Create Your Online Course Content: Phase 3

Create online course content

In my previous article on creating an online course (Phase 2), you learned about building the conceptual design and learning path for your course.

Your design ideas inform you about the:

    • level of prior knowledge your students should have
    • content you should create

  • activities that help with learning
  • exact outline of a course
  • technologies you might select
  • look and feel of your course


You were given tips on how to overcome these lofty tasks:

  1. Design a learning path for students to follow and successfully reach your course goals; a path that sequences and helps them build their understanding.
  2. Determine the engaging activities your students should complete so they increase their skills and knowledge, or change their perceptions and behavior.

Determining the learning path and thinking of engaging exercises for your students is the hardest part of creating courses. Most people get stuck in this area and many professional educators struggle with it too.

The quality of a well-designed course far exceeds one slapped together.Click To Tweet

And we’ve all taken one of those.

Return to the article on Phase 2 of designing an e-course to refresh your memory and prepare for the next and last phase’s challenge and survival tips.

Phase 3: Developing Your Course

TIME: This is the step where you start creating your content, building engaging activities, finding digital assets (i.e. images, multimedia, etc.) and gathering learning resources that you planned in Phase 2.

This phase takes the longest as creating content is time-consuming. It will take you about 2 to 3 steady months to develop your content and finalize your course.

Still with me?

CHALLENGE: Now the seemingly mammoth task of locating, sorting, and wading through all your existing content as well as building new stuff is the next task at hand.

The best steps to take in building your content are:

  1. Following your learning path created in Phase 2 to determine the exact content you need to provide each lesson.
  2. Learning how to chunk your content so that it is digestible by your students on the fly.
  3. Create engaging activities so the lessons go from momentary ideas to long-term memory and retained understanding.

Once you’ve created your content, it’s time to get it ready to:

  • Upload your content, activities, and resources online
  • Test it to ensure everything is working and understandable

Let’s start with winning strategies of building your content.

Step 6. Create the Guts

Revisit your ideas on your learning path for your course, or work through this by reviewing Phase 2 again.

Follow Your Design

Basically, follow your design plans to build your content.

Use the ideas you composed so far in your learning path sequence and course outline to guide your development. This requires trust in the ideas you have already created.

You can spend up to 20% of your time building the learning path and course outline as it will greatly increase your ability to compose content quickly. It is YOUR creation map.

The neat thing with a creation map is it informs you want NOT to create, an unnerving prospect for people who want to include EVERYTHING in the curriculum.

But if you do include everything, lordy, your students will drown in overwhelming content.

If your learning path design suggests reviewing only one small area of your topic’s background, because that is the best way to freshen students’ memory, then only write about that one area. Nothing else.

Chunk Your Content

The latest trend in content development is to break it down and deliver it in small chunks or digestible sizes.

The two main reasons for this are that people:

  • often use mobile devices that have small screens and won’t read long posts, and
  • are so busy they don’t have time to digest an hour’s worth of content

Thus, chunked info.

Chunking is a great way to create bits of content over time. For instance, if you plan a lesson on setting up a new type of email software, you can start with a written overview, then create a 10-minute screen capture as a tutorial, and end with a summary that has an illustration of all the set-up steps.

You could create this lesson over one or two weeks. Here are some chunking tips from eLearning Industry.

Also notice that the content would take up very little real estate space on the webpage or course page.

If you wanted to add more info to support the lesson, consider attaching or embedding a PDF or link to an audio file. This layered format is popular as well.

Create Engaging Activities

We explored the need for engaging activities and the kinds you can create in Phase 2. Now it’s time to make them.

Check out this post to find the best instructional design tools. There you’ll learn about different technologies to support your lessons over and above what is already available with your courseware or website.

As well, hunt around on the internet for a ‘review’ of the following types of learning and communication technologies and their best uses. Determine what others are using and what they recommend (and don’t recommend):

NOTE: You might come across these two types of tool delivery for communication: synchronous and asynchronous.

The former means a live setting (like Google Hangout) and the latter means self-paced setting, as in posting comments in a forum when you have time to read and respond.

PS: Also use the word ‘e-learning’ in your search keywords as this will provide you with more robust and current learning tools. For instance, you could search for ‘e-learning discussion tools.’

SURVIVAL STEPS: The process of following a learning path design and creating content might still not make sense. Or, it might create more questions than before!

Take a leap of faith and try this approach:

  • Create your learning path design and course outline.
  • Follow that exactly and create a light version of your content. This won’t be a waste because you will be using this content anyways. So basically, create a ‘movie trailer’ version of your content.
  • Follow the advice to create chunky content and bite-size exercises.
  • Save and organize these in easy-to-find folders or online spaces. Uses labels such as, Module1_Lesson2_video.
  • When done, review it all. This will be exciting as you’ll see your entire course in miniature form!
  • Then, determine areas that are a bit light and would be best to have more lessons, content, activities or resources.
  • Remove the areas that just don’t fit. Let it go.


Tamara, the silversmith, has built her course learning path and sectioned her lessons into basic and advanced (see Phase 2). For the basic section, she wrote down each step she took as she built an actual pair of earrings using crafted silver and wood.

The Content

Now she needs to translate those steps into lessons and content. She’s already decided to create 3 main lessons in the basic section on:

  • Prepare silver for casting
  • Create casts for silver formation
  • Add silver hooks to complete jewelry pieces

The advanced section will have techniques she doesn’t think most jewelers would know about:

  • Use a jigsaw to cut out wooden pieces
  • Glue silver and wood together

For one of her lessons, using a jigsaw to cut wooden pieces, Tamara knows she needs to review the parts of machine, how to use it safely, how to maintain it, and how to set it up to cut small pieces like earrings.

She decides to break this one lesson down into these parts and content ideas:

  1. Machine parts: Find a manufacturer’s manual with descriptions and illustrations to cut and paste relevant info into a webpage or PDF (and acknowledge the source). Add pictures of her jigsaw machine with labels for each main part.
  2. Safe use: Find a website that shows the risks of a jigsaw machine along with actual injuries. After linking to this article or video, write out clear and simple safety steps including safety equipment she uses. Maybe convert to an acronym so students can remember more easily.
  3. Machine maintenance: Using the machine manual info again and highlight how to keep the machine running well. Add steps she takes each time to keep her machine clean and working well.
  4. Cutting small pieces: Tamara plans to share a pattern that can be downloaded and outlines an earring shape. Using this same pattern, she will video record herself drawing, preparing and cutting a piece of wood to resemble the shape. On the same page, she will write the top 5 tips for this process so students will remember.

Engaging Exercises

Tamara plans to quiz her students on the machine parts as well as the safety and maintenance of a jigsaw as this basic information will save them much time and grief.

She also will encourage them to go ‘wood shopping’ and pick out difference kinds of soft wood that work well in a jigsaw and for earrings. This will be a ‘teachable moment’ exercise combining doing with learning.

Last, she will encourage them to find safety equipment (or borrow some) and start with simple shapes such as squares and triangles before moving to rounds. She wants them to play and practice before creating difficult shapes that might frustrate them and have them quit.

Step 7. Get Your Course Online

The final steps putting your course together is to upload it strategically online and test it.

Uploading Online

Add content, activities, and resources to an online platform by following the learning plan you have designed. Place your content in the online environment so that it flows.

For instance, Module 1 might have 3 short lessons that are 4 pages each. This would be 12 pages in a website or courseware format.

One page of a lesson might have an introduction to the topic and general principles.

The next page might have an illustration and written instructions of some process with a downloadable PDF for future use; this could be followed by the page that has an exercise to try the process and encourage them to get feedback on their results by sharing in an online group.

And the final page could be a summary of the lesson with next steps.

Adding Activities & Resources

As implied in the example above, activities are sprinkled throughout lessons when they are appropriate to place. You don’t have to create an exercise for all lessons, but only for important steps to help move students closer to the course goals.

Choose your exercises well and place them in just the right spots. Usually, they are on a page by themselves unless they are short enough to add to the bottom of some chunked content.

For resources, find materials or tools your students can use to support their learning but no more. Adding too many irrelevant resources only confuses or overwhelms students.

Just provide enough resources to support their continuous learning and practice after the course.

Work On Design Aesthetics

Briefly discussed in Phase 2, it’s now time to add your branding ideas.

Follow these design steps:

  • Design in colors that are pleasing, easy to read, and align with your brand.
  • Try to use fonts without the curly tails (serif), like Verdana, and that are large enough to read online and on mobile devices.
  • Be consistent in the look and feel of your course.
  • Make it super easy to get around with intuitive navigation (i.e. set up a menu people will naturally think to follow).

Check out some low-cost design tools here.

Testing It

A very important step is to pilot your course, get feedback, hit the drawing board again to make changes to your course.

Here are some tips:

  • It’s really important to test your course on close friends, colleagues, customers, or a new batch of volunteers.
  • Create a survey online to ask them for critical feedback (Check out this article on surveys).
    • Ask them no more than 10 questions to keep it brief making it easy for them to find time to respond.
  • Adjust your course according to their feedback and preferences as they are the ‘students.’ However, feel free to weigh your decisions first and ensure you feel good about these changes.

Phase 3 Complete

There are a lot of steps and time considerations when creating a really good online course that teaches your students well and portrays you as a pro.

The guidance given in Phase 1, 2, and 3 take you from planning your course, shaping its design to actually building it.

In Phase 3, the main task was to create the right content for each lesson in your course that leads your students along a learning path to eventually reach the goals and bring results into their life and/or business.

As well, creating a “movie trailer” version of your course first will seem less overwhelming and give you a wonderful bird’s eye view of the entire production.

By chunking content and making bite-size exercises you can chip away at your content and be ready to place it online in no time.

ACTION TO TAKE NOW: Write out a list of lessons and types of chunked content and mini-exercises you need. Then follow your ‘shopping’ list to create each piece of content and store it in a folder that is well labeled, as they will grow in numbers.

Maybe after completing the ‘movie trailer’ version of Module 1, place it online and get a sense of what it would look like virtually.

You might get more inspiring ideas!

Now that the 3 phase series, is complete, what questions do you still have? How far along are you with your online course? Let us know in the comment section below!


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