10 key steps to create an online course

Embarking on the journey to create an online course involves a thoughtful process that greatly influences its success and impact. This journey encompasses various vital elements, from understanding your audience and setting clear learning objectives to crafting engaging content and evaluating course effectiveness.

Each step contributes to the overall quality and efficacy of the online course.


1. Understand your learners and their needs

Identifying your audience and their needs is a crucial step in creating an effective online course. This process involves understanding who your learners are, what they already know, what they need to learn, and why they want to learn it.

Here’s a deeper look into how you can assess these needs effectively:

  • Understanding your audience

    • Demographics: Consider the age, profession, educational background, and geographical location of your potential learners. This information can help tailor the course content to their level and interests.
    • Prior Knowledge: Gauge the existing knowledge or skill level of your audience. Are they beginners or advanced learners in the subject?
    • Learning Goals: Understand why your audience wants to take the course. Are they looking to acquire a new skill, advance in their career, or pursue a hobby?
  • Conduct a Needs Assessment

    • Surveys and Questionnaires: Distribute surveys to potential learners to gather data on their background, interests, and learning objectives. Online tools like SurveyMonkey or Google Forms can facilitate this process.
    • Interviews and Focus Groups: Conduct one-on-one interviews or organize focus groups with representatives of your target audience. This qualitative approach can provide deeper insights into their motivations and expectations.
    • Market Research: Analyze existing data on market trends, industry needs, and competitor course offerings. This helps in understanding the broader context in which your learners are operating.
    • Skill Gap Analysis: This involves identifying the skills that your target audience currently possesses and the skills they need. Tools like competency matrices can be helpful here.
    • ADDIE Model: This instructional design framework stands for Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation. In the Analysis phase, you identify learners’ needs, existing knowledge, and learning environments.
    • Kirkpatrick Model: Originally developed for evaluating training programs, this model’s first level, ‘Reaction,’ assesses learners’ initial thoughts on the training (which can be surveyed before course development to gauge interest and needs).
  • Analyze your results

    • Once you’ve collected data, analyze it to identify common themes, skill gaps, and specific learning outcomes desired by your audience. This analysis will guide the structure and content of your course.

Understanding your audience and conducting a thorough needs assessment are foundational steps to create an online course. They ensure that the course you develop is well-tailored to your learners’ needs, resulting in a more engaging and effective learning experience. Remember, the more you know about your audience, the better you can meet their expectations and learning objectives, as well as facilitate an enojoyable learning experience.


2. Establish effective learning objectives

Defining clear learning objectives is a pivotal step in the instructional design process. These objectives serve as a roadmap for both the course creator and the learners, outlining what is expected to be achieved by the end of the course.

Here’s a deeper dive into how to set effective learning objectives and ensure your content is aligned with them:

  • Crafting learning objectives

    • Specificity: Objectives should be specific and clear. Avoid vague descriptions and focus on what learners will specifically be able to do, understand, or demonstrate after completing the course.
    • Measurable Outcomes: Ensure that each objective can be measured. Use action verbs that denote observable actions or demonstrable knowledge, such as “analyze,” “create,” “calculate,” or “discuss.”
    • Relevance: The goals should be relevant to the learners’ needs and aspirations. They should address the skills gaps identified during the needs assessment phase and be directly applicable to real-world contexts.
    • Achievable: While being ambitious is good, objectives should be realistically attainable given the course duration, content depth, and learners’ starting skill levels.
  • Aligning content with learning objectives

    • Content Consistency: Each module, lesson, or activity in the course should directly contribute to meeting one or more of the defined learning objectives.
    • Progressive Complexity: Structure the content in a way that gradually builds upon previous modules. This scaffolded approach helps learners build their knowledge and skills progressively.
    • Diverse Learning Materials: Use various types of content (videos, readings, quizzes, practical exercises) that cater to different learning styles, all focused on achieving the set objectives.
  • Using instructional design models to define your learning objectives

    • Bloom’s Taxonomy: This model categorizes learning objectives into cognitive levels of complexity, from basic recall of facts (knowledge) to higher-order skills like evaluation and creation. Use this taxonomy to create a range of objectives targeting different cognitive levels.
    • SMART Goals: Ensure your objectives are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. This approach helps in creating focused and practical goals.
    • Backward Design Model: Start by defining the end goals (learning objectives) and then plan the course content and activities backward from these goals. This ensures that all course elements are aligned with achieving the objectives.
    • ABC(D) Model: A model that stands for Audience, Behavior, Condition, and Degree. It emphasizes who the learners are, the behavior or skill to be learned, the conditions under which the behavior will occur, and the degree to which the behavior is executed.


3. Develop the course structure and content

Creating a structured and well-organized course is a fundamental step, it is about building a solid framework for your online course, ensuring that the content is logically organized and aligns with the learning objectives.

  • Developing an effective course content strategy

    • Course outline creation: Develop a detailed outline of the course, breaking down the content into modules or units. This outline should reflect the flow of the course, starting from basic concepts and gradually moving to more complex topics.
    • Content development: Based on the learning objectives and your audience analysis, start creating the course content. This includes writing lectures, developing interactive elements, and preparing multimedia materials like videos and slideshows.
    • Incorporating diverse learning materials: To cater to various learning styles, include a mix of text, video, audio, and interactive content. This diversity helps in maintaining learner engagement and catering to different preferences.
    • Building assessments: Design assessments such as quizzes, assignments, and projects that align with the learning objectives and enable learners to demonstrate their understanding of the course material.
    • Feedback mechanisms: Plan for mechanisms through which learners can receive feedback on their progress, such as automated quizzes, peer reviews, or instructor feedback.
    • Accessibility considerations: Ensure that the course content is accessible to all learners, including those with disabilities. This might involve adding subtitles to videos, providing transcripts for audio materials, and ensuring that all interactive elements are accessible.

By focusing on these aspects, you can create a course structure that not only systematically imparts knowledge but also engages and motivates learners, leading to a more effective and enriching learning experience.


4. Select the tools for course creation and delivery

When planning to create an online course, the selection of appropriate course creation tools and hosting platforms is pivotal. This decision will shape the overall design and delivery of your course.

The first step in course creation is choosing tools that allow you to design and develop engaging content. There are plenty of great tools out there. Here are just a couple of examples of some of the most popuplar:

  • Selecting learning development tools

    • Articulate 360: Equipped with an array of tools, it enables the creation of interactive quizzes, drag-and-drop activities, and custom slide-based storytelling, enhancing learner engagement in various course formats.
    • Adobe Captivate: Excelling in interactive learning, it allows for the development of branching scenarios, virtual reality projects, and responsive simulations, ideal for hands-on training and tutorial experiences.
    • Camtasia: Offers capabilities for screen recording and video editing, making it perfect for producing tutorial videos, step-by-step guides, and recorded presentations with integrated annotations and effects.

Once your content is ready, the next step is selecting a platform to host and deliver your course.

  • Choosing a course delivery platform

    • Learning Management Systems (LMS): These platforms, like Moodle and Blackboard, are robust solutions for comprehensive course management. They offer extensive features for tracking learner progress, conducting assessments, and supporting a range of content formats. Ideal for larger organizations or educational institutions, they can be complex and often require significant investment.
    • MOOC platforms: Platforms such as Udemy and Coursera cater to a broad audience with user-friendly interfaces. They are excellent for educators looking to maximize their reach and simplify course administration. While they offer global exposure and ease of use, they often limit control over pricing and access to learner data.
    • Self-Hosted solutions: Tools like WordPress and Joomla allow for complete control over course content and data, offering high customization and integration capabilities. Suitable for those with technical know-how, these platforms demand more in terms of setup and maintenance but provide full autonomy in course management.
    • Specialized course creation tools: This category includes tools like Articulate Storyline and Adobe Captivate, designed specifically for creating interactive and engaging courses. Ideal for instructional designers, these tools offer advanced functionalities for sophisticated course development.
    • Webinar and live streaming platforms: Platforms such as Zoom, WebEx, or GoToWebinar are essential for conducting live lectures, workshops, and seminars. They support real-time interaction and are perfect for courses that benefit from live, interactive sessions with features like audience polling and Q&A.

5. Design engaging course content

Creating engaging course content is crucial for maintaining learner interest and enhancing the effectiveness of your online course. This involves developing materials that are not only informative but also stimulating and interactive.

  • Strategies to make your course engaging

    • Use of multimedia: Integrate various forms of media such as videos, infographics, animations, and podcasts to cater to different learning styles and keep the content dynamic.
    • Interactive elements: Include interactive elements like quizzes, drag-and-drop activities, and simulations to engage learners actively in the learning process.
    • Storytelling and scenarios: Employ storytelling techniques and real-life scenarios to make complex concepts more relatable and memorable.
    • Modular design: Structure the content into manageable modules or sections, making it easier for learners to digest the information and track their progress.
    • Practical applications: Provide practical exercises, case studies, and examples to demonstrate the real-world application of the course material.
    • Cultural relevance: Ensure the content is culturally inclusive and relevant to the diverse backgrounds of your audience.

By focusing on these aspects, you can create course content that not only educates but also engages and inspires learners, leading to a more effective and enjoyable learning experience.


6. Implement effective learning assessments

Incorporating assessments into your online course is essential for evaluating and enhancing learner comprehension and engagement. Effective assessments provide invaluable insights into the effectiveness of your course and the progress of your learners.

  • Strategies for effective assessments

    • Varied assessment formats: Use a mix of quizzes, assignments, projects, and exams to cater to different learning styles and evaluate various skills.
    • Real-time feedback: Provide immediate feedback on assessments to help learners understand their performance and areas for improvement.
    • Peer assessment: Encourage peer-to-peer evaluations to foster collaboration and diverse perspectives.
    • Progress tracking: Implement tools for tracking and visualizing learner progress to motivate and guide them through the course.


7. Enhance learner engagement and interaction

Fostering interaction and engagement is key to a successful online learning experience. Engaged learners are more likely to complete the course and achieve their learning objectives.

  • Strategies to engage your learners

    • Community building: Create forums or social media groups for learners to discuss course content, share ideas, and build a learning community.
    • Live interactive sessions: Include webinars or live Q&A sessions to allow real-time interaction between learners and instructors.
    • Collaborative projects: Facilitate group projects or discussions that require teamwork and communication.
    • Regular updates: Keep the course dynamic with regular updates, announcements, and new content to maintain learner interest.


8. Launching and distributing your online course

For learning professionals, teachers, and instructional designers, the launch and distribution of an online course are pivotal phases. This stage is about effectively bringing the course to your learners and ensuring smooth access.

  • Strategies to ensure a smooth course launch

    • Announcing the launch: Communicate the course availability through various channels like email lists, educational forums, and social media platforms targeted towards your learner demographic.
    • Preparing the learning environment: Ensure that the digital learning environment, such as your LMS or educational website, is fully operational, user-friendly, and ready to support learners from day one.
    • Orientation for learners: Provide an introductory session or materials to guide learners on how to navigate the course, access materials, and utilize available resources effectively.
    • Test Run: Before going live, perform a comprehensive test of the course including all multimedia elements, quizzes, and interactive components to ensure functionality.
    • Learning support: Establish a clear and accessible support system for addressing technical issues or course-related queries promptly.


9. Assess course impact and learner performance

After the course launch, it’s essential to evaluate its impact on learners. This involves assessing both the effectiveness of the course content and the learners’ performance.

  • Performance assessment

    • Performance metrics: Utilize LMS analytics to track learner engagement, quiz scores, assignment submissions, and forum participation.
    • Completion rates analysis: Analyze completion rates to understand learner engagement levels and identify potential areas where learners are struggling.
    • Feedback collection: Use surveys, feedback forms, and direct communication to gather learner insights about the course’s effectiveness, challenges, and areas for improvement.
    • Learning success: Assess overall learner achievement against the set learning objectives to gauge the success of the course.


10. Improve based on evaluation

Using insights gained from course evaluations, it’s important to continuously refine and update the course. This iterative process ensures that the course remains relevant, effective, and aligned with learners’ needs.

  • Continuous improvement

    • Content updates: Regularly update and refresh course content based on learner feedback, new research, or changes in the subject area.
    • Addressing feedback: Actively respond to feedback by making necessary adjustments in course design, content delivery, or technical aspects.
    • Enhancing the learning experience: Incorporate new teaching methods, technologies, or learning activities to improve engagement and learning outcomes.
    • Professional development: Stay informed about the latest trends in educational technology and instructional design to continuously enhance your skills and the quality of your courses.


As we can see, the process to create an online course is a comprehensive endeavor. But by following threse steps, or other course creation methodologies, we can craft engaging and effective online learning experiences tailored to our learners’ needs.

Tags: Digital Learning Experience Designer, Fundamentals, Instructional Design, Instructional Design Technology, Instructional Designer, Learning Design Software, Learning Design Toolkit, Learning Experience Designer, LXD Frameworks, LXD Toolkit, Online learning
Top graphic design resources for online course design
How to track your Articulate Storyline Projects with Google Analytics
Explore related articles