Before you get into the details of creating your course, take some time to think about the following areas and write down your answers. Use those answers to guide everything else; they can save you a lot of time in the end.

Define the problem statement and high-level goal of the course

Think about what problem your course will address and how to overcome that problem. Instead of focusing on what you wish your students knew, think about the problems they’re facing and how your course will help. Approaching the high-level problem statement and goals from your students’ perspective will help you build an engaging course they will find interesting.

Define the goals you’re trying to achieve in the course and also define the areas you will not address in the course. Knowing both what you want to include and what you don’t want to include at a high level will make it much easier for you when you try to decide whether or not something belongs in the course.

Identify your audience and your assumptions

“Everyone” is not a practical audience. At the very least, limit the audience to people interested in your topic. The more specific you can be, the easier the rest of the process remains.

Think about what you expect your audience to already know. For example, assume you plan to teach a course on how to knit a sweater. Will you focus on people who are new to knitting? Is it people who have learned enough knitting to create a scarf? Depending on your answer, you would cover different material in the course. If your audience is made up of beginners, you should cover the basics of knitting in addition to the specifics of knitting a sweater. However, if your audience already knows the basics, you can skip directly to the specifics.

Define course objectives

Course objectives might sound like the same thing as the problem statement and high-level goal, but they are actually quite different. The problem statement and high-level goal are, at most, a one-paragraph description of what you're doing and why. Objectives are the specifics of how you want your students to change based on having taken your course. The objectives should tactically solve the larger, more strategic problem statement in a measurable and observable way.

Good objectives accomplish several things:

  • Tell your students what they are going to learn
    Clear objectives answer the “What’s in it for me?” question.
  • Keep the content concise and specific
    Avoid overwhelming your students with too much information. Objectives narrow down the information covered and keep it specific to your students' needs.
  • Change student behavior after the course
    What will your students do differently at the end of this course? (For example, your students will be able to knit a sweater using one color of yarn.)

Consider course logistics

Answer the following questions while you're planning your course to build some guidelines for yourself. (Click the + to expand the question and see a little more information.)

Presumably, you know a lot about your topic. How much of that do you want to convey? You need to balance that with the rest of your constraints.
Your audience may be interested, but less interested than you in the topic. What you would be willing to spend weeks on, they may only be willing to spend hours on.
For example, if you expect your audience to be people with full-time jobs, they may not have much time to spend on your course, even if they are very interested. Spreading the same number of lessons over more days may help those people. On the other hand, if you spread your lessons over too many days, your students may forget what came before and have trouble building upon it.
Coordinating teaching assistants can be a large effort. On the other hand, the feeling of support your students get from the availability of real knowledgeable people to answer their questions can greatly improve their motivation.
For example, if you are teaching a basic knitting course, you might want to consider that people in different communities hold knitting needles differently and consequently do the basic stitches differently. Will you teach only the method you use? Will you teach multiple methods? Will you acknowledge differences between methods, even if you're not teaching all of them? Whatever you decide, in a situation like this you should consider explicitly telling your students that what you will teach is only one way (or a few ways) to do something, and that there are other ways. Include links so they can read more, and even suggest that students discuss these alternative approaches in the forum. Otherwise, you may alienate some of your students.
Will you make all content available at once? Will you release units every day or every few days? We recommend that you release portions over some specified time period, rather than all at once. This encourages a specific pacing for your students and increases the likelihood of meaningful student interactions in the forums.
Whenever you announce dates relevant to your course, be very clear about them. If the mid-course assessment is due at a particular time, be sure to mention the timezone for that time. 21 July 2013 at 11am is not specific enough. Is that 11am in London or in Sydney? If you have a good idea where your students are, we recommend that you post dates in multiple timezones or simply post a link to a site such as
For example, if a lesson goes live and the first set of students notice a problem, do you fix the lesson? Send email or post to the forum about it?
Are you intending a one-time or recurring offering? How different will different iterations be? Do you want to retain past versions of the content or only keep the most recent one?