:Marketing / Marketing best practices

How to create a course outline with real examples

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You have the idea and the skills, now you need a course outline. When it comes time to building your course on Teachable, we’ve made sure to create a platform that can handle all of the heavy lifting so you can focus on the creativity part. But before you even jump into how to create an online course, we want to let you in on a powerful secret step that can save you a lot of time and help make your course creation process even better: outlining. Learning how to outline your online course will help you stay organized and know exactly what you’ll need when it comes time to get those creative juices flowing.

But first, let’s take a step back to make sure you have all the information you need to outline your Teachable course like a pro.

How to prepare a course outline

Begin with the end

Yep, that’s right. To make a great course, think of the end result of your course before anything else. Similar to a lesson plan, your course outline should include learning outcomes. From there, you can decide on the learning activities to help you achieve these milestones. Because the most successful courses are ones that provide transformations for students, it’s important to start with the transformation you want your students to achieve. Then work backwards to determine, step by step, how your ideal student would get to that end goal you’re selling.

Related post: Backward design lesson planning

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Take a few minutes to actually write down the transformation students will experience in your course. Go on, finish this sentence: “By the end of this course, students will be able to do blank.”

If your transformation is either too vast or too vague (e.g. how to live your best life vs. how to feel confident when meeting new people at a conference) you will find your outline may be difficult to craft. Instead think smaller and more specific. In fact, the more specific your outcome is, the better.

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It’s best to choose more actionable words than “understand” when you’re describing your transformation. Consider create, write, make, speak, design, etc. Outcome-based training is the most important thing for being able to outline your online course—and also for your students to comfortably progress through their learning. This will also help you identify if your course is best suited as a standalone course, a subscription, a mini course, or even a course with coaching options.

Trust us: Action is where learning happens.

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Course outline examples

The magic of milestones

After you’ve identified your course transformation and thus your course material, you can move onto phase one of outlining: making milestones.

Milestones should be directly tied to your course transformation and will comprise your course contents and sections. Another way to think about your milestones is to ask yourself, “What are the major steps that students will need to take in order to get from start to finish on their transformation?”

Simply put: Milestones are the major concepts and skills your students need to master in order to achieve the final transformation.

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Milestones should be bigger than just tasks on a to-do list. If it helps to think about it this way, these milestones will become the sections in your Teachable course. If you still want another visual, think of your sections almost as chapters in a book. Breaking up your milestones into sections like this will also help you make the most of the bulk upload option on Teachable and also make your life easier.

The next few images display examples of course outline templates.

Think of the numbers

The theory of sections is simple. But in action it can be tricky. How many sections are too many? Or too few? This will truly depend on each creator, your vision, and how long you anticipate students to take to complete your course.

As a general rule of thumb, we recommend between five to 10 milestones, but there can be exceptions of course. Mini courses, in contrast, should typically only include one to two milestones. And, some courses will be on advanced topics and may require more like 10 milestones.

But a word to the wise: If your course has more than 10 milestones, ask yourself why. Is it because your topic is truly that extensive or is there a chance that your course might be better off broken down into multiple courses with smaller transformations? Or taking it a step further back, are you creating an overly ambitious course altogether?

More isn’t necessarily better. You may find as you outline your online course that what you want to share may actually work best as a series of courses that offer smaller transformations.

Dive deeper

The next step of how to outline your online course is to break down your milestones even further into lessons. If your milestones are the sections in your Teachable course, the lessons are the individual steps inside those sections.

Your lessons are the bite-sized bits of your section. These should be highly consumable and easy for your students to walk away having learned one major takeaway.

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Ideally, these lessons should take no more than 10 minutes to explain and should focus on one aspect. And if you ever have to ask yourself, “Could this be two videos?” The answer is typically, yes.

Of course, this doesn’t mean you should treat your lessons like your Instagram and post a series of 30-second clips. Look for that happy medium where your lessons cover a major takeaway but are still long enough to stand alone and add value.

Some lessons in your section may be under five minutes while others may need closer to 15 minutes, as every takeaway and topic will be a little bit different. And it’s perfectly fine to mix and match the length of your lessons. You’ll see what is right as you continue to outline.

Map out your method

Now that you’ve thought about your transformation, identified your milestones, planned your sections, and broken out your lessons, your next phase of outlining is actually to map out the methods by which you will share your content.

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Five basic content types

The style of your course is up to you, and the method of content delivery you think will make the most sense for your subject matter and students may differ from course to course—even section by section or lesson by lesson. There are five basic content types that are most often found on Teachable creators’ courses: text and photo, PDFs and downloadables, slide decks, screen recordings, and video. Since people have different learning styles, incorporating a combination of content types will enhance student learning. We break them down to help you better understand which might be ideal for your course.

Text and photoseasy and quick; best used for simple concepts or lessons that can be demonstrated in a format that’s most similar to a blog post or article

Just be cognizant that not everyone learns best by reading, and if your lesson has multiple steps, perhaps blocks of texts and pictures aren’t the best option.

PDFs and downloadablesinclude spreadsheets, workbooks, cheat sheets, resource material, checklists, etc. that can easily be referenced; not ideal for complex subjects that require walkthroughs or explanations of why

Slidesvisually emphasize your points; walks students through material one step at a time

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Screen recordings and videos: ideal for complex topics that need step-by-step attention as well as explanation and demonstration; provides more interaction with students and gives a more personalized instructional experience

Screen recordings can be as simple as you talking through a slide presentation or a recording of your computer screen as you demonstrate your skill and provide commentary. They’re cheap to produce and provide a lot of value to students.

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Home videos are also another popular option for content delivery. Luckily, you don’t have to spend a lot to get quality video at home. For your course videos, you can speak directly to the camera, film your hands doing work, or even use a pre-recorded webinar or live event you’ve done.

Some lessons may need just one content type, like a screencast, but others may need two, like a video with a companion PDF workbook. It’s perfectly fine—and encouraged—to use a variety of methods within your course.

The end result

We believe in the art of simplicity, so we’ll do anything we can to help make your road to course creation a simple one. In fact, we’ve built our entire online course platform to do just this.

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So, once you’ve learned how to outline your online course and pumped out some content, you can easily use Teachable to physically create your course. Our one-click bulk upload option will also help you upload your course sections and lessons simply. From there you can customize your content, preview, and publish.

Key takeaways:

  • Actionable transformations lead to the most successful courses and are the easiest to outline and plan.
  • A course is made of sections and lessons. Sections contain groupings of lessons. Lessons are structured, informational units composed of text, files, video, and images.
  • Sections are the milestones in your course a.k.a. major concepts and skills your students need to master in order to achieve the final transformation.
  • Lessons are the bite-sized units of video, audio, text, images, etc. within your section that deliver one takeaway.
  • Mapping out your content delivery method will help prepare you for the creation process.
  • Use the one-click bulk upload button on the Teachable platform to begin to organize your content.

Outlining your course doesn’t have to be daunting. And, putting in just a little bit of elbow grease before you start creating will not only save you lots of time and energy later on, it will also enhance the learning experience of your students. Future you is already thanking past you.


What is a course outline?

A course outline contains the building blocks of your online course. It might also be called a class outline or training outline. It breaks the topic and subject matter down into sections or modules, which can be determined by considering milestones you intend for students to have. Modules will be further broken down into specific lessons and learning activities.

What is the difference between a course outline and a syllabus?

Generally speaking, a course outline is a tool for course creators to consider during the planning phase, while a course syllabus is intended for students to read ahead of starting the course. Once you’ve created a course outline, you can move on to creating the course syllabus, which includes more detailed information, including the course description, specific modules and assignments, dates, a grading rubric, rules of conduct, and other course requirements and expectations of the teacher.

Author: Caitlin Miller, Caitlin Miller is the Manager of Content Marketing Strategy at Teachable. In her spare time, she's often found listening to vinyl records, buying too many house plants, and enjoying a run on the streets of Brooklyn.