Learning together

Creating an online course – how to get started

Johanna Pellinen 27.09.2017

Getting started is often the biggest step to take – and this also applies to creating online courses. Even when one has robust expertise and experience of successfully delivering a number of on-site trainings, creating the first online course is a new challenge. Nevertheless, it is a challenge worth facing, as online courses can provide a new level of efficiency and scalability in your training.

Here are some concrete pieces of advice to help you get started.

A simple why-question will help you to set your topic

Use a moment to reflect what type of expertise you want to share, to whom and why. It is better to limit your topic in a clear way instead of trying to include all the possible information in the same course.

You can use a simple why-question to help you to limit the topic: why this course is worth of taking? What will it help to achieve? What can you do after taking this course? Once the value proposition is clear, you can build your course to support it. This is how you can keep the content relevant and structure it in a useful manner.

Split the content in modules – it will also split your work into achievable steps

Split the content of your course in at least a few different modules to give structure to the course. You can draft the content of each module by writing down the most important subtitles. Once you have drafted the basic structure of the course you have also split your workload into smaller steps and made content production easier. A vague task of creating an online course has now been split into small achievable steps!

In the opening module you can add a small introduction of the trainer. A short video taken with your smartphone is a nice way to introduce yourself to the course participants and make your personality more visible. By letting your personality be seen to the course participants you will engage them in a new way.

Utilize the work you have already done

Do you have any ready-made material that you could use? Have you previously given trainings or made videos on the same topic? Could you utilize those directly or with small updates? What about your network – do you have the type of experts in your network from whom you could get or buy ready-made material? Can you find interesting quotes or definitions from well-known experts you would like to highlight?

Use the content that you have seen to work. This might end up saving a surprising amount of your time. It does not make sense to start from zero when there is no need for that.

Let the learners shine

Adding different types of exercises will support learning and build diversity into the content. In addition of typical ‘right / wrong’-assignments, exercises can also be used for topic orientation and support self-reflection.

A variety of reflection exercises, peer reviewed assignments and discussions help to share the information and different views within the group. Sometimes the things one learns from the peers are at the core of the course. Peer learning is a very strong phenomena – by nature, we tend to be very curious about how other people in our group see things.

Use the special qualities and opportunities of Internet

When online, we tend to consume content in a rather glancing way. By following course analytics, we have been capable to observe that there is more traffic in the beginning of each module – there is a clear trend of checking out each module before a focused study of the topic.

This is worth considering in content production. Images, videos, headlines, lists, different highlights – elements that catch our attention – will generate the first impression of the content. Today we expect online content to have some diversity. By adding exercises and pictures you will create a more pleasant learning experience than with mere text.

Internet enables us to learn anytime, anywhere. This will also mean that your course may be studied on any device and any time of the day. Make sure the technology you have chosen to use adapts on mobile devices and also remember to follow course discussions regularly – nevertheless there is no need to answer every message immediately.

Ask for feedback and update your content

Is there anyone in your network or workplace who could give feedback on your course? A simple comment on the general impression, proofreading or even studying trough your course and commenting may help you improve your content and leads you to make the most obvious improvements.

Even though there is always some polishing to be done for your content, try not to get stuck at this phase. The benefits of online courses is that the content can be updated also after publishing – so there is no need to stress about making the content perfect before publishing. Have courage to ask feedback from course participants already during the course.

Many online learning platforms enable course publishing in phases – so you can keep publishing new content as the course proceeds and also update it according to the feedback. Reacting to the feedback already during the course is a way of being really learner centered!


During the online course it is worth organizing your work in a way that enables you to focus on the content and course communication. Select an online platform that enables you to focus on sharing your expertise instead of working with technical tricks. When expertise and learning are set to the focus of your course, you can deliver great results.

The most important thing is a person. A person who incites your curiosity and feeds your curiosity; and machines cannot do that in the same way that people can. (Steve Jobs)