How to Create a Ridiculously Good Online Course in 5 Easy Steps

Nick Santaniello ·

Jul 26, 2017

Creating an online course for your customersemployees, and channel partners used to require several experts in information technology, software development and instructional design.

Luckily, today’s tools make this work a lot easier. All the same steps may be involved, including content production, project management and pilot testing, but new tools make them much less daunting to accomplish.

Still, if you are unsure about how to get started with online course creation, you might be feeling a little intimidated. Don’t despair. Typically, much of your time falls within the pre-planning stages — choosing the content, storyboarding, designing the look and feel of the instruction — as well as the actual production and programming of the courses. Handle those tasks properly and expeditiously and you’ll have a scalable training program in place in no time.

Here are five easy-to-follow steps for online course creation. At Northpass, we call this the Beginner’s Guide to Creating an Online Training Program as it will enable you to create an online course and deliver it when and where your learners need it. It is an iterative process that recommends you start small (with one course), learn from the process and your learners’ engagement, and adjust and improve your training program based on the feedback you receive from target learners.

Step 1: Define your training goals and learner persona

Embedded in this front-end planning is getting an in-depth understanding of your customers and audience. Think about who you’re creating this training for. What are their demographics? What do they care about? What terminology or jargon would / wouldn’t they understand? How do they like to learn? What would they like to learn? Once you answer these questions, you will have a great foundation for your learner persona.

Next, determine the purpose of your first online course: Is it to instruct learners on a specific tech program or skill? Or is it to help them be better practitioners in their industry? Is the aim to create a short digital instructional course to promote your brand and services? Is the program a one-off course or a series of learning paths?

The purpose of your online course should also help you to define the business metric you’d like to impact with your training. Traditionally, training managers, instructional designers, and L&D professionals are not accountable for business goals, but rather to simply create and deliver learning content. However, there is no better way to show the value and ROI of a training program than to affect business outcomes. To do that, you must start early by establishing the business metrics you want to impact at this stage. For example, a business metric that can be influenced by training may be net promoter scores (NPS). We’ll expand on this example moving forward.


Example of a Net Promoter Score

You know the business metric you want to impact. Now ask yourself how training will allow you to accomplish that business goal. Your answer to this question will be your training goal – the high-level reason for why you want your learners to complete the online course. Using the example of improving NPS, your training goal may be to make our customer service reps more knowledgeable in supporting your customers. After all, the more customers feel supported, the better their feedback will be on your company’s customer service.

Finally, you’ll need to determine the learning objectives for your first online course. That is, upon successful completion of the course, what will your learners be able to do? Ideally, all learning objectives should be actionable, such as “Customer service reps will be able to successfully respond to the 20 most commonly asked questions by customers.”

Let’s recap on the three items you’ll need to define in this first step.

  • Business goal (e.g., Improve net promoter scores by 10%)
  • Training goal (e.g., Make customer service reps more knowledgeable about support)
  • Learning objectives (e.g., Reps will be able to answer the 20 most asked customer questions)

Step 2: Outline your online course

You now know why you’re creating the online training program, how it will impact the business and the objectives of your first online course. In step 2, you will use the learning objectives to create an outline for your first course. This can be something as simple as a bulleted topical outline, or as detailed as a storyboard (or both).

Here is an example of a topical outline.

Topical outline template                      

Topical outline example

  • Main topic 1
    1. Subtopic 1.1
    2. Subtopic 1.2
    3. Subtopic 1.3
  • Main topic 2
    1. Subtopic 2.1
    2. Subtopic 2.2
    3. Subtopic 2.3
  • Main topic 3
    1. Subtopic 3.1
    2. Subtopic 3.2
    3. Subtopic 3.3
  • Getting to know our customers
    1. Demographics
    2. Professional background
    3. Goals with our product
  • Answering product questions
    1. Common product questions
    2. Reporting bugs
    3. Responding to feedback
  • Offering best practices
    1. Onboarding new customers
    2. Keeping customers engaged
    3. Driving usage of integrations

In the example above, the main topics serve as folders, while the subtopics will be the line items that you’ll turn into learning activities and content. As you create this outline, be sure the content ties back to the learning objectives you established in step 1.

For some, the topical outline may be sufficient in documenting and communicating the course curriculum to the team before diving into content development (step 3). Others may find additional value from creating a detailed storyboard. For example, if you’re working with a team of other designers, or with programmers who need a blueprint for your online course creation process.

A storyboard is an overview of every element in your online course, from start to finish. This can include text, audio, slide presentations, the lessons as they appear on the learners’ screens and videos. Storyboards can be as complex or as simple as you need them to be. You can create a simple outline with pencil and paper, or you can create complex PowerPoint slides. Your content authoring tool may also have storyboarding capabilities built-in.

There are many ways to storyboard to aid in online course creation, but here is a basic guide:

Create an outline. This step was explained previously. If you’ve already created the topical outline, you are ahead of the game in creating your storyboard. The only thing you’ll need to add to the outline are numbers for each subtopic, which will help you easily map the storyboard screens to the topical outline. Let’s use the outline example from above:

  • Getting to know our customers
  • [1.1]
  • [1.2]
  • [1.3]
  • Answering product questions
  • [2.1]
  • [2.2]
  • [2.3]
  • Offering best practices
  • [3.1]
  • [3.2]
  • [3.3]

If you have a clear picture of the media types and assets you’ll be using to develop your content, you’ll be ready to create your storyboard screens using the steps outlined below. However, if you’re unsure or are still deciding, skip to step 3 to get a better idea of the content and activity types you may want to include before moving forward with creating a storyboard. In any case, you can always update your storyboard along the way – just be sure your team is aligned on all of the changes before you do.

Get visual. To create a storyboard, use your outline to draw or sketch the outline of every screen in your online course. Try to visualize where the text, images, video, etc. will be on the screen.

Describe what will be in the visual areas in words, sketch it, or include the name of the file you will be using. If you’ve got a section of the screen designated for interactions, describe the interactions that will take place there. An example of a storyboard screen is provided below.

At this point in the process, project management comes into play. Establish a tentative timeline for when specific tasks are to be completed. Although milestones inevitably get delayed for numerous reasons, a schedule keeps the team focused on what needs to be accomplished.

Step 3: Build your online course content

The bulk of the work will occur in this step wherein you’ll develop the course content. Even so, this process need not be time-consuming. Start by thinking about what content you already have developed — whether those be PowerPoint presentations, hard-copy or digital training manuals, videos (pre-recorded webinars or product demos), or support articles. Organize those pieces in a cohesive manner. So you’re not overwhelmed by an overabundance of files that can lead to distraction, select only those materials that have a direct correlation to the learning objectives you defined.

Now that you know what pre-existing content you already have, you can determine what content you’ll need to update, adapt or develop from scratch. Here are some tips for creating effective and engaging online course content.

If you’re new to online course creation, consider Bloom’s Taxonomy as an approach to balancing your course activities while also engaging a diverse group of learning styles with one, all-inclusive curriculum. Traditional educators have been using Bloom’s Taxonomy since the late 1940s because it works.



In the taxonomy, learners start at the base layer, or the “Remember” step, and work their way up as they master the content in the increasingly complex layers. While the base layer is considered the lowest level of learning, no other learning can take place until a student has the prerequisite knowledge acquired there.


The graphic already includes a few suggested activities that apply to the experience of learning online, but there are many more applicable activities out there. You’ll likely discover several of them through individual research, through learner suggestions or even accidentally.

If you’re using Bloom’s as a framework for online course creation, it’s worth noting that everything in the learning experience column is active instead of passive. Learners must DO something to learn. It is not enough to just record dozens of videos of yourself speaking into the camera unless you’re giving learners opportunities to apply the content they’re learning about – which should align well with the actionable learning objectives you laid out in step 1.

Fostering engagement

Interactive elements are a great way to turn passive learners into active learners. Elements such as simulations, games, discussion boards, surveys or quizzes help keep learners engaged. Let’s take a deeper dive into some content strategies that drive engagement.


Games are a great way to engage learners online. This method is often referred to as gamification.  Depending on your subject matter and the demographic of your learner audience, you can decide where you go to create online games. Once you understand what motivates your learners, check out these areas below to get started.

Simulations can also be a form of gaming. You can present learners were with a scenario and provided several possible response options. Have them discuss the situation in a forum, then vote on the response they most supported. In the following week, create a situation that built on the decision made the previous week.


Stories have become increasingly important as people innovate at alarming rates. Our personal stories are what differentiate us from others and make our novel. Communicating these interesting and unique stories is memorable, and learning experiences need to be memorable.

Incorporating stories into your delivery of content can increase engagement. It can be equally meaningful to require learners to share stories that relate to learned concepts. Assigning reflections, asking learners to blog, or posing forum prompts that allow focused sharing of personal stories can be ways of allowing learners to make meaning through their own stories as well as through reading colleagues’ stories.


Creating a user-friendly online environment can help learners access information in a way that makes it more consumable. The curriculum design of the online course should flow from one topic to the next in a way that makes sense and builds on learned ideas.

In addition, the visual design of the course will be more inviting if it not only looks appealing but also functions well. Twenty-first-century learners are more impacted by design as creativity becomes more important in differentiating ourselves and individuality becomes more valued socially.

Assemble all the components of the online course and create the first draft. Since mobile devices have become ubiquitous, view the courses on a tablet screen to ensure the learner has the same experience he or she would have on a desktop. This is the point in the cycle when the subject matter experts (SMEs) and instructional designers review the content to flag any mistakes or omissions to ensure a consistent flow to the instruction.

Step 4: Engage your target learners

You are now more than halfway through the online course creation process and have your first course built. Now how do you plan on delivering it to your learners? Believe it or not, the accessibility of your course is just as, if not more important than the content itself. Why? Because if learners can’t access your course, they won’t ever see the course content, to begin with.

Let’s talk about what we mean when we say “accessibility”. We’re referring to the learner flow that begins when the learner first encounters the course (it may be course a link, landing page, etc.) to the point when they enter the learning experience and see the course content. Depending on how you structure this process, it can be as seamless as one-click from end-to-end, to as friction-filled as multiple clicks on interfaces that are difficult to navigate.

There are a number of ways you can simplify online course access for your learners:

  • Email the course access link
  • Embed the link on your website
  • Include the link in products used by your learners
  • Send the course access link in a text message
  • Ensure course delivery
  • Provide the link in a chat channel (e.g., Slack, Intercom or HipChat)
  • Enable single sign-on (SSO)

Your LMS should enable you to provide access to your learners in any of the methods listed above.

Once you’ve determined your access flow, pilot your courses with a select group of your target learners. Beyond just giving them access, remember to set up nudges to remind them to access the online course, engage with the content, and complete the training. Interact with them in the course forums and offer your support within the course and via email. When it comes to learner engagement, you will get out of it what you put in.

Step 5: Measure the engagement metrics

As learners access the online course, track their progress and engagement in the course in the analytics dashboard of your LMS. After they have maneuvered through the course, request feedback on where the course needs improvement. Perhaps they require more training on a particular topic you may have overlooked or where you gave minimal instruction.

These sample learners will provide input regarding the flow of the program. Did the training progress logically, or did learners stumble at certain points in the program? Obtaining this candid feedback enables you to perfect the program before its official launch.

If any technical glitches pop up during this stage, notify the technology team members so those can be rectified. Pay attention as well to the overall look of the program. Are you using white-label software and incorporating your own company’s branding and design? Now is the time to check and ensure your online course presents a professional image and is easy to read and navigate.

After your first run through the five steps outlined in this post for online course creation, it will become increasingly easier to build future courses. You will gain tremendous insight into your target learners, what’s important to them and how to best keep them engaged. As a result of helping learners reach their training goals, you too can achieve your business goals.

 If you're looking for LMS, look no further than Northpass. Book a demo today and see how Northpass can help you  


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About the Author

Nick Santaniello

Nick Santaniello heads up content at Northpass. He would like you to know that he feels most at home while reading or wandering through the woods. He's passionate about learning and Villanova Basketball, and thinks you should be, too.

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