How to Plan an Online Course: A Comprehensive Checklist


Just like with real classrooms you need to have a plan when building online courses.  And that starts with a simple lesson plan that takes into account how you teach online.  This article will show you how to do exactly that.

To plan an online course you need to:

  • Outline The Course
    • Title
    • Topics
    • Prerequisites
    • Outcomes
    • Course Length
    • Demographic
    • Competition
    • Budget
    • Course Price
  • Delivery Style
    • eLearning
    • Web Conference
    • Live Virtual Classroom
    • Podcast
    • eBook / Audio Book 
  • Methods of Assessment
    • Formative
    • Summative
  • Create Training Content
  • Hosting Your Course
  • Market Your Course
    • Google Adsense
    • Social Media
    • Affiliate Marketing
    • Writing a Blog
    • Email Marketing
  • Evaluating Your Course
    • Completion Rates
    • Student Surveys
    • Assessment Results
    • Enrolments

Now that you know what aspects you need to take into account let’s jump in and determine how to create your lesson plan.

Outline The Course

Before you start actually teaching online you need to outline the main aspects of your course. Below you will find a brief description of every factor as well as guidelines on how to outline your courses. 

Title

The first obvious thing you will need to do is decide what you were wanting to teach so you can set a broad scope for the course.  This will be reflected in your title.  If you are selling this course publicly online the title will not only have to explain what you are doing but be catchy enough for people to want to pay the amount you are charging them.

There is an art in picking a catchy title and you will also want to make sure you pass it by the google alphabet soup method so that you know people are actually asking that question.  If people are asking a question your course answers then you will get more organic traffic to your course from Google.

This video will discuss how you will get traffic for your course by picking a title that will get you traffic and be seen even in a crowded market.  It is based on blog article titles but the same rules apply for picking your course title.

If you don’t know what title and therefore subject you want to teach online maybe have a look at the article below.

ARTICLE: What Subjects Can I Teach Online?

Topics

Now that you have your Title and you know what you want to build your online course on you then need to break that down into the topics that make sense to teach for that course.  The amount of topics will also depend on how much you are going to charge.

Why does pricing and topic selection go hand in hand?  It is because the amount of topics will directly relate to the size of the course.  Since most courses these days online at video eLearning for instance sell for $15 usd on sites like Udemy.  If you were going to list your course on there you would scale your course content to fit that price range.

I personally find Topic selection as being the most critical step to building your course because you are literally getting your thoughts in order and picking the scope of the course.  Deciding what is relevant to the audience.

Prerequisites

Here are the things you may wish to think about that your students may need to know before completing your course.

Example prerequisites:

  • General Computer Knowledge
  • Language Skills, Numeracy Skills, Literacy Skills (LLN)
  • Access To Required Hardware
  • Previous Course or Knowledge Requirements
  • Computer Setup
    • Software Downloads
    • Configuration Required

There are many other things you may need to check for but this list will get you thinking of what you might need.

Outcomes

So what should your students be able to do at the end of the course?  Build a boat, learn to ski, make software, get a better job and many other things.  These will be the key drivers for the student to pay for your training.

Course Length

When you are thinking about the course length there are a few ways you can think about how to make the course the appropriate length.  Some people size the course in relation to the price you are going to charge for an online public course.  While others have to set the course length to a curriculum and nominal hours.

The third option you have is to just write the course to whatever length it comes out to be and decide on an appropriate price for that length course.  The reason this method has largely lost favor is for a couple of reasons.

The first is that for public online courses there is heaps of competition and creating many small courses brings in more revenue at a cost the customer is willing to pay (Udemy $10 to $20 USD).  It also breaks the course down into more manageable pieces for the student.  The goals seem easier and students get more motivated completing 10 small courses then 1 large course.

The second is the changing nature of education into micro learning of no more than 10 to 30 minutes of training at a time.  Something that can be easily fit into the work day or classroom session.  When you bundle these micro learning sessions together into 10 to 20 lessons or training topics it makes the right price for the course length in the effort you need to take and the amount of learning the student wants to do.

If you are governed by a country K-12 curriculum you still end up breaking these sessions down into similar sizes as 30 mins of training will always take at least an hour to deliver.  This is including introductions and Q&A and one on one tutoring.

I know I basically just said “How long is a piece of string” for the answer to course length but I hope you now understand that your course length will depend on the topics you will teach in that course multiplied by the topic length of 10 to 30 mins.  Personally I generally aim for around 10 to 15 major topics in a course.

Demographic

Knowing your students will help with making a course that suits them.  It will determine the level you are teaching at and what knowledge they already have.  So let’s look at some things that are important to think about when creating your training content.

Example list of demographics:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Geographic Location
  • Met Prerequisites
  • Student Learning Style
  • Language, Literacy, and Numeracy (LLS) skills
  • Learning Difficulties
  • Delivery Style

There are many more you can look at depending on the people you are aiming to deliver content too, but these will get you started.

Competition

If you are teaching K-12 or at a University or College this is not really an issue and you can skill this section.  But if you are looking at teaching online publicly this is definitely a point to consider.  How do you make your content unique and to an equal or better standard to the existing content out there.

Places you should check for competition:

Having a look at the quality of the training content out there and what your competitors are charging may even make you change your mind on whether you will make the course at all.  Sometimes it may just mean you need to pivot slightly or make the training more niche.

Budget

Planning the budget for your online course is a tricky task. You must take into account several key factors that greatly influence the amount of money and effort you need to invest. How much work can you do yourself and what will you need to contract out or hire someone to do for you?

We have already decided on our course length and the type of content you will be making so you need to look at the quality and interactivity of the training required for your audience.  You then also need to look at your skill set and see how much of this you can do on your own.

Here is an article on just what skills you may require:

ARTICLE: eLearning Developers : Must Have Employable Skills

If you have to contract all the work out versus doing most of it yourself you budget will need to be drastically different.  There are however many ways to get the work done cheaper these days with online Freelancing websites.

Some Freelancing websites to try:

You can put the job on there and specify what you would like to be done.  You can find some great people to do the work for you at a good price on those websites but initially finding them may take you some time.  The amount you pay does not determine the quality and like with any contractor make sure you do your due diligence.  Check their previous work and set the right standards for them.

Once you have a rough budget of content types by how many hours of content then do what I do and multiply the budget by a buffer that allows you to handle anything you are unaware of now.  I normally do at least 20% on projects as they always cost more and take longer than expected.

Course Price

Setting the right price for a course is always difficult but as you do it more you will get better at it.  For those of you who are selling your courses publicly there is definitely a sweet spot for courses that people will impulse buy.  From personal experience this is normally less than $100 USD.  If you go above that amount you need to warm up your audience first.

Warming up the audience means giving some value for free on a Youtube, Email Mailing List or through a Blog.  Providing this value gets them to trust you and that you know your stuff.  Then you can charge a lot more for your courses.  Make sure you are adding value and for higher priced courses maybe a companion website.

The companion website can add value with these types of add ons:

  • Live Chat
  • Forums
  • Member Access Special Features

If you are putting your course online on one of the websites above in the Competition section then you don’t really have the choice to add value and all courses are on the same footing and it comes down to quality, price and course length.

Delivery Style

After defining the outline of your course you need to determine what delivery style you will approach for the lessons. There are heaps of different options you can choose from. Below I have listed 5 of the most popular delivery styles.

eLearning

We have all taken an eLearning course and essentially this is a self paced course taken online that can be a blending of different content types.  If you have not looked at the different types of content you can include in your course check out this article.

ARTICLE: The Ultimate Guide to eLearning Content Types

You can either create the materials manually or use an authoring tool to do this. Make sure to check out the Recommended Tools page in order to find out the best software you can use to create eLearning training content. 

There are plenty of methods you can use to host the eLearning content you will create:

  • Learning Management System
    • Paid (Blackboard, Canvas, etc.)
    • Open-Source (Moodle, Google Classroom, etc.)
  • Third-Party Teaching Platforms

Web Conference

Web Conferences are the simplest way to run a live online classroom where you can present your training in a lecture-style presentation and push content out to many people at once. If you are planning on using this delivery style for your training course then your students will be able to ask questions using the integrated chat window. 

Here are some of the conference types you may wish to look at:

There are plenty of other web conferencing tools you can use and this Wikipedia article looks at the feature differences.

ARTICLE: Comparison of Web Conferencing Software

Live Virtual Classroom

This most resembles a real life classroom and while it takes more effort to set up and maintain will provide the best value for your students.  It does require more work by the teacher as well so will require some training for them.

If you are interested in looking into this more check out this article.

ARTICLE: Creating a Live Virtual Classroom

Podcasts & Audio Books

Podcasts are a great way to push a lot of content out to students in an easy to consume way that they can put into their daily routines.  Whether they are driving to and from work or on public transport it is a great way to deliver content to lots of people as well as reinforce learning.

Students can download the audio files in their devices and listen whenever they want to. This makes your training content accessible 24/7 regardless of your availability. Students are more likely to enjoy listening to a podcast than reading a book or an article. 

You can release your training every week so they have time to process last weeks training before going on to new material.

You could also bundle the audio together into an Audio Book instead and make that the core material for your training course and do live tutoring sessions to integrate that learning.

eBook

Just like physical textbooks you can get the same result out of an eBook and if you are smarter about it maybe host it online.  This can be put on a website in HTML help style format that students can log into or as a protected or unprotected PDF.  Alternatively you can put it in an eBook format for delivery on most eBook readers.

Methods of Assessment

Depending on the type of course you are planning on teaching you may or may not need a method of assessment.

Formative

Formative assessment is the type of assessment that is conducted by educators during the course. It is a method of checking the understanding of the students as you go through the training and also to provide feedback to students.

Types of Formative Assessment:

  • Assignments
  • Quizesses
  • Class Interaction

Summative

Summative Assessments provide the students with a final mark and show their full understanding of the course that has been taught.  This sums up both the effectiveness of the course and the ability of the students to understand the material.

Types of Summative Assessment:

  • Monitored or Unmonitored Online Exams
  • Third Party Exam Vendors
  • Research Projects / Assignments

For some creative ways to assess online students check out this article.

ARTICLE: 13 Ways To Assess Online Students

Create Training Content

This is where you actually create your training content you need for the style of training delivery you chose above.  This will most likely be the biggest part of your time when creating the course for eLearning or if you are creating a companion training manual as an eBook or Audio book.

The article linked to in the eLearning delivery style above will also show you the different tools you can use for all of these delivery types.

Hosting Your Course

When it comes to hosting your online guided reading course there are multiple viable options. You can choose between Learning Management Systems (LMS) that provide powerful features and standalone websites that increase your course’s exposure. 

The most popular online hosting solutions for your guided reading course are:

Market Your Course

To attract new students you need to market your course. Below I have prepared 5 of the best marketing methods you can use to advertise your course.  When you are looking at the best way to market your course you need to know your customer acquisition cost.  That is basically how much money it costs you to attract 1 new student.

If you pay $10 in advertising for each new enrolment then your customer or student acquisition cost is $10.  This cost will need to be included in your course cost or will increase your course cost.

Google Adsense

You can pay to appear in the search results of relevant users. The price depends on the keywords you are targeting and the overall volume of searches.  You can also use Adsense to put video ads on YouTube as well.

Social Media

Depending on the course that you are making and who your audience is you will need to look at which social media type suits that audience.  If I am after women 30’s and up I might think of using Pinterest.  If I was after corporate type people in working careers I would use LinkedIn.  

If I was looking at the younger generation I would think of Instagram and Tik Tok.  Some training doesn’t suit social media at all and you will have to trial a few to see what works for you.

Affiliate Marketing

This affiliate marketing website allows you to offer a dollar or percentage amount for each student that signs up that is referred to you by that person or website.  Affiliate marketing is huge and there are heaps of affiliate marketing companies you can sign up with that you could use to promote your training.

Writing a Blog

Having your own blog is a great idea. You can use SEO (Search Engine Optimization) to increase the organic traffic on your blog. This way, you will not have to pay for Adsense advertising and people will visit your website and find out more about your course.  

You will have to write 100 to 200 hundred articles in your topic area and wait for the articles to mature for a year to build that traffic.  This is the best and most passive after initial work to build an audience.

Email Marketing

Whether you are paying to market to another person’s list or building your own from an opt-in on your own website this is a great way to warm an audience for a higher priced course.  You have to be sure to provide value and not spam your mailing list and there are plenty of courses out there that can show you how to do this with good conversion rates.

Evaluating Your Course

Completion Rates

If you actually care about whether your students complete the training and understand what is being taught then this is your core metric.  Not only those that enrolled but those who completed the training is the most important thing.  

This is not always the case though as with most courses on Udemy and similar sites where people sign up for cheap courses and then most don’t even start or complete the training.  This is due to the low price of the course.  If you are a College or University this is the metric for you. 

Student Surveys

No matter what you are teaching, getting feedback from students allows you to make the training better and understand how the student felt about the training.  Understanding how easy or hard the training was will let you improve the experience for future students.

Here is an article on some creative ways to survey your students.

ARTICLE: Creative Ways to Survey Your Students

Assessment Results

While the assessment results are a gauge of the individual students understanding of the material you are teaching.  The group trends also show us the effectiveness of the teacher or trainer and also how well the training material supported the students in completing the course or lesson.

Enrolments

Growth or reduction in enrollments for a for profit training company is the biggest indicator of successful training that not only meets students expectations but also provides them with the skills or knowledge the course or lesson promised them.

Glen Brown

I am a Technical Trainer and Manager with over 20 years experience in IT, Education and Business. I have multiple qualifications on each topic including post graduate qualifications. I have a passion for sharing knowledge and using technology to do this. If you would like to know more about me please see the about page of the website.

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