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How to Design Your Course Content

  • Jeanette MartinJeanette Martin

Updated by Tara Malone

You have a great idea for an online course! Something to offer that other people need. 

The problem is you’re not sure where to begin or what course content to include. You have so many ideas but you don’t want to overwhelm students with too much information. 

You want your course to be the best. You want the content to dazzle your students and deliver on your promise to them. 

So, how do you go about designing a course?

The good news is that you don’t have to start from scratch. As it turns out, there are some tried-and-tested best practices for designing online courses that you can draw on. By following these guidelines, you’ll be able to create content in a systematic way, and end up with a high-end, in-depth, well-structured course that’s just what your students want.

Studying these tips will ease your mind, save you time and frustration, and set you on a straightforward path to designing an amazing course. 

Are you ready? Then let’s dive in. 

Designing Your Amazing Course Content

1. Give Yourself Enough Time

It’s hard to predict how long it’ll take to design your course content. So go easy. Err on the side of planning for extra time so you don’t feel pressured. 

You’ll spend a lot of time considering the best way to deliver different kinds of content. Creating or sourcing audio-visual material also takes time, as does crafting diagrams and step-by-step instructions. And deciding how you’ll roll out your material takes longer than you might think. 

To design course content, you have to be creative, organized, and strategic all at once. You also have to start seeing through your students’ eyes. And unless you’re a teacher already, you’ll face challenges in learning new skills. 

If you give yourself ample time, you’ll enjoy the experience and create a superior course.

2. Start With the End Goal in Mind

The best place to start when creating course content is not thinking about content at all! First, you need to get clear about the transformation you can offer your class. 

What are your ideal customers hungry for? Is it specialized information or do they need to master skills, or is it both? What changes are they looking for and why?

When you’re clear on the answers, you’ll know exactly what you need to teach in the course. The end goal determines the content, structure, and evaluation methods of your course. 

Remember that information can be read in a book, but a course can deliver that same content in a way that sticks. Whenever you can, engage students actively. Remember that practicing a skill and then getting constructive feedback can transform a student. 

3. Choose Your Course Topic

Assuming you know your general niche, now you need to narrow down your content to a topic within that niche. The best practice is to teach only what’s needed to solve a specific problem for your students

For example, your niche may be dog training. But your course will focus on the choosing and timing of rewards. Why? Because your audience has flagged this as a pesky topic they want help with. The idea is to remove the pain, surmount the obstacle, or close the gap in knowledge that students face now. In other words, you have to address their needs. 

You’ll want to choose a course topic that’s specific enough to meet a need. Start with the basic knowledge they must know to solve their problem and build on this. If necessary, you can create a cluster of courses to cover related topics.

4. Decide Who Your Course Is For

Some course creators think their course is for everyone. This is a trap. In fact, trying to please everyone results in a course that works for no one. It’s better to focus on a specific audience and design a course with them in mind. You’re more likely to end up with satisfied students this way.

For example, a baking course for students who’ve never been in a kitchen won’t suit experienced cooks. The first group needs to know about the basics, like ovens, safety, and kitchen tools. Covering this information would bore the second group silly. Instead, they need a course that covers more advanced topics, like how to master French baking techniques at home.

The bottom line is that when you know your market, you’ll design a course that matches people with exactly what they want.  

We recommend designing a customer profile to help you get crystal clear on who your course audience really is. If you need help creating your customer profile, you can check out our guide here.

5. Clarify Your Course Goals and Objectives

Starting with the course end goal, work backwards from there. You’ll see the specific knowledge and skills students must master to get to the finish line. These are the course learning objectives. 

Consider using the Bloom taxonomy, which classifies learning objectives in a hierarchy. For example, lower-order learning objectives include remembering or recalling information, while higher-order learning objectives involve building and designing.

Which basic abilities do your students need before they can move on? For example, a student learning to speak Spanish needs to recognize and pronounce words before she can engage in a fluent conversation. 

Make sure you’re clear on the skills your entry-level students need, and how they’ll progress toward realistic learning objectives.

6. Determine How to Evaluate Student Learning

Now that you know the course learning objectives, how will you test whether students have reached them? It’s important to keep in mind that the evaluation must reflect the objective. 

For example, if the goal is to remember facts, you can test students’ recall in a quiz. But what if the goal is to solve problems in different situations? If that’s the case, you’ll need to give students opportunities to practice their problem-solving skills before finally testing them. 

Also, ask yourself if there is only one right answer (facts) or many correct responses (such as in creative enquiry and problem solving). And consider whether many short assessments along the way or a big test at the end will help students learn better. 

7. Plan Your Course Structure

The course structure reflects how you see one learning session building upon another to reach the objective. Think of your own journey to mastery and what you needed to know starting out. Begin there, then sequence further classes on that foundation.

Generally our minds move easily from concrete examples to abstract principles. So structure the order of lessons with that in mind. 

Keep a balance between instruction and active engagement. This way, students have a chance to master a step before they move on. Bring in variety and challenge through case studies, speakers, and discussion. 

Pace the course to accommodate slower and faster learners. Pencil in time for evaluations, feedback, or course corrections if needed. And above all, structure the course with steps of progress toward meeting the learning objectives. 

8. Create Engaging Course Content

Your course content should match each lesson’s learning objective, and be presented in a way that’s both easy to understand and engaging. Start by asking yourself if the goal of a particular lesson is to remember facts, analyze a problem, or think outside of the box. Then consider how to develop content that helps students meet their learning goals and gives them a positive learning experience.

Say the course goal is to learn to build a canoe. Your first lesson could be a video about choosing the right wood. You can make videos by leveraging video tools such as Movavi. Then you might share a diagram explaining the dimensions of a canoe, and ask students to visit some hardware stores to source and price the materials. 

In developing content, think about what combination of video, audio, pdfs, or text is the most engaging and relevant way to deliver your content. Also be sure to ask yourself, will students benefit from time for discussion and group work?

If your course content is purely information-based, group assignments or coaching may not be necessary. However, if your course promises to deliver a specific transformation, the opportunity to engage in group discussion or coaching can help your students achieve the transformation they desire.

9. Create Supplemental Course Materials

What extra value can you add to your course to knock it out of the park? 

Supplemental materials can range from bonus downloadable files to an online community.

For example, an infographic condenses information and shows relationships. A workbook helps students to apply and solidify abstract concepts. And a checklist is a great resource for students to keep all the necessary practical steps in order. 

You can also set up an online community as a forum for students to discuss challenges and help each other. It might even include an accountability partnership program to keep each other on track. 

Some courses offer a “further reading” list of websites and blog posts to deepen knowledge. Or maybe you can add a shopping list of recommended apps, materials, and books. Remember, whatever saves students time and simplifies learning is always worth your extra effort.

10. Refine Course Content Over Time

It’s important to keep in mind that your course content isn’t set in stone. It can and should evolve over time to better meet the needs of your students.

So be sure to gather feedback from your students as they go through your course, note common questions that come up, and ask your learners to complete a survey when they reach the end of your course. If you have an online community, spend some time there engaging with students and observing what challenges they’re facing.

Then, armed with these insights, consider how you can use this feedback to refine your course content so that it provides a more valuable experience for students. From here you can make the necessary adjustments and release your new and improved course content to the next cohort of students.

Designing Course Content In the Age of ChatGPT

Now that you’re familiar with some of the best practices for designing course content, chances are you’re itching to start creating your own amazing course.

But before you dive in, there’s something important we need to address. And that’s how AI tools like ChatGPT are changing the way people design their course content.

While many course creators are experimenting with ChatGPT, there is a right way and a wrong way to use this new technology.

Use ChatGPT the right way, and you’ll be able to build more courses in less time, which will ultimately speed up your business growth. But if you use it incorrectly, there can be serious consequences to your business.

Here at Mirasee, we’re committed to helping our entrepreneurs find success in the online course space.

That’s why we’ve designed a free Bootcamp to share our powerful method for creating impactful and profitable courses by leveraging AI tools the right way. Click here to learn more and to register for our Bootcamp, which starts on May 15th, 2023.