How to structure a course your students will love

How to structure a course your students will love
Estimated reading time:

Whether you think you know exactly what you’re doing, or have absolutely no idea where to start, we’re sharing our tried-and-true process for your course. We’ll make it incredibly easy to structure, outline, and create an online course. And, we’ll share all of our insider tips to make sure your course is not only impactful but also thoroughly delightful for your students.

The value of a pre-sale

Before we start breaking down our course idea into sections and lessons, know that you should never create all of your content before you sell your course.

Surprised? So are most of our creators.

The idea is this: When you pre-sell your course, you will start to get feedback from students about your content. This can be things like if you speak too quickly in videos, if your lighting is off, if your microphone is too soft. You’ll also hear good things, like areas where students want to hear more information, or things they love within your course.

You want to take these suggestions and tailor your remaining content to student wants and needs.

Create customized experiences

By doing this, you customize your course to your audience. This can be the difference between providing unparalleled value that students are willing to pay for and a totally bland mediocre review.

So what if you’re afraid to sell your course before it’s finished? What happens if you never finish?

Well, by creating and selling the first section, you will have more confidence in knowing you can deliver. Therefore, you know what you need to add and you know about how long and how much effort it will take to finish it.


Provide a transformation

Remember why people take courses in the first place: They want to change something about their life.

Maybe they don’t know Java and their job requires them to learn. You teach them. Perhaps they don’t know how to paint with watercolors. You teach them. Maybe they don’t know how to market their Etsy store. You teach them.

The key to a good course is that there is a transformation and by the end of the course someone knows something they didn’t before.

Keep it short and sweet

Breathe a sigh of relief, a successful course is a short and sweet shortcut to an outcome. You don’t have to worry about how long your content is. Or how beautiful your slides are as long as someone learns from your course. You simply have to get them to the transformation. And preferably in the fastest time possible.

With this said, whenever you have questions while you are creating your course simply ask yourself, “Will this affect whether my students make it to the transformation or not?” If it is a yes, do it. If it is a no, then don’t worry about it.

If you want your students to stay with you in your course and maximize completion rates, you want to keep them excited throughout the course. So how do you do that? There are four things you must do.

Motivation to succeed

1. Get your students results early

It’s common for creators to drown their students in theory and advanced concepts early on. Don’t be this teacher. Instead, when you plan your course out, make sure to get them on a journey of consistent little wins.

For example, a course on:

  • Meditation: Have your students sit down and meditate for five minutes no matter how often they trail off (they’ll feel like they’re doing something)
  • Vegetarian cooking: Have students cook something so easy they can’t mess it up and is delicious. Maybe a grilled cheese? Or show them different chopping styles and have them cut something up in those different styles. They’ll see progress in front of them.
  • Language learning: Help students learn the 50 most used words in that language (usually comprises roughly 50% of that language’s spoken content) so they can quickly put their new skill to use.
  • Coding: Have students create “Hello World” – the most basic coding program you can create and run for any language. It feels like progress, because it is.

2. Highlight student progress

Make sure to point out the progress your students are making. If your course is on building a blog, remind them of how far they’ve come e.g. set up their layout, set up their design, created a number of posts.

Try to set up your course so students can’t fail by walking them from beginning to more difficult content and challenges. Then highlight what was once a challenge is now almost second nature.

Be encouraging and positive whenever possible. Leave students coming out of your course feeling like they can do it versus they have homework.

3. Set reasonable expectations

Don’t overpromise to your students. Let them know they won’t be a pro the first time and communicate how much progress they should be making at each point. If you don’t, your students may turn to you as an example, which might be too far advanced for the course. You want them to feel like they’re succeeding.

4. Keep students involved

Keep students involved in your course by giving them small achievable tasks after each lesson. You can even directly ask students to comment or paste their projects so they can discuss with others.

This does a number of things. First it makes students feel invested and thus attached to the course if they’ve been producing things along the way. When you engage students with you, the course and other students, it makes them feel like a part of something. And to be honest, they are.

Teachable has native comments within our platform, so it’s no extra work for you to enable a conversation like this.

Outline your course the right way

When you sit down to break up your course into sections and lessons remember that your end goal is to take students to a transformation. Every section should be a big step to the goal and you can create small lessons within each section.

To get them to that transformation, make a checklist of skills they need to have and then place them in order of achievement/learning. This is your outline.

Your outline will most definitely evolve as you make the course and you’ll add lessons that you forgot about to connect the others.

Shorten your lesson lengths

It’s very rare that people’s lessons are too short. It is much more common for lessons to be too long and drawn out. But a course is supposed to be a shortcut to an outcome.

While there are variations on what’s right and always exceptions. We generally keep lessons under 15 minutes and four to eight minutes gives enough time to talk through something without losing student attention spans.

All the time, we have people say, “But my video has to be longer.” Ask yourself: Can you break it up?

If students come into your course and each lesson is just five minutes. Well, that’s quick. There’s minimal time investment on their part. Next thing they know they have finished four lessons back to back because they are easily digestible. Try to keep each lesson to one to two key concepts. Break up longer video recordings. Don’t be overwhelming.

Title your lessons so students want to complete them

You lesson titles matter. First off, your lesson titles help sell your course. When potential students land on your course landing page, they want to know what they’ll learn. Teachable previews the names of your sections and lessons.

Additionally, think of what you do when you open a new purchase. You poke around. When someone buys your course, they’re going to navigate around and see what the course looks like. Clear and value-forward titles enhance the idea you’re providing value.

Write them like sales copy: “Create mouthwatering content that leaves your students wanting more” for a lesson on creating content.

Now that you know how to outline properly, it’s time to create an online course.

Teachable Updates

Your weekly dose of creative chat and Teachable updates. Get our weekly newsletter.