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online course outline template

The Ultimate Guide to Creating an Online Course Outline Template in 2024

Read Time: 24 mins

Introduction: Your Online Course Outline is an Essential Tool for You and Your Learners

Imagine taking a road trip with no destination in mind. While it might be fun for some, it’s also a surefire way to waste gas and find yourself stuck in the middle of nowhere. Even if you don’t have turn-by-turn directions for the trip at the outset, at the very least, you should have a destination in mind to make it a pleasant and enjoyable road trip. Embarking on the building of an online course is no different. While you might not have thorough transcripts for each and every video at the onset, you should at least have a solid outline before you begin. It will help ensure your course delivers the value that your learners will expect when they enroll in your course. In this article, we’re going to discuss what we think is a winning online course outline template that you can utilize to create an engaging online course that learners will want to tell their friends and colleagues about.

As a course creator, you should think of yourself as a guide regarding the topic of your course. Your job is to point your learners in the right direction, warn them about challenges ahead, and help them avoid pitfalls so that they reach their destination – more knowledge about the topic – smoothly and enjoyably. Your course outline is like a compass that can guide both you and your learners on the path to greater knowledge so that neither of you accidentally strays from the path. What will start as your online course outline template, will eventually turn into the course curriculum that your learners will review before starting your online course, giving them an idea of what’s in store for them and building anticipation and excitement about what they’ll see along their journey.

Understanding Your Learners: The Essence of a Great Outline

online course outline template

One of the biggest mistakes creators make before embarking on course creation is that they think they know what their learners need to know about any particular topic, mostly based upon their own personal journey of learning that material themselves. The problem with this is the assumption that everyone learns in the same way. Thus, not checking in first with your audience to see what it is that they really wish to know about the subject your course will be built around, is a grave miscalculation.

I’ll never forget one of the first online courses I took years ago: it was a digital marketing course that I thought would help with one of my businesses. The instructor was a brilliant marketer that I truly admired and I could tell she knew her stuff. However, after enrolling in her course, I found that very few of the lessons were actually helpful for me to learn the ins and outs of digital marketing. The course spent too much time discussing topics that were already super obvious and not enough time demystifying topics that I and my partner were confused about. Moreover, there was no rhyme or reason for the order of the course topics. Instead of starting with the basics, she put advanced topics at the start and peppered novice-related topics throughout. Finally, when discussing advanced topics in her videos, she would reference concepts she didn’t even cover in the course, as if the learner understood the context. Overall, I got the feeling that instead of thoughtfully planning out the course ahead of time, she just jumped into the building process, recording lesson videos on anything that came to mind, and the result was that it was hard to extract value from the course as a learner.

Let’s not do that, eh? Instead, let’s work to understand our learners. Who are they? What interests them? Why have they signed up for this course (or why will they)? If you have built an audience over time already (and I encourage you to do so), then why not send out surveys or invite them to meet with you 1 on 1, so that you can learn more about what they know and what they want to know, but don’t. This is market research or customer development, and it’s truly a critical step to ensure your online course outline template is in line with what your potential learners will want out of your course.

Here are a few things you’ll want to find out during your research:

  • Demographics: Age, location, sex, and educational background are the basics for having a starting point for creating a solid outline. If you don’t know essential demographics about your audience, you may end up missing the mark.
  • Expertise: Is this a course designed for beginners or experts in the topic of your course? If beginners, then your outline needs to spend a lot of time providing a foundation of context for them to understand more advanced topics. If your course is an advanced course for experienced folks with regard to your course topic, your outline should be designed to waste a little of your learners’ time going over the basics. A lot of time, course creators will just start regurgitating their entire knowledge corpus into their course, providing foundational material that their learners already know. The result? Your learners may be too bored to make it past your first module.
  • Pain Points: What are your learners struggling with? What frequently asked questions do you get from them? These are golden nuggets that alone can help you outline much of your course

Setting Learning Objectives: What every Online Course Outline Template should include

online course outline template

Are there clear and specific goals that your learners have, or that you have for them? This can vary depending on the course. For example, I teach an interview preparation course. The goal is very clear: perform so well in their interview that they are given an invitation to join the organization afterward. That said, there are other courses whose goals are less concrete. For example, courses about personal growth and development might have a goal as simple as “feeling better.”

Another name for course goals is learning objectives and here are a few things to keep in mind when crafting your course outline:

  • Start with the Big Picture: As mentioned above, do you have a specific goal for your learners to achieve to determine whether your course was successful at teaching the material to your learners? Perhaps them passing an exam, getting a job, or coding an app from scratch.
  • Charting the Path: If the answer to the bullet point above is yes, your task is to ensure that the pieces of your outline are systematically leading your learners to achieve this objective. For my interview course, since I measure success as being invited to either join the organization or being invited to a 2nd interview, I have a number of quizzes throughout the course that evaluate how many of the essential elements of interviewing the learners understand about doing well in their interview, to ensure they are working towards a successful performance. In this way, I’m evaluating them all throughout the course so that when they reach the end, they have a solid understanding of interviewing fundamentals. We’ll get into quizzes and assessments in more detail later.
  • Include Activities: While quizzes can measure the facts and knowledge your learners are gaining from your course, activities can help them put into practice the knowledge they’ve learned. One can know how to tie a knot in theory, and even memorize the various types of knots, but actually tying those knots takes practice and lots of repetition before those knots are mastered.

Course Structure and Content: Try to be relevant, interesting, and succinct

Designing your online course outline may feel tedious and boring – you may want to just jump into recording your first video – but it’s essential to ensuring your course doesn’t stray off course (No pun intended).

online course template free
  • Planning Modules/Sections: Each module should be self-contained with key themes you want to teach about your course topic. They should contain roughly the same number of lessons to help your learners feel that there’s a predictable pace to your course. Modules should also be ordered in such a way that new modules are built on concepts taught in previous modules, thereby laying a strong foundation of knowledge.
  • Designing Lessons: Your first few lessons of any module should be heavy and powerful in the content they teach. Each lesson should try to convey one major concept to your learners. Try to resist the temptation to stuff too many concepts into one lesson, even if it means you’ll have to record more videos. That’s why there’s a “next lesson,” after all.
  • Keep Videos Succinct: While it’s easy to ramble on and on during the recording process, try your best to keep your videos to 5 minutes or less if possible. While some topics may genuinely require a longer video, most learners’ attention spans are limited these days, and they have busy lives and other things to attend to. If you want to create a course that your learners are motivated to finish, give them bite-sized content that they can digest in chunks throughout their day at their own pace.
  • Spicing Things with Different Mediums: While videos are the standard method of teaching content via online courses, consider adding a few bonus lessons to each module or section that provide more context for the previous lessons. For example, a podcast interview or an online webinar you’ve recorded can be a fun way to reinforce the concepts in the module. Don’t forget to embed images, info-graphics, and presentations! Everyone learns differently, so using different mediums can help to meet people where they’re at.
  • Make it Interactive with Quizzes: Quizzes are a great way to keep your learners on their toes and help them feel confident that they are actually absorbing the concepts you’re presenting in your lessons. For learners who are drawn to games and challenges, this is a great way to reward them for their patience in absorbing the information in a module. Make sure your quizzes are not too hard, but not stupidly easy either. Find the right balance. With Owwlish’s quiz builder, you can use conditional logic to make quizzes get harder or easier depending on a learner’s response. Also, with our upcoming certificate feature, you can send a satisfying PDF certificate to learners to pass all your course quizzes with flying colors.
Online Course Outline Template
  • Host Live Teaching Sessions: One great way to create a new course is to sell it before you make it. A lot of creators have had success by first sharing their online course outline with their audience, inviting them to pre-enroll and validate demand for the course (reducing the risk of making a course that flops) and then building the course on the fly with live private weekly sessions with enrollees. This is a great way to reward enrollees for signing up before the course was made and makes them feel special and a part of the inside track. With Owwlish, you can schedule and embed a live Zoom or Youtube session into any lesson so that only enrolled learners are able to attend these live sessions.
  • Incorporate Community: A great online course provides learners with a sense that they are not alone during the learning journey. Questions from classmates about the course material can help everyone learn more effectively and make people feel a part of something bigger than themselves. Owwlish’s upcoming Comments feature will help you create a course that goes beyond the content and taps into the need for kinship we all have.
  • Get feedback from People you Trust: Before doing that hard launch, consider a soft launch to your friends, colleagues, and even family! With Owwlish, you can invite a friend to check out your course without requiring them to pay, so that they can go through your course and provide feedback for it. Consider sending them a short list of questions to answer after taking your course. For example:
    • How is the course pace?
    • Are there any concepts that were confusing or not as clear as they could be?
    • Any typos, bugs, or issues you experienced with taking the course?

Additional Thoughts on Creating the Perfect Online Course Outline Template

Be Present for Your Learners

Online courses can be a lonely experience, not only for your learners but for you as an instructor. Consider building into our online course outline, opportunities to connect with your learners. This could be as intricate as a “quiz” with 1 open paragraph box that asks your learners to jot down their thoughts on what they’ve learned so far, or it could be as simple as a message in bold at the end of a module that encourages learners to send you an email with any questions they have.

Also, consider adding a 1 on 1 coaching component to your course – you can add this as the first lesson in your online course outline: “1.1: Schedule a Session with Me” and in that lesson, you can embed your calendar from Calendly or another booking system. Owwlish’s online course builder allows you to embed 3rd party components like Calendly into any lesson with remarkable ease. Adding a 1 on 1 coaching component can not only help you sell a higher-priced tier of your course but also provide a more direct way to get feedback about what learners like and would like to see improved about your course.

Update Often

While I get the temptation to want to set it and forget it, after building both your course and your marketing funnel (then sitting back with a lemonade to enjoy the sound of sales coming in), it’s unusually a better idea to treat your course as version 1 of a great many successful iterations of your course. The more your course evolves to be the best-in-class online course on that topic, the more likely your learners will spread the word about your course and the easier it will be to sell it to new potential learners.

Onward to the Online Course Outline Templates!

Since we thought you might ask, we created an Online Course Outline Template you can download as a PDF:

Online Course Outline Template – Candle Making Course Example

OR even better . . .

To make things even easier for you, we’ve developed our own AI Online Course Outline Template generator! These handy tools have been trained on all the latest best practices for creating online course outlines that are discussed in this article. Just tell it what type of course you want an outline for, and it will automatically generate a beautiful online course outline template for your course. It will even fill in some starter content for each lesson and module!

To use it, you’ll need to simply need to have a subscription to ChatGPT Premium:

Wrapping Up

We hope you’ve gained some insight reading through this guide and we’d love it if you’d leave us a comment below with any feedback, questions, or suggestions you might have about how we can make this “online course outline template” article more helpful.

Throughout the article, we mentioned Owwlish, our online course-building platform, which we think is soon becoming best-in-class for anyone who wants to build their perfect online course right into their existing website. If you’d like to give Owwlish a spin, I’d be honored if you’d head on over to our registration page and start a free trial. We’ve worked hard to make Owwlish a super simple-to-use platform and we’re improving it day by day!



Kevin has spent the better part of the last decade creating online courses that help people improve their careers and livelihoods. He had the idea to start Owwlish after failing to find an online course software that offered what he was looking for to create his next online course.

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