Outline your course

Before you begin

Before delving into your course, consider the Backward Design approach. Start with defining your learning objectives, and then design your course sections, lectures, and practice activities in alignment with these objectives. Learn more about creating learning objectives in our create your learning objectives guide.

What makes a good learning experience?

The most impactful courses are well-structured and guide learners through the subject matter in an organized and thoughtful way. They help learners build their knowledge and confidence with a clear beginning, middle, and end. And they incorporate a variety of lectures and practice opportunities, including video and text lectures, quizzes, coding exercises, assignments, and practice tests

In general, it’s best for each course section to align to a single learning objective and include lectures that cover the concepts and practice opportunities for learners to achieve those objectives. Don’t try to cover too much in a single lecture — keep them short, and stick with a specific topic, skill, or subject.

Tip: Consider modularity when structuring your course. Sometimes, learners will search for a certain skill or answer to a question and only be interested in a specific lecture or even a specific part of a lecture. Are your course components created and labeled such that a learner who’s just dropping in can easily find what they need?

Get started with course outline template

Kickstart your course design with our recommended outline template. This resource employs learning design best practices, and will help you structure your course effectively and lay a solid foundation for the learning journey you’re about to create.

Build your course outline

Think of your course as a story. It should have three parts — a beginning, a middle, and an end — that follow a logical flow that builds knowledge and skills in a way that is clear and makes sense. It should also work for learners who are just dropping for a specific lecture. 

Course Introduction

The goal at the beginning of your course is to motivate and hook your learners, who may still be deciding if your course is right for them. Your introduction may be longer or shorter depending on the total length of your course, but it’s probably best not to go over 10 minutes or so. Start your course with the following:

  • Intro lecture: Keep this short and simple, 2-4 minutes. Introduce yourself and explain why you are the best person to teach this course. Set the right expectations, tell the learners what they’ll learn from your course and what they’ll be able to do by the end of your course.
  • Instructional lectures: Introduce your course topic and the basic foundations learners will need to understand the concepts in your course. It’s a good idea to allude to what learners might eventually be able to achieve once they understand the more advanced concepts of your course.
  • Engagement activity: Engage learners right away by providing an activity within the first few lectures in your course. This could be an exercise or reflection activity and is a great way to motivate your learners.

The middle

This is the main part of your course, where you’ll teach the subject and provide activities and assessments for learners to practice and measure what they’re learning. This part of your course should include sections, consisting of lectures, practice activities, and reference materials. Each section, lecture, and practice activity should meet a specific learning objective.

  • Sections: Focus on covering one learning objective per section. Make sure all the sections build on each other to deliver on all the skills your course promises to address in your learning objectives.
  • Lectures: Each section should contain as many lectures as you need to help learners achieve the section objective. Stick to one learning objective or concept per lecture to make it easy for learners to navigate the course. Keep your videos short, ideally 3-6 minutes — this is especially preferred by busy enterprise learners. For technical or complicated topics you may need to make your lectures longer.
  • Practice activities and assessments: Include at least one practice activity or assessment per section, to give learners an opportunity to apply their learning and get a sense of how well they’re meeting the learning objectives. These activities are crucial for effective learning, and top courses on Udemy often have a rich mix of different projects, practice activities, quizzes and more. See our guide on planning your practice activities and assessments for more.
  • Reference materials: Don’t forget to note any additional resources you want to add in each section. This could include checklists, worksheets, templates, visual aids, PDF notes, source code, and additional links, as necessary.

The conclusion

End your course with a strong finish that leaves learners feeling motivated to apply their learning. 

  • Final lecture: At minimum include a congratulations lecture at the end that summarizes key takeaways from the course, thanks your learners for their time, and leaves them with a sense of accomplishment.
  • Bonus lecture: While optional, you can include a bonus lecture after your final lecture. You can use this to market other courses or products but please ensure you follow our rules and guidelines for bonus lectures.

Key Takeaways

  • Use our course outline template to map your course according to learning design best practices. Each section, lecture, and practice activity should meet a specific learning objective.
  • Introduce yourself and your topic with a good hook and an activity to engage your learners right away.
  • One concept, one lecture: don’t try to cover too much information in one lecture. Keep it simple to help make it easy for learners to find and navigate your course.
  • Keep lectures short. Many learners prefer shorter lectures, especially busy enterprise learners.
  • Don’t forget practice and resources. Learners need a chance to practice and assess their skills, and often prefer courses that offer practice over those that don’t. 
  • Wrap up your course with a motivating message for your learners to go out and apply their new skills.

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