You’re here because you know you need to establish a “Line of Sight” for your online course, something that will provide you a straightforward vantage of how to execute your online course from beginning to end. In this case, your “Line of Sight” will be your online course outline. This will ensure that the learning process will flow smoothly and your students aren’t just taking bits and pieces out of nowhere.
How to Outline Online Courses
Online course outlines can vary greatly depending on the subject matter and your online course length. But there are four fundamental principles you can apply when constructing an online course outline.
Begin with a course objective.
You most likely already know what you want to accomplish in mind. In fact, if you’ve decided on an online course topic, you probably already have a clear online course objective to go along with it. However, in case you’re still looking for a bit of help, best to have what I call CEO objectives: concrete, explicit, and overarching.
- Concrete. Your objective will be the north star of your entire course, so you want it to be clear and tangible rather than nebulous and abstract. Rather than aiming to teach people how to “edit photos,” “build a website,” or “market on social media,” translate those goals into more concrete objectives, like teaching “basic editing tools on Adobe Photoshop,” “coding in HTML5 for web design”, or “ways to generate engagement on microblogging sites.”
- Explicit. You should be able to quickly inform your learners of the objectives of your course. According to Dr. Ally, a professor for the Centre for Distance Education (CDE), “[l]earners should be told the explicit outcomes of the learning so they can set expectations and judge for themselves whether or not they have achieved the outcome of the online lesson.” It’s highly recommended that every course start with an introduction that will do just that.
- Overarching. You and your students must be willing to stick to these objectives during the duration of the course. Each lesson must contribute towards accomplishing this set goal. Moreover, based on the learners’ skill level, the objective shouldn’t be so easy that it’s completed in a single class or too hard that the course isn’t enough to cover it.
Break down the course into modules or core steps.
Now that you have a goal, it’s time to think about the method. By organizing your expertise into learning blocks or modules, you can create small units of knowledge that are more easily digestible for your students. Again, think of the course as the main topic and the modules as subtopics and use that as the foundation of your online course outline.
Design for success by sequencing from simple to complex.
This instills confidence and satisfaction in your learners by giving them easy accomplishments early on and providing them with gradually more challenging topics as their skill level increases. Alternatively, if your course is less skill-based and more informational, you can also sequence your lessons and modules from well-known to esoteric to achieve the same effect.
Provide a way for learners to self-assess in your online course outline.
Assessment doesn’t necessarily mean testing. Instructional lessons where the learner can follow along and create their own output are also ways for your remote student to track their own progression. Additionally, you can recommend avenues where the student can apply and test their skills. Take advantage of the online platform, and don’t be afraid to link to supplementary sources. Make a point to include a few classes in your online course outline that give your learners a brief review and an opportunity for assessment. Have these scattered throughout the course, either after a module or after individual classes and especially at the end of the course.
It’s essential to encourage the learner to be engaged with the lessons and not just let them be passive receptacles for information. According to the CDE, “media research confirms that what the learner does with media is more important than what the teacher does.” Of course, you can be the best in your field with the most comprehensive knowledge, but teaching and imparting that expertise is another ball game entirely.
However, by creating an online course outline that has clear goals, tangible steps anyone can take, and encourages people to apply their newly acquired skills in their own day-to-day lives, you are already on the right track in making sure that your students will truly benefit from your expertise.