Guide to Crafting a Perfect Course Outline in 2023

Updated on August 1, 2023

For many course creators, the course outline is an afterthought, usually put together after they’ve finished developing the course or pieced together during the course creation process. However, if you want to create a really effective and engaging course, the course outline should be the first thing you work on. 

Crafting an online course outline works as a roadmap to help course creators choose learning objectives, and establish modules, lessons, and more. In essence, it helps you make the best possible online course for students. In this article, we’ll look at course outlines in detail, noting the benefits and what every course outline should include. We’ll even run you through how to make the best outline for your online courses in WordPress using Sensei LMS

What is an online course outline?

The best online courses are made with course outlines. But what are they, exactly?

Simply put, they are an overview of what the course includes. Basic course outlines may include a list of modules or lessons, while more advanced ones provide additional details, such as more info on the course content, what’s included in each individual lesson, assignments, recommended reading materials, and so on. 

You can make your course outline available on different pages on your website, such as: 

  • The course dashboard: Students paying for your course will typically see the outline in the sidebar on their course dashboard. It tells them all the modules, their progress, etc. People who aren’t registered for the course yet may still be able to see the outline, but all (or most content) will be locked.
  • An online course landing page: It’s a good idea to create an online course landing page that displays the full roadmap/outline for prospective learners to look at. This is an effective way of getting more sign-ups to your course since site visitors will get a comprehensive overview of the value they’ll be getting from your online course, and so you might convert lots of potential students who were maybe on the fence and needed a little nudge in the right direction. 
  • A dedicated syllabus tab: If your website lets you add tabs, a course syllabus tab could be useful. Here, you store the entire course outline, complete with every detail. It keeps your UI clean, but the downside is that your outline is less visible to general users. 

Benefits of creating a course outline

Course outlines are really important because they benefit both course creators and students. In this section, we’ll see that:

  • Course creators should create a course outline before they start working on their course, as it helps them stay organized and focused on the end goals of the course.
  • Course outlines serve as a roadmap for students, guiding them through the course and helping them understand what they will be learning, what is expected of them, and how they will be assessed.

Let’s delve deeper into why course outlines are so crucial for course creators and students:

Benefits for course creators

  • Maps out course structure and learning objectives: Creating a course outline forces the course creator to clarify the objectives, goals, and structure of the course ahead of time, which helps to ensure that their online teaching program is well-designed and effective.
  • Organization: The process of creating a course outline helps the course creator to organize their thoughts and materials in a logical and coherent way, making it easier to teach and manage the course.
  • Time-saving: By creating a course outline in advance, the course creator can save time by avoiding last-minute changes or improvisation, and can focus on delivering the course content and engaging with students.
  • Evaluation: Having a course outline allows the course creator to evaluate the effectiveness of the course, identify areas for improvement, and make necessary adjustments to the course in the future.

Benefits for the students

  • Clarity: The course outline provides students with a clear understanding of what will be covered in the course, what is expected of them, and how their progress will be evaluated.
  • Understanding the course value: This is especially true for site visitors who are still deciding whether to purchase the course – seeing the course outlines gives them a clear overview of what they’ll be learning and how it will help them.
  • Planning: The course outline helps students to plan their time and workload so that they can stay on track and avoid falling behind.
  • Engagement: The course outline can help to increase student engagement and motivation by giving them a clear sense of the purpose and goals of the course, and by providing them with a sense of structure and direction.
  • Assessment: The course outline helps students to prepare for assessments by providing them with information on what will be assessed and how they will be evaluated.

Steps to creating a course outline

Creating really effective course outlines entails a bit more than simply mapping out the structure. Let’s explore all the essential elements that you need to include to create a clear and valuable roadmap for your learners:

Know your target audience

Understanding your target audience is crucial to creating a successful course outline. By identifying your audience’s prior knowledge, skill level, and learning preferences, you can tailor your course content to meet their specific needs. This knowledge will help you choose the right teaching approach and learning materials that resonate with your target audience, making your course more engaging and effective.

Identify your learning objectives

Learning objectives are the specific, measurable goals you want your students to achieve by the end of the course. Identifying learning objectives at the outset of creating a course outline helps you focus on what needs to be taught and what goals need to be achieved. This knowledge will help you create assessments that measure student progress toward meeting those goals and ensure that students have a clear understanding of what they need to learn.

There should be an overall objective, but also smaller objectives for each module. This breakdown will make it easier to create lessons and assessments, as you can build them around your objectives. You’ll be able to measure progress and see if your students are meeting the small goals and moving towards the bigger goal of your course. 

Write your course name and description

Coming up with clear and informative names and descriptions is critical when selling any online information products. A compelling course name and description will give students an idea of what they can expect to learn and why they should choose your course over others. Including the course objectives and learning outcomes in your course description can help students determine if your course is the right fit for their needs.

Break down course topics into modules and lessons

Organizing the content of your course into modules and lessons serves as a valuable tool for students, enabling them to grasp the overall structure of the course and navigate the materials with ease. The goal is to avoid overwhelming learners with an information overload that becomes confusing and difficult to sift through.

To achieve this, it’s crucial to plan your main topics and then break them down into modules, each consisting of focused lessons. For instance, in a digital marketing course, you might have a topic dedicated to SEO. Within this topic, you can create modules that cover specific aspects like on-page SEO, off-page SEO, and more. Each module would then contain a series of lessons.

This approach ensures that students learn in a logical and progressive manner. They follow a step-by-step process where one concept builds upon another, rather than encountering a jumble of unrelated information. When there is a clear and structured path laid out, learning becomes significantly easier and more effective.

Map out your lesson materials

Now that you have established the modules and lessons for your course, it’s time to develop the course outline by determining the specific content for each lesson. It’s important to carefully select appropriate materials and maintain high levels of engagement throughout the course. 

Consider incorporating a variety of learning resources to cater to different learning styles. Some effective options to include are:

  • Quizzes: Use interactive quizzes to assess understanding and reinforce key concepts.
  • Videos: Utilize instructional video lessons to visually explain complex topics and enhance learner engagement.
  • Lectures: Include informative lectures to provide in-depth knowledge and insights.
  • Readings: Assign relevant readings such as articles, case studies, or research papers to deepen understanding.
  • Interactive lessons: Incorporate interactive learning activities, simulations, or group discussions to encourage active participation.

By incorporating a diverse range of learning materials, you ensure that each student can effectively engage with the course content and maximize their learning experience.

Plan for assessments and checkpoints

Including checkpoints and assessments in your course outline is crucial for both the teacher and the students. These elements serve multiple purposes, such as monitoring student progress and determining their readiness to advance to subsequent modules. 

Assessments also provide students with an opportunity to apply the knowledge gained from the course and evaluate their own performance. They offer valuable feedback, highlighting areas that require further attention and allowing students to dedicate additional time to weaker areas of study.

Checkpoints serve as effective tools for student reflection. Depending on the level of interaction in your course, checkpoints can take different forms. For instance, you may choose to engage in individual discussions with each student after completing a few modules, providing personalized guidance and feedback.

Alternatively, checkpoints can be tied to specific assignments or tasks that students must successfully complete to progress further. Regardless of the approach, checkpoints ensure that students advance through the course systematically, guaranteeing comprehensive knowledge acquisition and maximizing their learning experience.

Create a course schedule

Lastly, a vital component of any course outline is the inclusion of a course schedule. This schedule provides essential information regarding the duration of the course and the expected completion timelines for different components. By having a well-defined course schedule, students are able to effectively plan their time and stay on track throughout the learning journey.

The level of flexibility in the course schedule can vary depending on the course delivery method. If the content is provided in segmented chunks, it may be beneficial to suggest completion dates for each module, such as aiming to finish the first module within three months of starting the course. The primary objective of the course schedule is to inform instructors about the delivery timeline and the specific order of content presentation.

While the course schedule doesn’t necessarily need to be rigid, its purpose remains to provide structure and organization, ensuring a smooth progression of the course and facilitating effective learning for all participants.

Creating a course outline in WordPress with Sensei LMS

To simplify the process of creating a course outline, WordPress users can take advantage of Sensei LMS, an all-in-one solution specifically designed for building online courses seamlessly within the WordPress platform. 

By setting up a WordPress course website and installing the Sensei LMS plugin, course creators can easily generate course outlines automatically, and we’re about to show you how to do just that. 

What is Sensei LMS?

Sensei LMS is a free WordPress plugin that lets you create a variety of online courses on your website. Unlike other plugins, it seamlessly integrates with the Gutenberg block editor, making it incredibly intuitive for WordPress users who are making courses for the first time. You can choose from a range of designs to suit your needs and develop courses that help you boost revenue and attract loads of students. 

There are a few Sensei plans available, but there are two that we recommend for serious course creators:

  • If you already have a WordPress website, get Sensei Pro which unlocks loads of premium features such as learning in groups, scheduling lessons, advanced quizzes, interactive videos, flashcards, course content restriction, and WooCommerce integration. 
  • If you don’t have a WordPress install yet, consider the Sensei Bundle, which includes Sensei Pro as well as hosting on This is the easiest way to get a course website up and running. 

How to create a course outline with Sensei LMS

You can create a brilliant course outline by following either of these two methods with Sensei LMS: 

  • Auto-creation
  • Manual creation

Method 1: Auto-create a course outline using AI

With Sensei LMS, you can automatically generate course outlines using the power of AI! All you need to do is enter a course description, select the skill level you are targeting, and write a few notes about the intended audience. 

Sensei will then generate a course outline, divided into potential modules and lessons that you choose to keep, amend, or delete, untilyou achieve your ideal course outline. 

Automatically generating a course outline using AI

We recommend taking this step in the very early stages of your course development, right after you’ve determined what kind of course you want to create, but before you’ve actually started planning the course structure. 

Sensei’s AI-generated course outline will guide you along the way, and give you plenty of ideas for inspiration, even if you end up altering the outline or going in a different direction. Of course, you might end up keeping the original course outline in the end! 

Method 2: Manually create a course outline

This method involves setting up a new course in the backend and filling in the outline details manually. The great thing about this method is that you can create the outline first, and then work on all your module and lesson content later. 

Step 1: Create a new course

On your dashboard, click on the Sensei LMS tab and select Courses. From here, click the button at the top that says New Course, as seen below: 

Adding a new course with Sensei LMS

You will then be prompted to choose your Course Title and Course Description. Fill in both before pressing the blue Continue button. 

Creating your course with Sensei LMS
Step 2: Choose your course layout

Following step one, you will be prompted to choose a Course Layout. Pick whichever one you want, but you can always tweak it later. 

Course layout options in Sensei LMS

After this, you can begin editing the course landing page. It already comes with some pre-loaded features, such as a Take Course button, along with your course name and description. There is also a course progress bar and the all-important course outline block. Play around with the layout until you’re satisfied with how it looks. 

Course layout features in Sensei LMS
Step 3: Edit the course outline

Now, you can start editing the course outline. Here, you’re able to add new course modules and lessons in just a few clicks. 

Select the course outline block, and you will have the option to Add Module or Lesson. Click Add Module, and you will now have a new section where you can add the title of the module and the lessons. 

New module added in Sensei LMS course outline

As you can see, there’s a section to add detailed module descriptions for every part of the course. This is the perfect place to write about the learning objectives for each module, what it entails, how the student will learn, and if the module is assessed. You can also add lesson titles and edit the name of all modules or lessons if necessary. 

To add lessons to a module, simply click on the Lessons section below the Module Description. It will automatically load with room for you to type the name of the lesson. Do this and select 

Enter to add another lesson until all lessons are added. 

New lessons added in a module
Step 4: Start creating your course

Once the course outline is complete, you can begin creating your course. Sensei LMS makes it really easy to do this straight from the course outline feature. Every lesson is hyperlinked, so you can click on it and be taken to the lesson creation section. 

From here, you’re able to decide what type of lesson it is, what content will be included, and begin actually developing your course from scratch. 

To edit your lesson via the course outline, click on the lesson, then press the Edit Lesson prompt.

After this, you’ll be taken to a page where you’re prompted to give the lesson a title. Name the lesson and proceed to choose the type of lesson you wish to produce. You’ll see this screen: 

Lesson types in Sensei LMS

Pick whichever type you want, and the next page will allow you to edit all of the content. Complete all of your lessons in all of your modules and your online course is ready to be published. 

Create your next course outline with Sensei LMS

Creating a well-structured course outline is essential if you want to make a course that learners love. It provides a roadmap for both you and your students, helping you build a course that makes logical sense and targets the key learning objectives from the beginning. Students will find it much easier to study as everything follows a step-by-step path, meaning they can plan ahead and stay on top of all tasks. 

Using Sensei LMS in WordPress is the best way to create and manage course outlines. You can add modules, write descriptions, and add all your lessons to the outline. It’s incredibly user-friendly, helping course creators save time and produce well-designed and engaging courses. Plus, you can create all of your course content directly from your outline! 

Give Sensei LMS a try today if you want to develop engaging and interactive online courses.

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