A Few Words About: Course Outlines

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A Few Words AboutOne of the very first steps to take when writing a book, an essay, or a training course is to create an outline.  You may have had this as an assignment in grade school.  I did.  I found writing outlines to be a very natural task but I realize that for many, it is as daunting as an accounting balance sheet is to me.  (Daunting is an understatement). 

No matter how difficult it is for you to create a course outline, or how convoluted your process is to do it, I can guarantee you three things:  it will get easier, it will save you lots of time and confusion, and you will end up with a better product in the end.  It might even make the difference between finishing the course (or book, essay, etc.) and never having anything more than a pile of ideas. 

There are many ways to go about creating an outline; in fact, I do it differently, depending upon how organized my thoughts are to begin with.  What you want to end up with is a list of topics/pages in the same order that the reader will be viewing the material.  Some ways to do this include: 

  • Jot down topics on a piece of paper – or each topic on one sticky note.  Move them around until the flow feels comfortable to you.
  • Start with a really high-level overview of the subject, adding detail to each section until you’re at a “chapter” or “sub-section” level.
  • If it helps you in the process, make note of what types of things you would include in that section – everything from jokes to examples to activities that you’d like to use to illustrate the point.  These things will not end up in the final outline, but they can be helpful in the organization process.
  • Alternatively, you could list everything in the world you ever wanted to say about this subject; then start crossing things off as redundant or outside the scope of the course.
  • Speaking of scope, it is usually a good idea to have your Purpose-Objectives-Goals (POG) written first, but not always.  If you’re writing a training curriculum where the same subject might be delivered on many levels to different people with different objectives, it might be easier to create the “complete set” that you can later choose from for each audience’s needs.
  • Prioritize the topics. Don’t try to include every topic or every example on the subject.  Not everything has equal importance for this audience.

Regardless of how you start out - with lots of detail, with nothing but ideas on individual scraps of paper, or an organized breakdown of major topics - your outline should look something like this one from one of my Moodle courses.  It should be targeted to your audience; what they need to know, how they best learn it, and how much time you have to spend with them (face to face or virtually). 

As many years as I’ve been doing this, I almost never get it “right” the first time.  You should expect to rearrange, add to, and subtract from, your first draft.  Don’t be discouraged by this and don’t be afraid to ask for help.  Ask your friends, co-workers, and family members to run through it with you.  Even someone who has no idea what you’re talking about can be helpful in assessing continuity and flow.  And of course, you can always seek help from your course designer!

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One Response to A Few Words About: Course Outlines

  1. [...] View PennyMondani: Tips on writing course outlines for #Moodle #elearning #business #training. http://pennymondani.com/?p=286 2010-07-14 14:22:06 · Reply · View TwitterDoodle by The Lessnau [...]

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