How to Design Your Unique Online Course



In a classroom just as teachers know not all students are equal, students too rate teachers for their effectiveness in imparting knowledge or skill to them. In an online course the teacher’s ability is all the more crucial because, more often than not, no one sees the other in the class. In this scenario the effectiveness of teaching depends to quite an extent on (1) online course design, and (2) whether the student has understood what she is going to learn in the course.

At the end of the day every teacher without exception wishes her time is spent well. And that her students could learn exactly what she wanted them to.

For a teacher to be good at her job there are 2 aspects to consider:

  1. Knowledge of the subject being taught
  2. Teaching skills to make that knowledge easily digestible by the students

When you teach offline, especially in schools and colleges, you at least have some ready contours aka syllabi to guide you.

No such luxury when you teach online – more so if you are a lone teacher or one who have never taught anywhere before. You play all the roles here – drafting a course, designing it, creating it, and of course teaching it to the students who, as you know, are mostly invisible to you.

Don’t be alarmed though. For, the fact remains that

  • most online teachers, if not all, sail on the same boat, and
  • in any case you have to start somewhere, don’t you?


Where to Begin

As a self-made online teacher, having garnered 11,000+ students in a year and a half as I write, I have experienced that a good online course is one that has clear objectives and a well laid-out structure.

Let me put it this way.

When you design a course you have to be clear as to

  • who your students are,
  • what the students will learn from it,
  • what you want your students to be able to do, and
  • whether your course follows a path that makes learning natural and easy.

For example look no further than a curriculum in school where students learn a subject – say History or Mathematics or anything – in a step-by-step manner as they progress from lower to higher classes.

The learning curve is a gradual slope upward as the subject being taught helps students understand, gather, and build knowledge on it bit by bit.

In a similar way your e-learning course will be better taught when it first lays the foundation of the topic, and then builds on it lesson by lesson to finally reach the goal…which is where the course culminates.

That said, I’m a believer in active learning where students can engage in problem-solving techniques in real time, like for example learning to swim in the swimming pool.

Here is a quote by Jo Handelsman that explains it better:

People learn best when they can apply knowledge to a practical situation immediately.
— Jo Handelsman, University of Wisconsin – Madison

In my PowerPoint video making course I’ve included 60+ animations just to make sure that students are able to do them while they’re learning. By doing that, I’ve observed, students find my lessons engaging and easier to implement.


Identify What to Teach

When you design a course, a lot will depend, as can be expected, upon what exactly you want to teach. Let me explain this with my own course example.

When I decided to launch an SEO course 2 years back I was clear that my course will deal on ‘SEO for startup business’. Now SEO is a popular topic, and there are any number of courses on it that are available online.

I noticed that most SEO courses were technical in nature. They covered the usual topics of keyword research, content creation, link building, studying analytics, and so on. However, few courses actually explained the purpose as to why anyone should do all those steps being taught.

In my course I reasoned that no one does SEO as a fancy work. If getting traffic is important there has to be a strong purpose for that. And that purpose, according to my course, is to boost a business.

Can you see the difference?

As long as you’re doing SEO only to bring traffic it means very little really. After all what will that traffic do when they come to the site?

But when your purpose of doing SEO is to boost business, automatically the focus shifts on doing something in the website that enables it to attract and retain visitors, and convert them into buyers.

While designing my course I could have taken the following paths:

  • Beginners’ Guide to SEO for Your Website
  • 20 Must-Do SEO Steps for Any Website
  • SEO for StartUp Business

While the first 2 are more general in nature, I decided on the last one since I believed in teaching SEO with the purpose of helping a startup business grow and prosper.

I guess I haven’t done badly since the course still gets good number of students with a healthy rating of 4.7 out of 5 (even though I haven’t changed much in the course since launching it).

So, as you can see, there can be many different paths to teach the same subject. And much depends on how you identify what you want to teach.


Designing Course Backward

It may surprise some of you, but many institutes of repute propound the concept of designing course backward.

The backward design idea was first mooted in 1949 by Ralph Tyler. Later in 1998-99 the idea was introduced in curriculum design by Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins.

The model of backward course design is simple (see the image below). It works in 3 stages.

It starts from

  1. a course’s learning goals, then
  2. works backward to decide what skills will demonstrate achievement of the learning goals, and finally
  3. works further backward to decide what content is required to support those skills.

Backward course design mo

Many experts feel that backward course design is practical, feasible, specific, and suited to provide expected result.

Needless to say I’m a proponent of backward course designing, and here below I’m going to show you how I’m planning the curricula of my soon-to-launch online course on making video for e-learning business.


Applying Backward Course Design Model

Okay, let’s begin designing a course. As you read the steps I explain below, do try to formulate your own course design. This will help you match the two and finalize your course details faster.


The first step is deciding the learning goal. In the present case as mentioned above it will be to make video for e-learning course.

Now this will cover making both

  • training video for the e-learning course, and
  • sales and/or marketing video to promote the e-learning course.

In my experience, PowerPoint and Camtasia Studio are 2 ideal tools to create both types of videos easy and fast. The learning curve is pretty gentle to pick up the tips and start using the tools like a pro.


In the second step the job is to define the skills that the student must learn so that she can make good and engaging e-learning videos.

In my opinion as a longtime video maker there are 5 skills to master if you want to make faultless engaging video. They are:

  1. Writing script
  2. Creating animation with PowerPoint
  3. Creating screencasts with Camtasia Studio
  4. Recording noiseless audio
  5. Editing and producing final video with Camtasia Studio

You’ll notice I’ve listed the skills in the order I believe the course ought to be taught. Let me now briefly explain each skillset below. Don’t forget to do the same for your course.

When you write down why you think a skill has to be taught for the learning goals of your course, you’re taking an important step forward. For, doing this will enable you shape your final course design.

Okay, here I write down the needs for learning the skills for my video making course:

  • The first step is about learning the skill of writing script. Script is important both for sales and training videos. Preparing a script commits you to the actual substance of your video, making you less vulnerable to wasting time on unimportant things when you work on your video. In absence of a script you may be prone to making errors in every step going forward.
  • The next skill to master is creating animations in PowerPoint. Now let me tell you this. Perish the thought that PowerPoint is just another presentation software. Its power-packed features are simply awesome to make mind-blowing animations. And who doesn’t know animation is the key to hold audience attention?
  • Coming to screencasts, you need to learn the skill for your training video. True, there are other screencast software and some are free. But Camtasia Studio is an all-purpose video making tool which to my mind is unmatched by any other tool of its type.
  • Audio recording and editing is an essential part of video making. And you need a ready script when you record audio. After you make a voice recording you may want to reduce or remove any noise in it. You may also want to include a background music to add zing to the audio.
  • In the last step, you’ll come to mastering the skills for editing and producing the final video. This is better done in Camtasia Studio as it is easy to do these works free from unnecessary clutter. The other advantage with Camtasia is that you can add some special effects like callouts, zoom-n-pan, transitions, etc. What’s more, it has powerful codecs to render you slim yet top-class, ready-to-embed MP4 video of any dimension you can think of.


The Final Curriculum

I have explained the main steps of how I design a unique online course. And I have given you the example of designing my own course on making video for e-learning.

So without further ado let me produce below a tentative full course curriculum with examples of course lessons.



  • LESSON 1.1 – Introduction to the course
  • LESSON 1.2 – This is what you learn in the course
  • LESSON 1.3 – This is what you will NOT learn in the course
  • LESSON 1.4 – Know your instructor
  • LESSON 1.5 – Are you ready to take the course
  • LESSON 1.6 – Preview of video you’ll learn making



  • LESSON 2.1 – Why you should write a script for video
  • LESSON 2.2 – Should you prepare script for both sales and training video
  • LESSON 2.3 – Proven formula for great video sales script
  • LESSON 2.4 – Get free expert advice for your video sales script
  • LESSON 2.5 – Handy tips for engaging video script



  • LESSON 3.1 – Why you need them
  • LESSON 3.2 – Free awesome images
  • LESSON 3.3 – Free clip arts and vector graphics
  • LESSON 3.4 – Free nice-looking fonts
  • LESSON 3.5 – Free royalty-free music
  • LESSON 3.6 – Free templates for PowerPoint



  • LESSON 4.1 – PowerPoint’s power features for making video
  • LESSON 4.2 – Create sleek text animations
  • LESSON 4.3 – Make animated text video from sales message
  • LESSON 4.4 – Create exciting clip art animation
  • LESSON 4.5 – Make explainer video with animated text and clip art



  • LESSON 5.1 – How versatile & helpful is Camtasia – An overview
  • LESSON 5.2 – Camtasia as a screen recorder
  • LESSON 5.3 – Camtasia as a video editor
  • LESSON 5.4 – Camtasia as a sleek video producer
  • LESSON 5.5 – 3 crucial steps to make great screencasts
  • LESSON 5.6 – 4 useful techniques that make screencasts easy and fast
  • LESSON 5.6 – How to record a screencast with Camtasia



  • LESSON 6.1 – Knowing Audacity – the free audio recorder and editor
  • LESSON 6.2 – Recording & editing your voice in Audacity
  • LESSON 6.3 – Merging your voice with background music
  • LESSON 6.4 – Producing final MP3 audio file in Audacity



  • LESSON 7.1 – Importing PowerPoint video to Camtasia
  • LESSON 7.2 – Importing audio recording to Camtasia
  • LESSON 7.3 – Cutting, pasting, synchronizing video with audio
  • LESSON 7.4 – Clipping speed of video portions – why & how



  • LESSON 8.1 – Zooming and panning screencast
  • LESSON 8.2 – Adding multiple callouts on timeline
  • LESSON 8.3 – Superimposing external video on screencast
  • LESSON 8.4 – Adding video intros from Camtasia library
  • LESSON 8.5 – Using multiple audio tracks in Camtasia



  • LESSON 9.1 – Custom production settings for your video
  • LESSON 9.2 – Upload video to YouTube
  • LESSON 9.3 – Save video to Google Drive
  • LESSON 9.4 – Embed video in WordPress blog


Final Thoughts

So there you are! I have just designed an online course on making e-learning videos with 45 lessons. Some more lessons can be added when creating the videos as felt necessary. If you are going to design your online course now, here are the key takeaways from this article:

  • Identify what you want to teach
  • Identify who your students are and what you want them to accomplish
  • Design your course backward from setting the learning goal, then deciding the skills needed for that goal, finally deciding the contents needed to learn those skills

It’ll be great to know what you think about online course design. Do send your take in the comments below.

[Image at the top is courtesy Willow Brugh at Flickr]
2016-12-30T13:59:10+00:00 E-Learning|

About the Author:

Partha is the founder of HubSkills.Com and a content development consultant for SMEs. He also owns and writes for the lifestyle blog, Kolkata Musing. Engage with him on Facebook or email at  

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