4 Steps to Design an Outstanding Online Course


Whether you are a corporate trainer designing a new online program, a teacher who is proposing a new course to the Superintendent/Board of Education, or a professor who wants to add a new online course, decisions will very well be made by others. Your job is to present a proposal that is well-organized and compelling. To do this, you will need to follow a proposal model that most everyone understands and accepts as valid. It is not a complicated model and, if used well, will provide all of the information that a decision-maker will need.

The “devil,” of course, is in the details, and those will differ widely dependent upon the learners to be served. For example, a U.S. history course planned for high school learners will differ markedly from a university level course. With that in mind, these are the overriding components of a course proposal.

Step I: Needs Assessment

No one will consider supporting or putting money into a project unless they determine that there is a real need among consumers of the online course. And the first step in a online course proposal is to prove there is a need. This “proof” can take several forms:

  • Such a course does not exist within the context of the implementation venue. For example, an online course in personal finance for high school does not exist does not yet exist and is not offered by the school district to whom the course is being pitched.
  • Provide research/data that shows there is a gap between the number of consumers (students) who could benefit from this project and the opportunities for them to obtain the learning they need.
  • What is the consumer demographic and what are the numbers that would choose to participate in the course, training, etc. that the online course addresses? A course might be an elective at either the secondary or university levels, but what are the specific numbers of students who could be tapped to enroll?

Why a Needs Assessment is Important

The idea for an educational/training online course may have come from any number of places – a casual conversation or something you read, for example. And while you and a few friends or colleagues may believe it is a great idea, the course and/or the timing may not be feasible.

  • A needs assessment may show duplication of such a course – duplication that is already serving a large part of your demographic.
  • A needs assessment may show that there is not enough of a “gap” to justify the time, effort and investment to move forward on a project
  • A needs assessment may show that there is not sufficient demand for the project you are contemplating

On the other hand, a needs assessment may present the research and data that supports the course. In that case, decision-makers will take notice and, indeed, throw their support behind it. Other stakeholders, such as those who may be asked to help fund or provide other in-kind support, are far more inclined to provide their support too.

Step II: Online Course Planning and Implementation

Planning and implementing a course is a complex task. The best approach is to break the whole down into manageable parts of a logical development process.

  1. Set Goals and Objectives

Anyone who has been involved in an educational field understands goals and objectives. These form the skeleton by which a course curriculum is developed. It is probably not necessary to discuss this step in detail, but a brief review of the difference between these two might be a good idea:

  • Goals constitute the big picture – the large learner outcomes as a result of the teaching and learning process. They are not measurable because they don’t have a specific end-point.
  • Objectives are the goals broken down into smaller chunks of learner outcomes. Unlike goals, they are measurable. The best way to think about objectives is in terms of input and output. The input constitutes all of the activities to meet the objective. The output is the level of mastery of the objective on the part of the learner.


  1. Objectives From the Units of Study

Now the specifics of the course or program are added. These include the learning activities, the assignments (if relevant) and the manner in which mastery will be evaluated (tests, reports, presentations, papers, etc.). You can order your works somewhere, or hire someone, buy something… Sometimes it’s a good idea because there are plenty of good helpers, you can check them all at the bestessays.review. But… The key to an effective course or program is the following:

  • Course objectives must be age-appropriate for the prospective learners. This means that a high school course in economics will address basic theoretical and practical concepts; at the college level, however, such a course may move into such things as global economic policies and circumstances, currency manipulation, politics of trade, etc.
  • All learning activities must relate directly to the objectives.
  • Learning activities must engage the participants and be as student-centered as possible. The differences between planning for learners at different academic levels is quite pronounced in this section of the proposal. Secondary students, for example, are not as capable of long-term independent learning as university students are. This means teachers must plan for far more communication, connection and nurturing as students move through their assignments and activities.
  • Resources and materials should be identified. Again, age-appropriate materials must be selected.
  • A timeline must be included


  1. Market the Course/Program

Marketing strategies will, of course, vary dependent upon who the potential consumers are. Certainly, if the course is a part of an educational program, then those program “owners” will implement the marketing, such as it is. At the secondary level, this may mean a course announcement, a description, and “talking the course up” on the part of the teacher. At the university level, the course will be included in the course catalog. Beyond that, the instructor may want to promote the course through the department as well.

If on the other hand, you are an entrepreneur/consultant who has designed a new training program, your marketing techniques will be those that businesses typically use to market a new product or service.

Part III: Evaluation

In advance of implementation, the methods by which the course/program itself will be evaluated should have been designed when the needs assessment phase was being conducted and a proposal made to decision-makers. The most important thing to remember here is that courses are never perfect. There is always room for improvement. A solid evaluation methodology will identify areas for improvement.

Throughout the implementation of the course, formative evaluations should occur. For example, if, after a unit of study is finished, a large percentage of the learners did not master the content or skills at an appropriate level, then it is time to investigate and analyze why that occurred? Often, asking the students will provide excellent feedback. Materials and activities may have to be revised or replaced.

If the evaluation is honestly implemented throughout the implementation, in the end, you will have information and data necessary for the final part. Here are typical questions to be asked as a program is evaluated:

  • Were the resources used as planned?
  • Was the program implemented according to the design and plan?
  • How actively were participants involved in their learning? What was the quality of student-produced products?
  • How have participants responded to the activities?
  • What are the participant survey results?

Part IV: Revision

Revision can be a difficult activity. One of the reasons is that the individual(s) who has designed and implemented the course or program is emotionally attached to the design, the goals and objectives, and the activities, most of which have also been designed by the individual who actually delivers the curriculum. Another reason, of course, is time and money. If for example, it is determined that different or additional resources must be acquired, evaluating the options and budgeting for those additions may be quite challenging.

Revisions must always be based upon the results of the evaluation. Each issue that is pointed out by the evaluation must be addressed, analyzed, and its weaknesses identified. And a plan must be developed to strengthen each weakness. If students in a high school online course state that they felt too isolated, for example, then steps must be taken for more collaboration, discussion, and instructor/peer support.


In the end, the success of any course or program is participant mastery and level of satisfaction. When that mastery and satisfaction occurs, the course will continue, will be popular, and will be recommended by satisfied students.

About the author: Norman Arvidsson is a young and passionate blogger, tutor and educator. He writes about student’s life, education tips, and studying. You can contact him via Twitter.

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