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Take your online training program to the next level

The Beginner's Guide to Creating an Online Training Program

Step 2

Outline Your First Course

Now is the time to clearly lay out your content development approach. This will ensure that everyone on your team is fully versed in the organizational structure, format and scope of content production. Or, if you’re tackling this project on your own, an outline will keep you organized and focused on the goals and objectives as you create content. Let’s begin by addressing content topics.

Content Topics: From Selection to Outline

In Step 1, you determined the subject matter and learning objectives for your course. Now it’s time to dive deeper into the type of content your course will include. A critical part of creating a successful training program is knowing what you want to teach and why you want to teach it. That’s why you should begin the outline process by focusing on the topics that will be covered in the course; get that right, and the rest will be much easier. Quality work here will allow for ease of execution when it comes time to write and design.

To select what topics to outline, choose from the scope of information you want to cover under the umbrella of the subject matter you selected in Step 1. If you’d like to cover a number of topics, simply pick a few and get started!

Everyone has content, even if you have never called it that. Consider compiling everything you have gathered over the years—FAQs, customer support tickets, email feedback, etc.—to inform your topic-creation process. Also consider what is most important to your audience and what they need to learn. Choose subtopics from your list and begin creating a course.

Start small. Create a course that will take users no longer than 30 to 60 minutes to complete. You can always add more later to expand the content, or you can link several courses together later to create a larger training about the given topic. For instance, what if you want to create a course about the first stage of onboarding but know that the process will expand later? You might need to create both an onboarding overview course and courses on other stages of the process. Any good training software will give you the option to enroll users in specific training tracks. So for now, just focus on the course for the first stage of onboarding (or whatever content topic you’ve chosen).

Whatever your topics, know that the course you develop doesn’t have to be perfect or set in stone. Making mistakes while creating your first online training program is normal and often critical to success. That’s why the creation process works best as an iterative one. You’ll receive feedback from your learners and your team over time, which will help you improve the program and ensure it always caters to your learners’ needs.

Creating a Topical Outline

Creating a topical outline is important for the content creation process; not outlining your course will hamper it. You’ll see the value of your outline as soon as you move forward to the next step!

Now is also an opportune time to start thinking about which training platform you will use to deliver and assess your content. If you understand the capabilities of your selected platform, you’ll be able to create and develop your training program and content in a way that fits the platform's structure and functions.

So, what should you include in a topical outline?

By this point, you’ve already determined the subject matter and the topics you will cover in your first course. You'll use those topics to create the topical outline for your course.

To create a topical outline, take your topics and list the subtopics you’ll be covering within each. Imagine the topics as sections or folders wherein content subtopics are organized. If this guide were a training, for instance, a topic might be “content topics,” while a subtopic would be “defining training objectives.” If “onboarding” is your subject matter, a main topic might be “using the app,” and the subtopics could be “signing up,” “setting up your profile” and “uploading photos.” 

Here’s how an outline like this would look:

Onboarding Course:

  1. Using the App
    1. Signing up

    2. Setting up your profile

    3. Uploading photos

In your outline, account for appropriate activity “chunking,” such as a subtopic that could be explained by a one- to three-minute video rather than a nine-page paper. We’ll dig deeper into the method of chunking in the content creation stage, Step 3.

Start Storyboarding


Though not mandatory, a storyboard allows you to go into the specifics of your course outline. Storyboards give you a visual blueprint of the screens associated with each subtopic in your topical outline. Each screen represents a learning activity.

Start by illustrating each subtopic with a wireframe screen. Slideshow presentation tools like PowerPoint work well for creating storyboards, with each slide representing one subtopic. Simply mock out how each subtopic (learning activity) will display and which pieces of media (text, images, videos) will go where. Include colors, sizes, font styles and anything else pertinent to the way your course will actually appear to the learner.

The Outline step is crucial in the course creation process—the process runs more smoothly when you’ve constructed a solid foundation on which to build it. With your topic outline and storyboard in hand, you’re now ready to write your content.

Write Your Content

Now you know where you’ll place your content and to which topics and subtopics it will be applicable. It’s time to draft your course content. Formatting and designing your content to meet your delivery method (rich text, presentations, video, audio, etc.) will come in a later step. The main focus here is to put the content for each subtopic into written form. Though it will be a rough draft at this stage, you should still consider how the information is written. To preface the how, let’s discuss the role training plays in everyone’s life.


Learning in the Real-World

We were trained to talk, walk and perform basic human skills at a very early age. As we grew up, we were trained to study, memorize information and bubble in the correct answers. But the most impactful lessons in life aren’t taught in the classroom. They are taught on the soccer field when collaborating with teammates was essential to winning the game. They are learned during fundraising events where your sales techniques are put to the test. These are the moments that engage and challenge us. We learn without ever realizing we’re learning—and the knowledge we gain stays with us.

So, if the most important experiences in life are filled with learning, why are certain types of learning met with so much resistance? In school, most students aren’t typically thrilled at learning a new algebraic formula. Neither are new hires who are forced into reading an employee handbook in one sitting. The difference here is the lack of relevance, stimulation and real-world context. These learners don’t see the value in the content and, therefore, lack motivation to absorb it.


The Role of Storytelling

To create a positive environment for learner engagement, the content you write should be contextual and relevant to your target learners. Storytelling is an excellent way to communicate learning materials in this manner. You can likely recall a story you’ve heard that shaped your opinions or decisions in life or a critical moment in your life that you shared with others through a story.

The reason storytelling is so compelling is because stories help us identify and connect with characters and events that feel real and relatable. It is not simply comprised of facts or objective information; it communicates emotion, tone and inspiration.

Nancy Duarte, speaker, presenter and CEO, gave an influential TEDx talk about the power of storytelling in presentations. In it, she describes a structure that can be applied not only to presentations but to training courses as well. Her talk is lengthy, but we think you’ll find it inspirational as you begin to write your course content. We encourage you to find some time to view it: https://youtu.be/1nYFpuc2Umk


A Note About Audio Content

If you plan to create recorded audio or video that contains audio narration, there are a few extra points you should consider as you write your content. To create this type of content, you should write it as a script that someone will read out loud and record. Here are some tips:

  • Take a conversational approach to script writing.
  • Make note of when the narrator should pause or emphasize words.
  • Plan to have access to a quiet environment to record the script.
  • Ensure you have all necessary audio recording and editing equipment at your disposal.

More tips on the recording and editing process will be provided in Step 3.