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Moving Parts to Course Design

The Moving Parts to Your Course Creation Project

One of the emails I get regularly is a variation on this:

“If I want to make a group course a reality, where do I start? And..what does the project look like?” 

You too?

[I’ve covered the Where do I Start question in previous posts – see You Already Know What to Teach and How to Create Your First Group Course.]

Today I’m going to tackle the second part: What does a course creation project even look like?

Kick-ass course building starts with a firm foundation (great learning objectives), adds solid scaffolding (lesson design) and then gets to the business of content design & decoration.

Here are the moving parts to course creation. Think of it as your Road Map through the course creation process.

Caution: They build upon each other. The cleanest, least hair-pulling method is to knock them out in order and get a solid answer before moving to the next, no matter how tempting it is to start by throwing a bunch of cool-sounding stuff in Powerpoint.

1. Craft Learning Objectives

You are answering the question:  At the end of the course, students should be able to __(verb)__ better than they had before.  (Larger courses may have more than one objective, that’s fine.)

Here’s the catch: that sentence is deliberately written so that the verb KNOW does not work in it. Please do not design your course so that students will “know more” about something. That’s not a course, that’s a Wikepedia article.

[For more about learning objectives, check out Your Objectives with Learning Objectives. If you’d like help crafting yours, check out my downloadable Workshop.]

Now you know what your students’ needs are, and you can move on to figuring out what the gaps are.

2. Identify Gaps That Your Course Will Bridge

This is how you determine what material your course needs to present to meet your learning objectives:

– What skills, knowledge, behaviors are your students coming in with?
– What skills, knowledge, behaviors do you want them to graduate with?

What lies between – the gap – is what your course must teach. Design your course material to bridge those gaps.

Now you have the criteria to make crisp decisions about what’s in and what’s out. Ruthlessly cull anything that doesn’t support your learning objectives or serve to bridge your gaps.

All that other material? That’s another course, or a blog post, or an opt-in. If you need more convincing, please read 9 Reasons Why Nobody Orders the Kitchen Sink.

3. Lesson Design

I view design the way Apple views design: it means to problem-solve elegantly.  If you’re just dumping info into a PDF, then you won’t need instructional design. But if you care about the experiences of your students as they learn & practice, then you want to design your course before you develop its content.

So, pretend you work for the Discovery Channel and your course is an episode that will air. (This is a really helpful mindset to be in, truly!) Then “storyboard” your course flow.

Pique curiosity, then sate it. Pique it again, then sate it. Use stories more than data; case studies more than information dumps. Use class discussion to round out teaching instead of one-way lectures.

Watch any educational TV show and do mental forensics on it. Take what works and adapt it to your material.

See how this is so much more than a List O’ Topics I’ll Cover? This separates your course from all the others. Even those in the same niche. I promise.

4. Create Content

Now we’re finally here. You have a lean, tightly-focused list of material you need to create, and – since you already know how that content will be presented – you’re headed straight there, right out of the gate.

You know what content is destined for a worksheet or an exercise, what will go into a video script, and what will end up as talking points for a slide presentation. You know that you need to find x case studies that specifically illustrate y.

Now that’s workload that makes sense.

5. Craft Final Materials

For some, this is the FUN part: graphic design, shooting video, recording screencasts, getting everything pretty. (And there are plenty of great resources that help those of us without the crafty/design gene to create visually compelling & clear materials.)

But, equally important: Whether you choose to outsource or you’re DIY’ing it, make sure you have at least TWO OTHER sets of eyeballs looking at your materials: proofreading for typos and grammar, and editing for clarity & flow.

And save at least one person who hasn’t viewed your material multiple times to read (or watch) with completely fresh eyes. Make sure you schedule this with enough time to incorporate the suggested fixes!


There’s your Road Map. All the moving parts. That’s what a course creation project looks like.

If you’re ready to start your own course project, you’ll want to check out my Downloadable Workshop and other resources to help you create exceptional courses.

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