Outlining Saves Time and Money, and Helps You Achieve More, Faster

If you’re here, we figure you’re thinking of finally putting that online course together. Or you’ve already decided to do it and want to know where to start.

Welcome! We’ll answer that question for you. But, first, it can be helpful to establish a few key reasons why it’s a great idea to package and monetize your expertise into your new course in the first place.

This way, by the time you get to outlining, you’re crystal clear on how to make the best decision at each stage of your course creation. 

If you’ve already done this ground work, feel free to skip to the bottom section of this post.

Why You Should Create an Online Course

There are many reasons why people decide to finally create that online course they’ve been thinking about developing for a while.

Not all of the below list will apply to you.

For those that do, try to keep them in mind when you get to your outlining stage, and again when you begin filling out the actual content for your course.

Passion for a Subject: You want to share your knowledge.

Monetization: You want to create a new source of income based on your knowledge.

Audience growth: You want to attract new students or followers, without geographic restriction.

Flexibility: Online courses are easier to schedule and deliver, including at scale.

Building authority: Further establish yourself as an expert in your field.

Provide value: Empower your students to achieve their goals and improve themselves.

Professional growth: Develop new skills and knowledge to populate your course.

Flexibility: Create courses and teach in a way that reflects your own style and perspective.

Understanding the potential benefits of creating an online course can help you make an informed decision about whether to invest your time into the task.

You’ve probably considered some of the above reasons, but looking more closely at the full list could unlock even more to think about before you begin outlining your content.

Why You Should Outline Your Online Course

Maybe you have some online course ideas that needed to be fleshed out.  Or someone told you that you need an outline, or you read it somewhere else. Or perhaps you’ve leaned on outlines for other types of content, but are wondering if you really need to do it for your course.

Some people don’t outline. They’re comfortable delivering knowledge off the cuff, and they lean on their experience speaking publicly, as well as some skillful editing and assembly, to produce their course videos and modules.

For most creators, however, the benefits to outlining far outweigh the extra time needed to plan. Outlining helps support:

Clarity: Building an outline helps you organize your thoughts, ensuring strong structure and presentation for your ideas.

Time savings: Surprise! Taking extra time to outline can actually save time later on fixes to your course content.

Improved outcomes: Outlined courses tend to boast greater precision, which produces better engagement and results from students.

Consistency: Working off an outline makes it more likely that course modules sync up well with each other, producing another net positive for students.

Collaboration: Especially for course creators enlisting a team to help produce your content, an outline provides a blueprint for working together with others. It also saves you money, by reducing the number and depth of revisions when it comes to the groundwork of creating your audio and visual assets.

Pursuing these outcomes means buckling up and performing the actual work of outlining. This is a mostly straightforward process that does have some nuances when it comes to course creation.

How to Outline Your Online Course

Your outline is your roadmap for the entirety of your course content. It doesn’t restrict you from making changes to your plans later on, but it does help you stay the course (get it?? 😂) as you organize your ideas into the best possible form for instructing your students.

Here are the five most common steps in outlining a course curriculum:

Step 1: Determine the Course Objective

Determining your course objective could take up more time than you might expect. Try to distill what you want your students to learn, down to a page. Then half a page. Then a paragraph. Finally, a sentence or two. This exercise will also give you an excellent head start on the remainder of your outline. Don’t rush this step! Do the work, let it rest, come back to it a day or two later. Repeat until everything is clear.

Alternatively, if you’re a course creator who is basing their course on pre-existing content (like a book or a series of blog posts) you could dive right into defining your two-sentence objective and then expand out in the other direction when completing the next few steps on this list.

Step 2: Create a List of Modules

Modules are the real building blocks of your outline. Each module should relate to a specific topic that falls under the umbrella of your course objective. For example, if your objective is to teach students how to write a novel, modules might include “Character Development,” “Plotting,” and “Editing and Revisions.”

Step 3: Break Down Each Module into Lessons

It’s common in most courses for modules to include subtopics, in the form of individual lessons. The “Editing and Revisions” module from the preceding example might include three videos on “Gathering Feedback,” “Editing Yourself vs. Hiring an Editor,” and “Revisions: Tools and Processes.”

Step 4: Create Sub-Objectives for Each Lesson

Each module and lesson should have its own clear objective related to the overall objective you set in Step 1. Lesson notes will likely form the bulk of the actual content in your outline. For each lesson, ask yourself what students should take away from watching the video. What should they be able to do by the time they’re done watching?

Step 5: Determine What Success Looks Like

For formal educators or course creators seeking to create a similar environment, this is the stage where you would decide how to assess students on how well they understood and/or applied the lessons in each module, and overall for the course.

Quizzes, projects, surveys – consider which (if any) would best match up to measuring how well objectives were met. Anything of this type that needs to be included as content in your course should go into your outline.

Conclusion: Outlining Takes Work, but It Almost Always Pays Off

It’s an exciting moment, when you finally decide to create your course. Or when you’re ready to start building a new one. 

It can be tempting to dive right in shortly after, or to rush through the outlining phase to get to the “fun stuff.” By now, though, we’ve hopefully made it clear that outlining your online course is the best way to assure that you achieve the goals you’ve set in creating and bringing it to market.

Gather your notes, set aside some time, and get outlining. Your students will thank you!

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