How to Structure Your Online Course in 3 Easy Steps

If you’re to the putting-it-all-together stage of the online course creation process, I’m going to assume you have the following:

  • Learning Objectives – clearly stated and measurable.
  • Assessments – based on the learning objectives you’ve defined above.
  • Content – this is the big one that will provide the backbone to your learners successfully reaching those learning outcomes. While you don’t need every last detail of content created before proceeding with structuring your course, you will need to define and categorize where that content would fall in the big picture.

IF you have these things nailed down, let’s get started with structuring your online course!

Step #1 Categorize – Think in broad terms of how your course topics could be grouped. These groups should be one or two-word phrases that each of your content pieces could logically be placed under.

For example, let’s imagine you’re creating a short course on How to Run Your First Marathon. Here are a few of the categories that you might consider:

  • Nutrition
  • Training
  • Mindset
  • Race Day
  • Gear

These categories will ultimately become the modules within your course. You can make them flashier and more engaging, but they’ll be the buckets to hold each chunk of content.

Step #2 Group – After you’ve defined the buckets (modules) for your course, begin grouping the actual chunks of content to fit in each bucket.

Just like you did for your modules above, think of these chunks of content in simple (group-able) terms. These chucks will serve as the lessons within your course.

This can be done in several ways:

  • Some creators love using Post-It notes. It’s a simple yet easy way to visualize and organize your entire course. Start with your Module Post-Its at the top (use a different color if you want to get fancy) and then place your Lesson Post-Its logically under each Module.
  • Using a whiteboard is an equally effective and visual way to group your course content. Just like the Post-It technique, you’re simply writing your Module buckets at the top and grouping the lessons underneath each.
  • There’s also nothing wrong with using Word, PPT, or Excel to build out your course. This makes it easily editable, expandable, and can also serve as a template for future courses.

Step #3 Organize – Now that you have all of your content grouped logically, think of the best way to make the individual lessons flow.

  • Progressively – if your topic follows a progressive learning curve – easy! Organize each lesson starting with the basic foundational elements followed by each lesson that builds upon the next. This works extremely well for skills-training or topics that require increased knowledge each step of the way.
  • Independently – even if your lessons don’t fall within a logical progression, think of how your learner would best process the information. Although the lessons may not be fundamentally dependent on each other, it usually flows better starting with simpler concepts and building with more complex. This allows your learner to become comfortable and confident with the subject before tackling more challenging material.

Using our example of How to Run Your First Marathon, here is how it may look in an actual course structure.

Preparing for a Successful Race Day (this would be one of the modules)

  1. Getting a Good Night’s Rest (this would be lesson 1)
  2. Calming Pre-race Nerves (lesson 2)
  3. Embracing the Chaos of the Start (lesson 3)
  4. and so on and so forth (lesson 4…)

Note that these are arranged progressively/chronologically as that makes the most sense and flow to the learner.

A Few Tips:

  • Don’t overthink this process! It really is as simple as Categorizing > Grouping > Organizing. Keeping it simple gives your learner an immediate roadmap of where the course is headed.
  • Modules and Lessons don’t all have the be the same length. It is perfectly fine to have Modules with three Lessons or seven. The same applies to individual lesson length. I’ve seen inexperienced course creators add unnecessary content just to build out a topic because it seemed “short”.
  • Be consistent if your course is part of a bigger curriculum. Sticking to the same format and naming structure will assist your learner greatly. Use terms such as Chapters, Modules, Lessons, Topics consistently.

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