How to Create a Killer Online Training Course

Girl looks for online training course

I know what you are thinking, ironic title for a blog that doesn’t have a training course right? Don’t worry, that will all change soon enough. In the meantime, you might like to get yourself a cup of tea and put on some comfy pants, This is the guide to end all guides showing you how to create an online training course of your very own.

In the next 2,600 words I’m going to show you how to:

  • identify the best topic for your training course through research and testing
  • develop a course structure and sequence that works perfectly for learners
  • identify the best format to deliver your training
  • create course content that is memorable and commands attention
  • evaluate and refine your product through user feedback

Let’s do this…

How to research a topic

Researching a topic can be relatively simple or quite involved depending on your niche, how long you have been actively creating content of your own and whether or not you already have some idea of what you want to create.

If you are an established blogger, then identifying your topic might be as simple as reviewing the comments you receive and looking for questions that are asked regularly. You might get emails from readers about how you do something on your site, or have them ask for guidance in your particular area of expertise.

Look for patterns, similarities and themes. If you can find a common denominator, then you have the basis for your training.

If you are just starting out, then you need to start by thinking about the things that interest or motivate you and then develop a learner profile. Try creating a picture of your target audience and what problem they have that you are trying to fix. The rules of blogging apply perfectly here, so if you haven’t done so, I’d recommend you check out Glen Allsop’s terrific and very involved articles on keyword research and niche analysis.

Research disclaimer

To be honest with you, researching a topic is only going to get you so far. It is really quite easy to find topics within your chosen niche to develop training around. You can also get a great idea of what people will pay for by visiting popular sites within your niche that offer training, or by searching through top performers in Click Bank. The problem with this approach is that it isn’t your content and what works for someone else may not work for you.

You need to find a balance between what is popular, what people need and what you are wildly passionate about. I know it gets said a lot, but your passion is a key driver to success. Your training course will be successful because you give all of yourself in it.

Further research

Once you have a topic you then need to decide on what your training course should help people achieve. The skills you are trying to transfer to a learner are referred to as learning outcomes, think of them as the critical take-home messages. Your learning outcomes need to be  a combination of what people are looking for, what you are good at and the unique approach you plan to use to communicate your message.


There are a ton of different blogger training courses available online. The learning outcomes are very similar – to teach you how to blog like a pro and/or attract a huge audience – but the content and approach varies widely depending on the person that has developed it. Some are far more successful than others.

Identifying your learning outcomes isn’t just critical to what you are trying to teach, they also act as bait when you market your training. Your prospective audience will want to know what’s in it for them (we all do), so your intended outcomes need to include action words that grab a readers attention and effectively sell the benefits of your training course.

The easiest way to do this is to type “how to xzy” into Google, where xyz is your chosen topic. So let’s say you decided to develop some training around Kayaking. You would type “how to kayak” into Google and then scroll to the bottom of the first page, where you see this:

Choose a training course topic

The suggested searches related to this topic are perfect for developing learning outcomes, choose no more than 4-5 and then add some action words to make them sexy using a copywriting formula.

  • How to paddle a kayak

  • What everyone should know about paddling a kayak

  • How to whitewater kayak

  • The only guide to whitewater kayaking you will ever need

  • How to roll a kayak

  • The secret to rolling a kayak the professionals don’t want to share

By plugging your learning outcome into an attention grabbing formula, you instantly make your training course more appealing to your prospective audience.

How to test a topic

Testing is highly over-discussed, but woefully under-performed. Some basic testing early on will save you a stack of time in development later. The trick to testing is to be very calculated in what you test, this doesn’t need to be overly technical, but the only variable should be your topic (along with your intended learning outcomes).

Here are three very easy ways to test the potential of a training course:

Quantitative and slightly involved

Create a few new pages on your site with sign up forms advertising that a particular course is coming soon. Make sure that the only variable is the training topic and nothing more. install a split testing plugin like this one and then drive traffic to this through advertising, guest blogging, links in your regular blog content or on your home page. If you have a decent mailing list, you can even split test a campaign to see what people respond best to. Evaluate the differences to see which is more popular with your audience.

Pro: You get hard numbers that you can analyse.

Con: You need a pretty big sample size to get something that is statistically significant.

Qualitative and easy as pie

Develop a survey and send it to your mailing list asking both open and closed questions. Try to avoid leading questions, but the more detailed feedback you get, the better your chances are of developing something that people will want. If you are active on social media platforms, leverage these also by asking your friends or followers what they want to know more about, or struggle with. You can split test your social outposts as well through various services (like Bitly) by looking at the number of clicks you get on links you post around a particular topic.

Pro: You get to interact with people that are more likely to be interested in your course.

Con: People often say (think) they want one thing, when really they need something else.

The Nescafé approach

Everyone loves a good blend and this is the best way to approach the testing of your topic ideas. Even with all the stats and feedback, you will likely need to make a ‘gut decision’ based on your personal feelings and interests. If you are interested in the topic, feel you have something valuable that you can contribute and can offer it in a way that will make people take notice, then you are well on your way to a winning formula.

Pro: You cover all bases and get a good idea of what people are interested in.

Con: A lot of people have trouble trusting their gut (don’t be one of them).

How to develop a course structure and sequence that works perfectly for learners

Once you have your topic and learning outcomes, you can start to build your course structure. Your learning outcomes will form the foundation of what you deliver, so use them as individual headings.

Your learning outcomes are where you want your learners to end up, so you now need to go back to the start and ‘un-pack’ all of the aspects involved in getting to that point. In the case of our kayaking example, the first module might look like this:

1. What everyone should know about paddling a kayak 

1.1  Why posture matters
1.2  How to hold your paddle
1.3  Body movement basics
1.4  Mastering your stroke

We now have a set of learning steps that take in all of the factors that need to be addressed for us to achieve our learning outcome. These become the subheadings and what the content is actually develop around. Often this set of learning steps is sufficient, but some may need to be broken down even further. Look at each of the steps to see if they require subsets before moving on.

Both your learning outcomes and their various learning steps will have a natural order in which they should be addressed. For example, I can’t really talk about rolling a kayak until I have covered paddling and whitewater kayaking would require a knowledge of how to roll a kayak. My sequence would therefore look like this:

How to paddle a kayak => How to roll a kayak => How to whitewater kayak

Your sequence of training should follow a logical flow that leads your audience into increasing more complex areas of learning. The skill level and knowledge of each person that undertakes you training will also vary, so offering your training in this sequence not only helps your learner progress, but gives them the option to review more or less content based on their ability.

How to identify the best format to deliver your training

Now that you have a structure and sequence in place, you need to think about the best way to deliver it. Different people learn in different ways, so the best way to teach something is to use an approach that supports these differences.

There are actually three distinct learning styles, which can be broken down into:

  • Visual learners (seeing)
  • Auditory learners (hearing)
  • Kinesthetic learners (feeling/doing)

Around 65% of the population are visual learners, which means they need to be able to see a concept in order to process, remember and use it. This doesn’t mean that all of your training should be done as videos (although they are very useful), it just means that you should try to demonstrate your learning steps or outcome in a visual way.

Try to address this group by: using video, figures, tables, diagrams and images to help reinforce text. You can also try breaking your text up with bold fonts, headings, dot-points and different colours (not too many though).

Auditory learners make up approximately 30% of the population, which is why podcasts can work well. These learners often repeat information to themselves or out aloud and sometimes make up rhymes to remember things. I bet you have probably done it yourself at some point through word association, by remembering the way a particular word or sentence sounds.

Try to address this group by: using video with audio, or through podcasts. You can also do this in written content by advising your learner to repeat a passage out aloud, creating a poem or rhyme, or incorporating word associations of your own.

kinesthetic learners are the smallest group (around 5%), but many people still rely on some form of this learning as it involves physical action. These learners need to know how an actions feels to them, or have to experience the lesson you are trying to impart in order for it to sink in.

Try to address this group by: suggesting they role play, or act out a scenario even if it is just imaginary. This group should respond well to homework assignments too, so use this to your advantage.

A good training course will cater to all three styles by blending the different learning styles to drive home the key learning outcome. Think about your desired outcome and the best way to convey it. No matter what the delivery format is, ensure you incorporate each learning style in some way and you should have greater success with your audience.

In future articles I will be talking about different ways to present your training course in more detail and how to make it available to your audience in free and paid formats. If this interests you, you might like to subscribe by entering your email in the box at the bottom of this article to get updates as soon as they are available.

How to create content that is memorable and commands attention

This is the part that everyone jumps to right away, but there is really no point in being here without knowing what you want to show someone and how you want to show it to them. Your content is really just the application of your course structure and sequence in an appropriate delivery format.

Your training course will not be successful unless it is memorable and inspires a learner to take action. Spend as much time as you can thinking about how you can deliver your training in a way that will grab someone’s attention, this might involve:

  • creating mental images
  • using humour or surprise
  • enforcing physical actions
  • reinforcement through images or statistics
  • applying case studies or personal stories

Ultimately the approach needs to be one you can relate to, but you MUST ensure that you can draw a relationship between your content and the learning outcome that you are trying to achieve. Your learning steps are the pathway to a successful learning outcome. Write to these in your own style, imparting your own knowledge to your audience.

You already have your own style of writing, talking or behaving so make sure it can be seen in everything you do. tweet this

Developing reinforcement tools

Reinforcement tools can take various forms, but the most common ones that you see used in text based training material are worksheets. These work quite well for visual learners as writing things down will appeal to them, but there are many other ways to ensure your learner understands the intended learning outcome.

The best way to implement a reinforcement tool is to review the learning styles that have already been outlined and use the concepts suggested to develop something that will appeal to the different groups.

This is an area where you can provide a lot of added value to your training course, which will appeal to your potential audience. These added extras might include free templates for learners to use, interviews with subject matter experts, a webinar where learners can ask you questions, or a series of follow up emails to prompt a learner to take action or offer further help.

Evaluate and refine your product through user feedback

You really don’t have to make this difficult to implement at all, but refining your training course is really important if you want it to remain current and answer all of the questions that a learner might have. Every course needs refinement, it’s why serious bloggers pilot or beta test before their official release. This is a good practice for anyone, but you shouldn’t stop there.

Use every opportunity to solicit feedback. Don’t wait for the end of the training course, ask you audience to send you an email or leave a comment immediately after covering a topic, while it is fresh in their mind. Listen to what they are telling or asking you and look for ways to better explain or show them what they need. Chances are that if one person needs something extra, others will too.

It is also nice to reward people for taking the time to provide you with feedback. Make sure you recognise this by sending a return email thanking them, or giving them a shout out.

With this in mind I now want to ask you for some feedback. Did you find this guide helpful and what else do you need in order to make your very own training course happen?

 Feature image by nomanson

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14 thoughtful comments on How to Create a Killer Online Training Course

  1. Wow, what an informative post! I give writing and blogging workshops and this is going to be so useful. Some great take away points and very easy to read and digest. Thanks. (I’ve found your post via Darren’s ‘How to’ link-up – would be awesome if you might check out mine at ZigaZag!

  2. Thanks Johanna,

    Just visited your site, looks great and really liked your latest ‘how to’ post. WA is a great place to blog about too, I always love visiting.

  3. Great post. As a teacher, I’m always trying to remember all these things for my everyday life. Great checklist.

  4. Paz #

    Hi! I found your site through ProBlogger and it is great! I am currently giving my first online course with a local university using Google Hangout.

    It is a lot of firsts for me and really excited to learn all sorts of new things in the process.

    Really enjoyed your post. Thanks!

    • Hey Paz,

      Just checked out your site, looks great and I love your topic. Fantastic to see that you are making the most of your opportunities and using online resources to your advantage.

      Hope the course goes well, I’d love to hear about your experience so keep in touch.

  5. Hi Shaun, I am came across this article from the Problogger list. I have been brainstorming ideas for an online course, and am not quite there. However, I think that this article has given me a push forward and I will certainly be referring back to it once I get started. Thanks!

    • Hi Patrick,

      let me know if you ever want to bounce an idea or two around, happy to help.

      Good luck.

  6. Now this is what you call informative blogging! I could probably create my own killer online training course after reading this post!

  7. Very helpful. Thanks!

  8. Lorraine #

    Really useful “How to”, off to design my training course now. Thanks!

  9. I’m constantly looking for ways to support the instructors creating online courses on our system, and this post nailed it. Thanks for all the detail!

    I especially loved the list of suggestions for getting someone’s attention. Awesome stuff, I should print off that list as a reminder :)



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