How To Create Great Online Courses

Howard Lerner

Howard Lerner

How To Create Great Online Courses

How To Create Great Online Courses

How To Create Great Online Courses

The Covid-19 pandemic has educators scrambling to convert their brick-and-mortar courses into online learning experiences.

If you teach for a living, or if you have always wanted to convert your knowledge into a marketable, scalable teaching product, there’s never been a better time than now to launch an online course.

Students and professionals are embracing online education to improve their personal and professional skills. Subjects are unlimited and include cooking, yoga, and even personal training. Why not take advantage of the new normal and convert your own knowledge into an online course?

What is an online course?

Successful online courses aren’t simply remote versions of face-to-face classroom experiences. When well executed, they’re interactive, collaborative, and rewarding.

The internet allows for greater flexibility than a conventional classroom experience. In fact, online education has lots of advantages over the traditional classroom.

Unlike conventional classrooms, online education:

  • is not limited to a specific meeting time
  • is able to be re-played for better comprehension
  • can to be paused
  • is able to accommodate an unlimited number of students
  • is self-directed
  • is profitable
  • is able to be evaluated, tweaked, and improved based on real data
Online Courses are for every student
Online courses offer features in-class teachers only dream about.

How do online courses work?

Online courses are websites that manage every step of the learning process, from registration through certification. At the heart of every good online course is software called a “Learning Management System” or LMS.

An LMS contains all the features you’ll need to make your course a huge success, in a single easy-to-manage platform. We use WordPress to build our online courses. Training and support are included.

Whether your course is associated with an existing school or you’re trying to launch something completely new, a well-designed online course, with the help of an LMS, allows students to:

  • learn about the course
  • register
  • pay (if there’s a fee)
  • connect with an instructor
  • participate in a community
  • track progress
  • complete assignments
  • take quizzes and tests
  • earn a printed certificate
  • learn about next steps

Let’s take a 50,000-foot view of online courses. By the end of this article, you’ll know if this is something you might want to try. If so, you’ll be in a great position to start the process of building your course with a Learning Management System such as the one DecemberPress uses.

Building the course

For those of you who already teach, this is going to be relatively easy. You already have your lesson plans and course materials. You’ll still need to make a few tweaks because students learn differently online than in-person. You’ll need to keep them engaged when they’re working in a self-directed environment.

The key to engagement is breaking the material down into a linear path to follow, much like telling a story. The course outline makes it easy. Here’s how.

The course outline

The title

The first level of a course outline is the title of the course. Make sure you name your course something that’s easy to find on Google. Imagine you’re a person searching for a specific course subject. What phrases or questions would you enter into Google or Bing to find the perfect course?

Make a list of those search terms or phrases (keywords) describing your course. The most obvious keywords should probably be the title of your course.

And, while you’re at it, make sure the title clearly indicates your course skill level. Are you targeting beginners or those already familiar with your subject?

I’m hungry, so let’s title our course “Indian Cooking 101.” By reading the title, it’s obvious this is a course about how to cook Indian food. And the “101” indicates it’s a course for beginners.

That’s a good course title.

online courses are the new normal
Online Courses are the new normal in education from elementary to graduate school.

The Online Course Introduction

Online students need defined course goals and takeaways. At the very beginning, you’ll want to be specific about exactly what students will learn and how they can use their new knowledge at completion.

A short paragraph or smartphone video works well. This information will be uploaded into the LMS and serve as a greeting for new students.

Remember, the purpose of this course intro is to tell students who the course is for, what they’ll learn from the course, and what they’ll be able to do with their knowledge. Make it fun, welcoming, and upbeat.

Here’s an example of a good course introduction:

“Welcome to Indian Cooking 101. You don’t need to know anything about Indian cooking to take this course, but you should have some basic kitchen knowledge, such as measuring and sautéing. You should also have access to a kitchen. By the end of this course, you’ll be able to prepare a delicious, authentic Indian meal for your friends and family. “


A course is made up of lessons. Think of it this way: if the course is a book, the chapters are lessons.

Lessons are the big concepts comprising the entire online course. For our Indian Cooking 101 course, the first lesson might be “What is Indian Cooking.” You’re building a foundation of knowledge for your students, starting with a solid base. The first lesson should be a general survey of the subject and its vocabulary.

The first lesson should be particularly fun and inspiring. And always begin your lessons with a statement about what students will learn in this particular lesson.

“In this lesson, “What is Indian Cooking,” we’ll explore the basics of Indian cuisine, how these traditions evolved, and we’ll prepare a foundation of knowledge about the diversity of Indian cooking styles. By the end of this lesson, you’ll be able to differentiate between India’s major culinary influences. We’ll also bust a few myths about Indian food. For instance, did you know that the curry you buy at the grocery store is only one of thousands of very different curry profiles found in Indian markets?”

How long is a single lesson?

Lessons are like a single classroom session. As a general rule, try to keep the lessons to the length of an in-person classroom session. If the material is complicated, you may need to extend the lesson over a period of days or consider breaking the information down into multiple lessons.

How many lessons should you include in your course? That’s up to you! But here’s how I like to think about it: each lesson is like a single class session. A class session at a brick-and-mortar school can run anywhere from 45 minutes or three hours. It’s up to you.

If you’re teaching younger children, keep the lessons short, with lots of breaks. Adults can focus longer, with college and graduate school level lessons as long as three hours.


If lessons are the chapters in a book, then topics are the paragraphs. Each lesson contains multiple topics. The topics covers a single, relatively small concept, advancing the student toward mastery of the overall lesson.

How many topics are in a lesson?

For our Indian Cooking 101 Course, the first lesson, “What is Indian Cooking?” might contain 10 topics. We’d probably want to discuss history, geography, culture, cooking methods, tools, spices, proteins, serving practices, and so on. Each is a potential topic or multiple topics, depending on the complexity.

Topics can be presented as short readings or videos. We like topic content that runs from 4-12 minutes. That’s how long it should take the student to consume the topic material.

Imagine you’re standing in front of your class. You introduce the topic “The Spices of Southern India.” Can you communicate the information in 4-12 minutes? If not, break that large topic into two or three shorter topics.

The general rule is, if the topic is so complex that students might become overwhelmed, you probably have multiple topics. It’s okay to have many topics – as long as you keep their attention.

Also, each topic should have an actionable element. Students need to demonstrate their comprehension regularly.

Make your topics interactive to increase comprehension and engagement

After each topic, you might ask students a question to think or write about. They can share their thoughts with other students in a private Course Facebook Group moderated by the instructor. They can take a short quiz to demonstrate comprehension.

The LMS can present downloadable material with each topic. If, for instance, you’d like to include a shopping list for our Indian Cooking 101 students within the topic “making your own seasonings,” that document can be included within the body of that topic, exactly when and where you need it. No need for Dropbox or Google Drive.

Imagine a lesson made up of 10 topics. With short action items such as quizzes and assignments, the lesson can consume 2.5 hours, assuming 10 minutes of “lecture” (either video or reading) and five minutes of student activity.

As students work their way through the lesson, topics are checked off and they can track their own progress. The instructor can also monitor each student’s progress.

Students can communicate with the instructor through the LMS, asking questions at any time. Office hours, when the instructor is available for live question-and-answer, can be arranged. Or, even better, students can be directed to a forum where the instructor, a moderator (teaching assistant), or other students can answer questions in real time, 24/7/365.

Quizzes, Tests, and Exams

Quizzes are associated with topics. Tests are for lesson material. And Exams are usually reserved for the end of the course. Extremely lengthy courses may be divided into units, each with an exam of its own. Again, the LMS is highly customizable.

All quizzes, tests, and exams are automatically graded by the LMS. Students get immediate feedback. The instructor doesn’t need to hand-grade.

If the instructor desires, students can be blocked from advancing to the next topic or lesson until they have successfully completed the material.

Evaluations can be timed or have no limits. Instructors can allow students one attempt or to retake the test or quiz as often as it takes to pass. Again, the LMS is highly configurable.

Test question formats include:

  • Single choice.
  • Multiple choice.
  • Free choice.
  • Sorting choice.
  • Matrix sorting choice.
  • Fill in the blank.
  • Assessment (survey)
  • Essay (open answer)

Downloadable, printable certificates of accomplishment provide goals and rewards

Once the student has successfully completed the entire online course, they may download and print a custom certificate, suitable for framing. The certificate can display your organization’s name and your signature. At DecemberPress, we design your certificates and install them on your own course platform.

How to build an online course
All teachers should have an online course backup plan, even after the Covid-19 pandemic.

Online Course Registration

When a student decides to enroll in your course, they click “register” on the course website. That course website, by the way, can stand alone or be linked to the existing website associated with your institution or business.

The LMS collects identifying information through a web form. If the online course has a fee, payment options are presented including Paypal, Bank Draft (ACH), Credit Card, Debit Card, and more.

Once registration is complete, the student is sent an automatic email explaining the course details complete with login and password information.

Each time a student registers for your online course, you’ll be notified by email.

Once logged in, the LMS remembers the student’s progress and takes them to exactly where they left off.

Marketing Your Online Courses

Once you’ve got your course built, you’ll need to let the world know all about this new, unique learning opportunity.

How do you find students? How does the world know that your course exists and will make a huge impact on those who participate?

With tools such as sales funnels, social media marketing, pay-per-click advertising, and online forums, your course can be marketed to millions of people in minutes.

DecemberPress specializes in digital marketing for online courses. We can help generate lots of buzz and get more eyes on your course.

If your course is targeted to existing students, it’s super easy. Just send them a link to the course site and let the intuitive LMS handle the details.

Interested in starting the process? You can download your own online course guide and template, free. it’s a great tool to help you start planning your online course.

DecemberPress builds online courses. We have tools to help you create your course outline. We can also take on the entire project, as well.

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DecemberPress is a St. Louis, Missouri-based full-service digital marketing agency offering web design, content strategy, and pay-per-click services. We offer web hosting and maintenance for small business and startups.


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4818 Washington Boulevard
St. Louis, Missouri 63108
(314) 391-6651

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