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Many people believe that once they’ve selected their course idea they will instantly gain focus and clarity. However, often times you can be left confused. Where do you start? How do you organise yourself? The secret is in building a clear and efficient course outline.

This is one of the areas that I used to struggle with mightily when I created my first course. I did not know how to create an outline in an efficient manner. I didn’t have visibility over the content. Coordinating between lectures was extremely slow and difficult.

The good news is that I’ve come a long way since then and I can show you exactly how to approach course outline creation. It’s actually my favourite part of the process now. Why?

  • It gives me immense clarity
  • It condenses everything I need to know about my course in one window
  • I use it through every part of the course creation process

But let’s start slow. I highly recommend that you first install a note-taking app. Trust me, they are life savers. You can choose between OneNote (from Microsoft) or Evernote. I prefer OneNote because of a simple trick it employs that is perfect for outline creation.

Imagine that I used to hold the scripts for each Udemy lesson in a separate Google Docs file. Picture that. Trust me, it’s not efficient at all. OneNote will save your life – I covered it in depth here.

The OneNote Trick

I was shocked when I discovered this functionality. It’s so simple, yet so powerful. I couldn’t believe that other note-taking apps didn’t offer this.

OneNote offers the possibility to expand and collapse bullet points. This is extremely valuable because you can either look at your outline as a whole (with individual lecture names only), or you can expand the lectures you want to see and have a look at the actual content.

These 2 screenshots will give you a better understanding of what I mean.

Image 1: Bullets are collapsed

The photo shows an outline in OneNote which has bullet points that have been collapsed in order to see the high-level picture.

An example of 2 collapsed Outline sections

Image 2: Some bullets are expanded

A OneNote screenshot showing an outline that has certain bullet points expanded, revealing the content hidden

Notice how certain bullet points are expanded here, revealing the content

 Notice how you can expand and collapse any individual lecture. This allows you to:

  • Have a compact course outline in its entirety (image 1)
  • Write all the content you want for every lesson (image 2) without compromising the entire outline
  • Keep flexibility and add/subtract bullet points as you progress with expanding your outline

From a mechanical perspective it works like a charm.

How I Create A Course Outline

Let’s get into the meat of any outline – the structure and building out the content. If you go through these steps you will find it much easier to create course outlines. 

Step #1: Build The Skeleton

You’ll surely have a ton of ideas initially. You won’t know how to organise them. My best advice is to simply dump them into your OneNote Page. Just write everything up in bullet points which you can organise later. The important part is to not lose your ideas. 

Once you’ve done this, try to identify commonalities. Create a few sections (3 or 4 besides the Introduction) and add the bullet points to each section accordingly. This will give you a great place to start.

Step #2: Expanding The Course Outline 

Now that you’ve built the skeleton you can start expanding. I usually find it easy to do research online and add to the outline as I go. This doesn’t mean you don’t know the content yourself, but looking at other people’s structure will give you more clarity on how you want to organise yours.

Have a look at:

  • Specialised books on your topic – they will almost always be extremely comprehensive and nicely structured
  • Other online courses
  • Blog articles or specialised websites

These sources can also come in use when you write your content. It’s crucial that you add new lectures/sub-bullet points as you consume each of these sources. Once you’ve done this extensively, your outline will come to life and you’ll have 90% of the course structure nailed down.

Step #3: Content Creation 

Whether you want to write out your lectures like scripts or simply use bullet points, OneNote will accommodate you. Simply press ENTER and then TAB and you will have a sub-bullet point after every lecture. You can add up as many notes as you want. Once you’re done, you can collapse it by double-clicking to the left-hand side of the main bullet point. It’s that easy.

A screenshot showing the icon which allows you to collapse bullet points in OneNote

It’s the icon to the top left corner that you need to double click in order to collapse the bullet points.

I won’t go too deep into content creation. Personally, I usually go through all the lessons and mark the bullet points that come to mind. I then go through the same process as with the outline expansion. Once I’m done with this, I have a very clear picture of what my course will look like.

Step #4: Labelling Your Course Outline

I love the fact that I use OneNote in every part of the course creation. Even when I’m filming I have it on my phone to read my bullet points right before recording.

That’s why it’s important to have strict labelling in place.

  • Mark lectures specifically depending on how you deliver the content. I use “F” for Filming, “P” for PowerPoint and “S” for Screenshare; This way I know exactly how to prepare for each individual lecture.
  • If you have a co-instructor it can also come in handy to write who owns each lecture
  • Colour coding: I usually mark a lecture title in red once I have filmed it so I don’t have to worry about it again

Step #5: Continuously Refine

Your outline will only be a finished product once you’ve recorded and published your course. Until then, continue to go through it and refine it accordingly. I know from experience that I always get new ideas and add to it consistently.

Before you’re ready to film, I would suggest you check that your outline:

  • Has sections that are fairly similar in length – if there is one section that stands out because it’s too long, then you might want to consider breaking it down in several parts
  • Keeps 6-8 lectures max per section – I find this to be the ideal length of a section
  • Is clearly labeled

 

It Will Eventually Become A Habit

The first course is the hardest. Once you’ve gone through the process once, you’ll find that it gets progressively easier. I usually get an immense sense of satisfaction once I finish it, because it’s like putting the pieces of a puzzle together. What’s left to do is to find the meaning behind each piece and explain it to the world.

One final piece of advice: once you’ve finished the outline, make sure to create a course and upload the outline to Udemy. Even though you won’t have anything else yet, this will make you feel much closer to your goal of launching a course. It’s a great psychological trick!