[UPDATED: JUN 2023]
If you’re looking to launch an online course, the first thing you need is a plan of action. A good course outline will help you organize your content and structure your course. You can use it to identify what topics should be covered, how long each section should be, and who or how you should teach them. It’s also important to consider when the course will launch and what steps to take in order to go from #Layout2Launch.
First off, the course outline must be a separate document. It can be an excel or word document that changes as you learn more about your target audience and their needs and wants. Remember, I always encourage you to get course feedback from past and current students in your courses. This is where it comes in handy — to revise your course outline.
What is a Course Outline?
The course outline is a high-level overview of what you will be covering in your course. It should be a living document that you can update and change based on the needs of your students.
The best way to start this process is by brainstorming what material would be most beneficial for students, then writing down those ideas on paper or creating a mind map. This will help clarify things like pacing, structure, and any other important details about the content that needs to be included in order for users to get value from the course material.
PRO TIP: If you’re more of a hands-on person you can write every point you wish to teach in your course on a sticky note and then get busy arranging them into groups (modules) and sub-groups (lessons).
The course outline should be a comprehensive document that contains all the information you need to get started with creating your course content (elements such as: context, description of the problem statement/problem definition; goals; objectives; learning outcomes).
The course outline should also be flexible so it can change over time as you learn more about how best to deliver your content (elements such as: topics). It also needs to contain an overview of all areas where learners could potentially encounter confusion or uncertainty while they’re working through the material in each module (this includes things like definitions).
Before we move on, let’s clear one thing that most often can confuse people who first get started with course creation. What is the difference between course outline and syllabus?
Course Outline VS Syllabus
Simply put, a course outline gives the basic components of the course required to be taught; whereas a syllabus describes the details of how you will teach that course in terms of specific assignments, dates, assessments, and other rules of conduct.
So, the first step in your course planning process is to create the course outline and once you are confident with the layout and have created all the necessary components, you can put together your syllabus for your online course.
What should go into a course outline?
In order to create an outline, you’ll need to do some research. You can use existing course outlines as a starting point, or find some inspiration from other courses that have done well. If you followed my ROC framework to launch an online course you have done all the hard work in the first step.
Here are few things to consider when working on your course outline:
- What should go into each module of your course? This section will help answer this question by providing examples of what works well for other courses and why.
- How many modules/lessons should a course have? Best practice is to cut out all the fluff and have between 5-7 modules with 3-5 lessons in each module.
- How long should each lesson be? Depending on the topic, I’ll usually keep these modules at around 10-15 minutes per lesson.
So, when outlining your online course, create a blueprint of all the topics you wish to cover first and arrange them in logical order; otherwise everything might end up feeling scattered instead of organized!
How to outline your online course?
One thing is for certain, there is no right or wrong way to outline your online course but after years of experience with course creation, I have developed a simple step by step system to outline online courses with ease. You’re welcome to follow my approach or adjust it to your needs.
- Identify Core Topics (Modules)
- Decide on Sub-Topics (Lessons)
- Consider Knowledge Checks (Quiz)
- Arrange Modules, Lessons, Tests
- Create Course Outline Document
- Add Supporting Materials (Worksheets)
If you follow this simple six step process, you’ll have your course outline document ready for your next course launch which means you can now start working on the course content!
Milestones & Course Outline
If you are planning to launch your course in a specific timeframe including milestones into your workflow is a must. They are a great way to keep your course on track. In addition, you can use milestones as a tool for keeping students engaged and motivated, which will help them stay on track with the learning process.
If you have not considered including milestones in your course outline yet, that’s okay! It’s pretty simple but first let’s get into what they are and how they work together with all other parts of the course outline process.
In e-learning, milestones are significant events or accomplishments in your online course. Often a milestone marks the start of a new chapter or completion of part of your course. For example, learners complete the foundational knowledge required to master your topic.
Now that you have a better understanding of what a milestone is, let’s see how to incorporate it in your online course. I usually look at my course outline and try to include a milestone or mini celebration at the end of each module. That way my students know they completed one part of the course and are encouraged to keep going. And the additional access to a free resource or gift always adds a little spark to the celebration.
Now that we have a course outline with milestones in place, let’s quickly review a course launch timeline so you have an idea how long it may take you
Course Launch ROADMAP
In addition to a course outline, a course launch roadmap can help you organize your content and structure your course. It can help you plan your course, stay on track with the development of your course and manage your time effectively.
A launch date is an important milestone for any solopreneur because it gives a concrete goal to work toward. When you know exactly how long it will take for each section of the course to be written, then there’s less chance of getting distracted by other projects or tasks that may arise during this period. This also keeps those who are responsible for producing the final product focused on what they need to do next — which means they won’t be waiting around until everything else falls into place (which could easily happen).
And while the course launch time frame heavily depends on the length of your online course and its content, below you can find an example of a course launch timeline I usually recommend to first time course creators.
Of course, there can be unforeseen circumstances in your course launch journey, but if you have a course launch time frame in place, you know how to work around it and still get your online course launch in time.
Again, the steps in your course launch may vary a bit depending on your topic but from experience a beginner course on any topic should not take more than four weeks to go from #Layout2Launch. And if you think it takes much longer than that, maybe you need to revisit your course outline and cut out all the “nice-to-know” things out.
Best practice for DIY course launch
With all the planning and documents for your online course launch it can become somewhat confusing. That is why I have put together course launch planner. It’s a great way to keep track of your progress. It can help you see where you are and where you need to go, as well as keep yourself accountable for your goals.
Course planners also serve as a reminder of what’s important to you and how much time it takes to get there. My course planner includes a checklist for all the tasks along your course creation process and ensure you get everything ready from #Layout2Launch.
As an extra bonus, I have included a calculator so you can see how profitable your course launch could really be if you consider your audience and launch timeline. And of course a space where you can outline your course so all your important launch documents are in one place.
Small Steps to Successful Course Launch
Launching a course is a big deal. It’s an opportunity to reach new audiences, share your knowledge with the world, promote your brand, and create a lasting legacy. And it can be stressful! But with careful planning, you can make sure that everything goes smoothly — from the content you choose (and its structure) to the launch process itself.
No COurse, No problem – get started today!
And if you don’t have an online course yet or thinking of automating your expertise or passion with an online course, below are some recommended resources for you to get started:
- My Favorite WordPress Hosting Deal
- My Favorite Course Hosting Platform
- My Favorite Social Media Scheduler
- My Favorite Tool for Graphic Design
- My Favorite Email Marketing Platform
- Join Course Creator Bootcamp Course
- Watch the Content2Course Masterclass
- Or Download Course Creator Roadmap
And if all this is still too much hustle for you but you’re ready to turn your expertise into profit in 2023, join the Course Launch Challenge to launch your own course in no time.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in September 2022 and has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness. In addition, I believe in transparency. If you use my referral links above, then I will get a small commission at no additional cost to you.