The 15 Big Steps to Create an Online Course

Learning without thinking is labor lost; thinking without learning is dangerous.” —Chinese proverb


If you’ve ever cut an avocado open, you know that it has a giant seed at its core. All the fruit develops around this behemoth of a seed, which is so heavy that when the fruit drops it plummets deep beneath the blanket of leaves and into the soil.

Avocado cut in half and showing seed  There the seed is protected while little creatures nibble away at its skin and fruit, the leaves transform into humus, and a fertile bed is prepared for the seed to sprout. Nature designed an incredibly clever system to ensure that avocado trees replenish for generations.

A well-constructed course starts essentially the same way—with a robust seed at its core that can carry it through all phases. Many teachers think they know their subject matter so well that they can skip through the work of identifying and clarifying that core idea, but this is a mistake.

For example, I can say I am teaching a course on American history or one on writing or one on marketing. But think of these subjects as vast forests of trees with all kinds of plants growing within them. Saying “I am teaching a course on marketing” is like saying, “I’m planting a forest with trees.” This statement offers no guidance or direction. Tell it to 50 different people, and you’ll get 50 different forests, most of them haphazardly planted.

It’s completely different than saying, “I’m planting a grove of Hass avocados which I’m going to keep at 15 feet high to reduce water usage, plant close together to improve transpiration, and fertilize organically to maintain healthy soil.” Now THAT offers direction. Everything I do will be measured against that clear, core idea.

The single most important thing you must do before you begin writing your online course is to identify the core idea, the seed from which your course will grow. Otherwise, you’ll waste time your time writing and teaching, and you’ll waste your students’ time as well.

All the steps of crafting an online course flow from this first step (after you identify your general subject, obviously). This step requires hard thinking and thorough analysis. Give it the time it deserves and get feedback before you start writing your course.

While each step requires multiple smaller steps, here are the 15 big steps to creating an online course.

  1. Identify and clarify your core idea: What are you planting? What is YOUR avocado seed? Finding the core idea means that you are asking such questions as:
    1. What about the subject?
    2. What is your slant on it?
    3. What’s the one most important point at the center of the entire course?
    4. Can you state your core idea in one sentence?
  2. Write your lesson topics, tying each one to the core idea.
    1. Revise them as needed.
    2. You may instead need to revise your core idea if a different understanding is revealed as you write your topics.
  3. Write the first draft of one lesson/lecture, and practice aloud.
  4. Adjust the topics and how you are writing the lessons, based on what you learned from practicing delivery.
  5. Write the first draft.
  6. Test-drive another couple of lessons aloud.
  7. Write the second draft, bearing in mind what you learned from your test drive.
  8. Test a lesson from the second draft by delivering it aloud.
  9. Write your final draft, making adjustments based on your test drive of the second draft.
  10. Convert the copy into a 2-column script so you can add notes about visuals, demonstrations, props, delivery, and so forth.
    1. If you’re using PowerPoint or Keynote slides, use the Notes field for these details.
  11. Practice every lesson before recording; tweak the copy.
  12. Record the lessons.
    1. If possible, make audio fixes after each recording (for actual errors in content or pronunciation, not for improving how you sound—although sometimes that might be necessary as well).
  13. Postproduction: Edit the video and/or audio.
    1. Insert onscreen text, images, additional video, and/or animations to help clarify the material and improve comprehension.
    2. Note that the ONLY reason to add anything is to teach better. Adding anything to pretty it up might make it look better, but that is not the same as making it teach better.
  14. Review the post-produced material to correct any mistakes or problems with onscreen text, dates, animations, etc.
    1. It is much easier to do this before releasing the course than afterward. Not to mention less embarrassing!
  15. Post the content on your Learning Management System (LMS) or convert it to a downloadable or streaming file, as desired.

And voila! You’ve grown an online course! Hopefully it will be every bit as well-constructed as an avocado, and just as tasty.

Please post your comments and suggestions. Let me know what questions you have about creating online courses so I can unpack them in future episodes.

Thanks for joining me in this week’s blog. Tune in next Friday for Issue #15 of “Everything You Need to Know to Create Outstanding Online Courses.” We’ll look at essential tips for crafting content that will help improve delivery.

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Photo of Marcy McDonald, blog author  About Marcy McDonald

Online Course Producer

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Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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