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course outline template
Ali Luke

How to Create a Course Outline in 2023 [Free Course Outline Template]

Last updated: January 11, 2023

So you’re excited about sharing your knowledge and expertise online, but you can’t seem to put your thoughts down to create a fully fleshed-out online course? You’ve come to the right place.

Creating an online course outline is one of the first things that you need to do to ensure that your online course will be coherent, well-structured, and easy to digest by your future students. After all, who wants to create lots of content that you later scrapped or re-recorded, because it just didn’t seem to work? Certainly nobody!

A solid course outline or plan makes it much easier to create online training that’s:

  • Easy (and enjoyable!) for you to put together and run.
  • Perfect for your students, covering what they want to learn in the right order, the right depth, and the right way.

In this article, we’re going to take you step-by-step through the process of creating your own course outline using our free course outline template.

Here’s a quick overview of the topics that we’ll cover:

What is a Course Outline?

A course outline is a high-level overview of your online course. It is the building block for your online course which typically contains a list of the chapters of the course and briefly details what’s included in each chapter. The chapters are generally also known as lessons, classes, modules, or something similar, depending on the type of course and the target audience.

Benefits of Creating an Online Course Outline

1. Help Students Understand The Learning Process and Objectives

online course outline

A course outline allows your students to get a brief look at their learning paths thus making your course much easier to follow. This also helps your students understand what they would be getting out of your online course when they complete it. A well-structured course outline that is clear and consistent will help provide an intuitive and engaging learning experience for your students.

2. Efficient Online Course Production

An online course outline makes it a lot easier and faster to produce the content for the online course itself. Having a clear course outline will prevent you from rambling from one topic to another without any clear directions. You’ll be able to structure the course in a logical and progressive way as some lessons might be prerequisites for subsequent lessons.

This also ensures that you will not miss out on any important lessons as it will be way more costly to restructure your online course down the line. It might also help you to pinpoint any areas where you may need to invite a guest speaker for additional expertise.

3. Overcome Your Mental Barriers

Creating a course outline in bullet points or mind maps allows you to get started on creating an online course without being overwhelmed by the lengthy course creation process.

A lot of the struggles with launching your own online courses have to do with mental barriers such as fear of failures, fear of negative criticisms, impostor syndrome, too many ideas, and perhaps also the overwhelming thought that you need to produce hours and hours worth of lessons for your potential students.

As cheesy as it sounds, getting started is the solution to overcoming your fear of getting started. As Susan Jeffers says,

Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway

Creating an online course can be hard work, but it’s incredibly rewarding hard work that will pay off when you start seeing your course income come in and becomes your passive income source, so start your journey by creating a course outline.

4. Materials for Marketing Your Online Course

free online course template

Having an online course outline gives you a basis for your sales material, making it much easier to actually sell your course. This helps your potential students to clearly visualize what they’re going to get out of completing your online course as well as a glimpse into what the online course experience itself would look like before purchasing. You’ll be more likely to appeal to specific target markets and convert more customers.

5. Feedback Collection From Your Potential Customers

If this is your first time creating an online course, coming up with an outline for your course allows you to get early feedback from other course creators or your target market, allowing you to change direction if necessary.

How to Create a Course Outline

1. Outline Your Learning Outcomes

online course learning outcome

First and foremost, it’s important for you to start by answering the question “What will my students get out of completing my online course?”

Once you have a solid idea of the learning outcomes, you will be able to effectively work your way back to structure the lessons and learning activities that would be ideal to achieve your main learning outcome. Generally speaking, it’s much better to have a more concrete and specific learning outcome. Here are some good and bad examples:

Good learning outcome example:

By the end of the lesson, my students will be able to take wedding photography in an outdoor setting

Bad learning outcome example:

By the end of the lesson, my students will be able to take better photos (too vague)

2. Determine Learning Paths and Milestones

course outline template

In the above example, it’s great to know that you will be teaching your students to take wedding photos in an outdoor setting. Now, it’s time to determine what kinds of skills they would need in order to achieve that. You can do so by outlining the learning milestones within your online course.

Some examples of learning milestones can include:

  • Learn the different types of cameras that would work best in an outdoor setting
  • Learn about various model poses that would work for wedding photography
  • Learn about various photo editing tools for wedding photography
  • Learn how to edit wedding photography photos

This allows you to structure your courses in a progressive way where some lessons might be a prerequisite before the subsequent lessons. For example, learning about various photo editing tools would allow them to learn how to edit the photos using the tools that are the most fitting to their skills and needs.

3. Organize Your Learning Activities and Lesson Types

course template example

Spend some time to think about your students’ potential learning styles (visual, aural, verbal, physical, logical, social, or solitary). Afterward, determine the ideal lesson format that would create an engaging learning experience for your students.

For example, if you’re teaching photography skills, it’s probably more effective to provide lots of visuals to show examples of how you’d take photos. Consider using video lessons instead of text-based lessons in this case.

Take advantage of assessments to help students retain information in a better way than simply giving out learning materials.

At Payhip, you can create online courses with various lesson types such as:

  • Video
  • Text
  • Quiz
  • Assignment
  • Survey
  • Downloadable
  • Embed

Free Online Course Outline Template

To save you some time, we have prepared a course outline template to ensure that you’ll be on the right path to launching a successful online course.

General Course Outline Template

We recommend beginning with a basic online course template to help you organize your ideas. You can then tweak or change the template as needed, knowing that the basic structure is solid.

This template is for a simple four-lesson course, but you can easily extend it for a longer course.

It’s a good idea for the course outline to also include the format for each part (e.g. “video” or “audio recording with transcript” or “PDF worksheet to download”) unless all the course materials are all provided in the exact same format.

Introduction/Welcome to Your Online Course

  • What to expect from this online course:
    • Course goals, learning outcomes, and/or skills that students will gain
  • How to get the most out of the online course:
    • Tips on the number of hours that students should ideally commit
    • How to retain most of the information including tips such as pausing the video and replicating the things mentioned on the lessons, or taking quizzes and/or assignments, and more
    • Where to get help and support if students have questions e.g. support line or Facebook group
    • Information such as ebooks, printables, and worksheets that your students can download to go along with your lessons

#1: Chapter One

First steps with the topic – make this lesson as beginner-friendly as possible.

  • What students will learn in this lesson
  • Content: aim to break this into 3 – 5 key points or sections
    • Lesson 1
    • Lesson 2
    • Lesson 3
  • Summary: wrap up by explaining students’ learning or what they can now achieve
  • Assessment: explain the assessment (if any)
  • What’s next: very briefly introduce the next lesson

#2: Chapter Two

This lesson should build on the previous one, taking students further.

  • What students will learn in this lesson
  • Content: aim to break this into 3 – 5 key points or sections
    • Lesson 1
    • Lesson 2
    • Lesson 3
  • Summary: wrap up by explaining students’ learning or what they can now achieve
  • Assessment: explain the assessment (if any)
  • What’s next: very briefly introduce the next lesson

#3: Chapter Three

This lesson can be more advanced. If there’s a big jump in difficulty, warn students of this and reassure them that there’s help available if they’re struggling.

  • What students will learn in this lesson
  • Content: aim to break this into 3 – 5 key points or sections
    • Lesson 1
    • Lesson 2
    • Lesson 3
  • Summary: wrap up by explaining students’ learning or what they can now achieve
  • Assessment: explain the assessment (if any)
  • What’s next: very briefly introduce the next lesson

#4: Chapter Four

The final lesson of your course should finish things on a high point. Give learners something really useful. It may be quite advanced, so provide extra help/resources as needed.

  • What students will learn in this lesson
  • Content: aim to break this into 3 – 5 key points or sections
    • Lesson 1
    • Lesson 2
    • Lesson 3
  • Summary: wrap up by explaining students’ learning or what they can now achieve
  • Assessment: explain the assessment (if any)
  • Where next? Point students to resources for going further with the topic (including your other products/services e.g. ebooks)

Course Outline Template for Copywriting Courses

This example of an online course outline is based on the template above, outlining the introduction and first lesson:

Welcome to Becoming a Freelance Writer

  • What is freelance writing?
  • Course goals: finding your first freelancing clients
  • Glossary of key terms, e.g. “ghostwriting”, “client”, “freelancing gig”, “paying market”
  • How the course will work (each week, there’s an optional assignment; you can comment on course lessons if you have a question or just want to share your progress with others)

#1: Your Freelance Writing Portfolio

  • Introduction: Today, you’ll learn how to put together a freelance writing portfolio – even if you’ve not written much before.
  • Content:
    • Section 1: What Could Go in Your Portfolio?
    • Section 2: Writing Extra Pieces for your Portfolio
    • Section 3: X Different Ways to Display Your Portfolio Pieces
  • Summary: Today, we discussed different types of work you can use in your freelancing portfolio.
  • Assessment: Find 2 – 4 pieces to use for your portfolio. Optional test/quiz.
  • What’s next: Next week, we’ll be looking at how to set up a social media page for your freelance writing business.

Tip: If you want to go further, you could create your own course outline templates by looking at existing courses in your niche and seeing how they’re structured.

Tips for Making Your Online Course Online Even Better

If you want to go even further with your online course, use the course outline template to plan for:

Different Types of Content to Suit Different Learning Styles

Some online courses are geared up around video content only, but the best online course creators will let you create all sorts of different content. With Payhip, for instance, you can create online courses with not only video lessons but also text lessons, quizzes, downloads, embeds, surveys, and more.

Content That Addresses Students’ Most Burning Questions

While some questions may seem small or even a bit silly in the context of the full topic, if these questions come up repeatedly from beginners, it’s important to make sure you address them early on in your course.

Opportunities for Students to Consolidate Their Learning

If your course takes several weeks to complete, give students opportunities to review what they’ve already learned. You might add a summary at the midpoint, for instance, recapping the material so far and then giving students a short quiz.

Creating Your Online Course With Payhip

how to sell online courses on payhip

Now that you’ve used the course outline template to create an outline for your own online course, it’s time to start thinking about how to deliver – and sell! – your course.

We recommend using Payhip to sell your online course. Payhip has a lot of benefits for course creators, including:

  • A wide variety of lesson types to make your course more engaging: Video, Text, Quiz, Assignment, Survey, Downloadable, and Embed.
  • A beginner-friendly course builder – plus a beginner-friendly instructions on how to successfully set up your online course.
  • The ability to drip content, releasing lessons week by week (or at whatever interval suits you).
  • Lots of options on how to price your course, including one-time fees, subscriptions, and payment plans, to suit you and your audience.
  • A fully customizable sales page for your online course. You can create a whole website on Payhip to sell your course, or you can sell your course from your existing website. You can even sell through social media with Payhip.
  • No upfront fees – just a small 5% transaction fee on each sale. You can sell other products, of course, not just online courses. You might also want to offer digital downloads, coaching services, memberships/subscriptions, and even physical products.

Join over 130,000 sellers who have launched their online businesses with Payhip


Is a course outline the same as a syllabus?

A course outline is often used synonymously as a syllabus. However, a course outline is typically used by the instructors as an organization tool when developing a course. A syllabus is typically used by the students to understand the course’s learning outcomes and learning paths.

Here’s a summary of how to create a course outline using Payhip’s free course outline template:

  1. Outline your learning outcomes
  2. Determine learning paths and milestones
  3. Organize your learning activities and lesson types

Final Thoughts

Outlining your online course might be a much faster process than you expect.

Use our free course outline template to get the process started. Then, set aside 10 – 15 minutes each day this week to follow the steps and add to your outline template.

Even if you only outline one small section at a time, you could have all your lesson outlines within a week or two.

Your course outline is the first step in creating a memorable online course that students love. It could also be the cornerstone of your business – or a valuable new product to send your profits skyrocketing this year. If you’re keen to learn more about selling online courses, we highly recommend reading our ultimate guide on how to sell online courses which provides comprehensive step-by-step guide that you can easily follow.

When you’re ready to launch your online course, Payhip is ready to make your journey an amazingly effortless one. Sign up for a free account on Payhip today.

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