Mapping out your course? DROP THE POST-ITS!

Course Design

A key piece of designing your course is knowing exactly who it’s for, and what their current situations and knowledge levels are.

I talk about how to do this in detail, right here in part 1 of the [4 part] Kickstart Your Course series. This is part 2.

In this post you’re going to learn:

  • A strategic method for brainstorming your course content
  • How to develop your course goal and student outcomes
  • What information to include in your course and what to leave out

After doing research and getting to know who you’re designing for, you’ve got to figure out what you’re going to teach them! 

This is usually the part where people say “get out the post-it notes and brain dump everything, then organize it into lessons and modules.” 

Buuuuut we will not be doing that. 

In fact, I don’t recommend “brain dumping” at all. There’s a way better approach (in my opinion) and I call it strategic brainstorming. It’s a five-step process that involves defining your course goal, outcomes, action items, and content, and then organizing it into an outline.

The entire process starts with a big idea, and you gradually distill down your ideas as you go. Kinda like dis:

I recommend doing this either on paper, in PowerPoint, or in an Excel table so you can truly map it out and move things around easily.

( ….ok I guess you CAN use post-its if you want to… but just promise you won’t do a random brain dump all over them :))

Step 1: Define your overall course goal

So you’re not shooting at a target in the dark, define your course goal. Your course goal is a broad statement that encompasses the overall changes people will experience after going through your course. 

I’d highly recommend referring back to your research findings for this to ensure your course goal is relevant and aligns with what your peeps want and need. Based on your research findings, what is the main outcome, result, or transformation people are looking for? 

Let’s say you’re a mindset coach creating a course about imposter syndrome. Here’s an example of a course goal:

This course is designed to help online coaches ditch imposter syndrome so they can finally show up confidently on social media, sell their services, and get more sales. 

Step 2: Define specific outcomes

Now that you understand what you’re aiming for, you’ll want to get super specific about what needs to happen for people to hit that target. Think about the skills they need to build, behaviors they need to cultivate, or beliefs they need to shift.

Continuing with the mindset course example from step 1, what does “ditching imposter syndrome” look like? How would you know if your students were “showing up confidently” on social media? 

The answers to these questions will help you frame your course outcomes. During this process, remember that your course outcomes will be observable and measurable. If you’re not sure if your outcome is specific enough, ask yourself “would I be able to tell if this happened or not?”

Here are a some examples of outcomes: 

Students will. . . 

  • Reframe their thoughts to think of more empowering statements instead
  • Confidently talk about their offers on Instagram stories 3-5 times per week
  • See an increase in their sales from using social media

A helpful tip: Your outcomes should be directly related to your course goal. If it doesn’t help your students reach that goal, IT’S FLUFF.

Step 3: Define action steps

I like to use what’s called “action mapping,” which is an instructional design technique created by Cathy Moore.

Now that you have your outcomes and you know what it’ll take for your students to reach your course goal, what it will take to get there? In other words, what actions do your students need to take to achieve those outcomes?

For the outcome “reframe their thoughts to think of more empowering statements instead,” examples of action items might be:

  • Self- identify what they are thinking and feeling by journaling
  • Decide how they would like to feel instead
  • Practice replacing “imposter” thoughts with “empowering” thoughts

Step 4: Choose Content

Based on what you’ve learned from action mapping, NOW you can start thinking about what information or content to include. What information do people need to have in order to DO the things you need them to do?

For the above action item “self-identify what they are thinking and feeling by journaling,” maybe first you need to teach them common imposter syndrome thoughts and triggers, or how to identify what emotions they are feeling. 

A helpful tip: If you’re not *totally* sure about a piece of content, ask yourself “what would happen if I DIDN’T include this?” if the answer isn’t “they would be missing a piece of critical information that would make it harder to do X,Y, or Z, or get results” then you’ll want to keep it. If not, you probably don’t need it. 

Step 5: Putting the pieces together 

OKAY now you’ve done all the hard work, here is the fun part. 

At this point, you will usually start to see a structure forming and you can start to group your content into an outline. I’d do this on the action item and content level. Don’t get too caught up on the structure (i.e. I want 5 modules with 3 lessons each!) because in all honesty, it doesn’t matter.

This part is more of an art than a science and isn’t necessarily a linear process, but the biggest thing to keep in mind is to have the content build on itself so it starts out with less complexity and builds over the course of the course (hah!). Here are some thoughts for consideration during this process:

  • What’s step 1?
  • How can I start with the basics and gradually build in complexity?
  • What outcomes items flow together that would make sense to be in the same module?
  • Looking at the action steps, what makes the most sense to DO first?
  • Why does it need to be done first? 
  • What needs to be done after?

Once you’ve completed this exercise you’ll have a first draft of your outline!

A helpful tip: I always recommend sleeping on it for a night and revisiting it again with a fresh set of eyes. You can repeat that process as many times as you want before hammering out all of the lesson details and writing your script. 


  • Use your research findings to create a course goal
  • Break down your course goal into specific outcomes
  • Determine the action steps needed to reach each outcome
  • Decide what content needs to be included for people to complete the action items
  • Group your brainstorm into a sequential, logical order

View part three of the kickstart your course series here.

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