task demonstrating their skills. Certifications can be obtained from external governmental organizations or recognized entities.

Unsurprisingly, certification courses often have prerequisites and strict navigation; you can read more on the course navigation on LearnWorlds here.

A template outline for certification courses with examples on introduction and resources.

Spotlight/Niche topic courses

Niche topics are created to teach particular skills. Instructors can create a whole academy with multiple niche courses and sell them in bundles to provide a more comprehensive learning experience while boosting their revenue.

how to built spotlight course outlines with a ready-made template.

Academic courses

Academic courses follow the traditional structure that higher education institutions follow. This type of course usually consists of an introduction to the course and its learning outcomes, a short test or discussion to assess pre-existing knowledge, and multiple lectures (live or video) supported by written learning material, like handouts.

A course outline template for traditional academic courses showing the example of a math course.

Drip-feed courses

In a drip-feed course, you organize the timely release of your content (section by section) so that it doesn’t become available to your students all at once. This comes with multiple benefits, such as avoiding overwhelming learners, ensuring they learn at a reasonable pace that boosts knowledge retention, and preventing them from downloading the course content all at once and asking for a refund.

Template outline for drip feed courses.

Conceptual change courses

Conceptual change courses create a learning experience based on storytelling. These courses don’t intend to teach a skill but rather challenge the learner’s mentality and open them up to different perspectives. Conceptual change courses don’t have a fixed structure.

How to write the outline for conceptual change courses.

Hybrid courses

Hybrid courses combine the benefits of online learning with traditional in-class learning offering the flexibility of the first and the opportunity for practice and direct communication of the latter.

The structure of hybrid courses in an outline form as a downloadable template.

Series of “invited talks” courses

Courses made up of invited talks from guest speakers who are experts in the course topic are particularly engaging. A typical course of this sort could include a series of live webinars with key insights sent out to participants in the form of an eBook.

How to structure invited talks into an online course.

Selling digital goods or extra services

Online courses are not strictly used for teaching. An online course can be a suitable wrapper for your digital product or service, sold either as additional or standalone offerings. For example, you might be an online coach who sells a package of inspirational videos and eBooks separately in a course.

A course outline for a digital goods course.

💡 If you are selling digital downloads, be sure to check out our guide as well.

Bonus courses

Bonus courses are usually short and offer some extra resources to students. They typically contain scarce resources, like a PDG, an exclusive interview, an exciting webinar, etc. What makes bonus courses popular is that they add value to your initial offering. They’re usually promoted as being free, which makes them even more appealing.

how to outline a bonus course related to your products.

Complementary to physical products courses

A complementary course offers additional material to a product you sell through your website. Such complementary content can be information about that specific product or guidelines about how to use the product, similar to customer education.

💁 You can download all of these templates for free in our downloadable pdf. Download the entire collection here:

Start Creating Your Course Outline

A course outline is the foundation of your online course. You’ll find that creating one will help you streamline the content development process and focus your energy on building your course instead of trying to bring order to the chaos.

Leverage the 30-day free trial and start putting together your course in your shiny new LearnWorlds academy.

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Further reading you might find interesting:

FAQs

What does a course outline include?

A course outline should include a brief course description and the learning outcomes, outlining the topics that will be covered in the course in the order in which they will be covered. The outline can also mention a list of required and recommended readings you plan to include in the course, as well as assessments and exams.

What is the difference between a course outline and a course syllabus?

A course outline is a document that includes the basic components to be taught, such as learning activities, assessments, and evaluations of an online course. It is used to plan and organize the course creation process.

A course syllabus is built for the learner and includes all learning material (mandatory and optional), specific assignments, dates, grading standards, and rules of conduct & classroom policies defined by the instructor.

What is the purpose of a course outline?

The purpose of a course outline is to assist the instructor in creating and delivering the course by following a predetermined structure, planning activities, and creating the materials beforehand.

What are the benefits of a course outline?

A course outline helps the instructor avoid pitfalls while creating a course, from setting clear learning outcomes to including/creating the most suitable content, therefore speeding up the course creation process.

How do you write an outline for an online course?

To write an online course outline you need to follow these steps:

What are the components of an online course?

An online course might include the following:

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Androniki Koumadoraki Content Writer LearnWorlds
Androniki Koumadoraki

Androniki is a Content Writer at LearnWorlds sharing Instructional Design and marketing tips. With solid experience in B2B writing and technical translation, she is passionate about learning and spreading knowledge. She is also an aspiring yogi, a book nerd, and a talented transponster.