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Creating online courses a step by step guide

How to create an online course: a step by step guide

Online course creation is an inalienable part of online learning implementation and development. It takes a lot of time and effort so mistakes are really expensive. However, novices, as well as seasoned online course developers, still make a lot of mistakes during the process. In this post, we are going to share with you an online course creation step by step guide to help you craft the course that is relevant, engaging and as a result - successful.

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Head of Sales and Marketing, Raccoon Gang

Sergiy has significant expertise as an eLearning and Marketing expert since 2012. He brings his experience into play to help RG customers to keep pace with the changing dynamics in the Learning indust

How to create an online course: a step by step guide

By emphasizing foundational theory and best practices, this guide presents specific course-building activities designed to assist instructors with course development, organization, and evaluation.

There are many instructional system design models, most of which are based on popular ones such as the ADDIE model.
In this article, we’ll base our step by step guide on ADDIE model.
We’ll also describe each step from the perspective of needed roles and their responsibilities using RACI Matrix and give you the estimated time frames for each stage based on our online course development costs estimator.

ADDIE Model: The process, Roles and Responsibilities

The basic explanation of the ADDIE model is described in the infographic below. In this article, we'll dive deeper into each of these stages.
ADDIE Model: Explained

To perform the ADDIE model activities you should coordinate your course development team and set the main roles and responsibilities. We highly recommend using a RACI matrix to simplify this process and indicate main team roles and workforces.
RACI matrix for ADDIE stages

Terms of reference should be drawn for the following set of team members: instructional designer, subject matter expert, technical developer, translator, media creator, technical support specialist, course administrator, LMS administrator, and instructor.

Instructional designer (ID) is responsible for the overall instructional strategy. The Instructional designer also plays a major role in the media production as the ID manages and validates the assets and deliverables for the design and development stages. During the analysis and course design, the ID works with the Subject Matter Experts (SME) to define which skills and knowledge need to be covered in the course, choose the appropriate instructional strategy and support the team in defining the delivery and evaluation strategies.

Subject Matter Expert (SME) contributes to the knowledge and information required for each course. SME collaborates with the ID to design the course and define evaluation strategies. Depending on the course developed, the SME may supply the texts for the eLearning lessons.

Media Creator is responsible for the creation of media content for the eLearning course.

Technical Developer (TD) is responsible for the technical implementation of the online course content (or online course media) delivery. Therefore, TD is expected to work in close liaison with media creators.

Translator (optional). Translation is a part of the localization of the online course. The localization is done by the TD with the contribution of the translator. Translators may also be used to produce translated text for narration or scripts for video clips.

The technical Support Specialist (TSS) is responsible for ensuring that the necessary software tools are working properly and assist producers and users of the online course at every stage of the process.

Course Administrator is the Product Owner and individual that manages an online course and its users. The course administrator either enrolls trainees to the course or validates requests to enroll in the course.

LMS Site Administrator is a staff member responsible for managing the eLearning platform and providing daily support as well as keeping the ongoing operations of the eLearning platform LMS stable. The LMS Site Administrator creates the area on the platform for the e-learning course and may assist with the publication of courses to the platform.

The instructor is a trainer for the course. In the case of blended learning, they play an important role in the course support. Whereas in the case of self-paced learning, the role is more oriented towards providing answers to the learners through the communication channels (email exchange, discussion forum, etc).

Now, we are ready to describe a step-by-step guide for online course creation. Let’s consider each step in detail to help you go through the whole process without hassle.
We'll use the ADDIE Model Navigation Board displayed below to help to better orient yourself in this "long read".


ADDIE Model: Navigation Board


ADDIE Stage 1: Analyze

ADDIE: Analyze

This stage is an essential basis for any project. An online course isn't an exception.
Every effort needs to have a positive effect. Your online course creation efforts will not bring you a positive effect if it doesn’t cover some actual needs.

Analyze Needs

ADDIE | Step 1 Analyze | Needs

In our case, need is the gap between the current level of skill and knowledge and the desired level of performance the organization wants to achieve. After the needs analysis, you will have a great foundation for your learner persona.

Need is the gap between the current and desired level of skill, knowledge and performance

Analyze Target audience

ADDIE | Step 1 Analyze | Target audience

Every student is different, so it’s a good idea to make your course suitable for your target audience from a behavioral perspective. Shift LMS creators propose a classification of learners from a behavioral perspective:

Classification of  learners from behavioral perspective

Formulate Goals

ADDIE| Step1 Analyze | Goals

Goals are general statements about what you hope students will gain from your course and which “gaps” will be filled. Generally, a course goal is stated as “Students will gain an understanding of …” or, “Students will develop an appreciation of …” The nature, definition, and assessment of goals will vary depending on defined Gaps. As a result, there is a number of different ways goals can be articulated:

Focusing on benefits: You should define course goals in broad terms, focusing on the anticipated benefits to students from participation in a course program. For example, after finishing this course, students will get such skills as Critical thinking, Creative writing, Research skills, Communication skills etc. depending on the learning discipline.

Focusing on the action: If you want to understand How to implement eLearning in an effective manner, you should keep in mind the subject of your courses and define a course goal. You should complete this phase by describing what students should and/or will be able to do by the end of the program. When your audience’s needs, personas, and course goal(s) are defined, you are ready to start the Design step.

ADDIE Stage 2: Design

ADDIE | Step 2 Design

You now know why you’re creating the online training program, how it is going to impact students and what goals should be accomplished for that.

The next step is content creation. But before starting to create learning content, you need to define How to structure your online course and types of content you should employ. This cannot be done effectively without clearly stated Learning Objectives.

Setting Learning Objectives

ADDIE | Step 2 Design | Learning Objectives

Learning goals and learning objectives are directly connected. To understand the connection between them, think of learning goal as a strategic category and learning objective as a tactic category: What objectives should you state to reach the goal?

Learning Objectives are specific statements that include both an action verb and a content reference. Objectives are not broad long-term goals such as "improving students’ ability to communicate." According to the Carnegie Mellon University, effective learning objectives should be compliant with the following statements:

  • Learning Objectives must be student-centered
  • Learning Objectives must be both observable and measurable

Learning objectives should be formulated in a way that helps the learner understand how it will help him/her reach their Learning Goal. Such learning objectives will motivate learners to move towards this Goal.

Articulating your learning objectives can be challenging at first. Here are some resources to help:

When the objectives of the online course are determined, you can move to the next step: create a course outline. This can be something as simple as a topical outline, or as detailed as a storyboard (or both).

There is a great course outline template from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. As you create such an outline, be sure that the content ties in with the learning objectives (and ultimately learning goals) you have established.

Determine Sequence

ADDIE | Step 2 Design | Sequence

Defined learning objectives are the basis for course structure and sequence. There are different methods that can be applied to design the best structure for your course. Course structuring methods depend on the learning goal(s).

In a job-oriented course, the content can be organized to follow the order of the actions in a real job environment; this is the job-context principle.

In a non-job-oriented course, concepts can be organized according to their structural connections, such as by:

  • describing the characteristics of a class before describing its members;
  • providing examples first, then definitions;
  • starting with concrete or simple information and then proceeding to abstract or complex concepts.

The outcome of the sequencing is a course structure where each element corresponds to a specific learning objective and contributes to the achievement of the overall course goal(s).

ADDIE | Step 2 Design | The Outcome of Sequencing

Once the course structure has been defined, the instructional designer must propose the best mix of methods and techniques to use in each segment of the online course structure.

Define Instructional strategy

ADDIE | Step 2 Design | Instructional strategy

An instructional strategy is a long-term, high-level plan of how to accomplish course goal(s) through the use of available learning resources (the methods, techniques, and devices used to instruct learners).

At this stage, the purpose of creating a strategy before developing the materials themselves is to outline how the instructional activities will relate to the accomplishment of the objectives (Gagne, 1988).

To create the instructional strategy, ID should bind the knowledge of learning and design theory with accumulated information from learning goals, learning objectives, and target audience analysis.

The instructional strategy states what instructional methods should be used in some particular online course. There are three types of instructional methods:

  • Expositive methods emphasize the “absorption” of new information. Expositive methods include presentations, case studies, worked examples, demonstrations.
  • Application methods emphasize the active processes learners use to perform principle-based tasks and build new knowledge. Application methods include demonstration-practice method, job aids, case-based or scenario-based exercises, role play, simulations and serious games, guided research, project work.
  • Collaborative methods emphasize the social dimension of learning and engage learners in sharing knowledge and performing tasks in a collaborative way. They include online guided discussions, collaborative work, and peer tutoring.

Let’s recap what we need to have at the end of the Design stage:

  • Gaps in knowledge/skills are defined
  • Types of learners are defined and a general approach to them is chosen
  • Online course goals are set according to Gaps and types of learners
  • Learning Objectives and online course structure are stated
  • Instructional strategy is chosen

Having all the above on your plate, you can move to actual content development.

ADDIE Stage 3: Content Development

ADDIE | Step 3 Development
ADDIE | Step 3 Development | Content

Using Learner's needs analysis you are able to identify how your target audience will study better. ID guides you with an eLearning strategy, and you are almost ready to create great learning content. To succeed, you should use the best practices of 70:20:10 model and create course content and activities according to Bloom’s taxonomy.

Bloom’s Taxonomy

If you’re new to online course creation, consider Bloom’s Taxonomy as an approach to balancing your course activities while also engaging a diverse group of learning styles with one, all-inclusive course curriculum. Traditional educators have been using Bloom’s Taxonomy since the late 1940s.
ADDIE | Step 3 Development | Bloom’s Taxonomy Application Examples

In the taxonomy, learners start at the base layer, or the “Remember” step, and work their way up as they master the content in the increasingly complex layers. The infographic includes a few suggested activities that apply to the experience of learning online.

But how can Bloom's taxonomy be used in content creation practice? Actually, it is directly connected with Course Outline and Learning Objectives:

  • Your course outline is a sequence of content materials aimed to reach your learning objectives
  • Action Keywords represent your learners’ checkpoints that help them achieve Learning Objectives

Use action keywords described above to create pieces of content that are most effective to reach some checkpoint on the way to the Learning Objective.

Below are some examples of how to choose applicable pieces of content for some real-world cases of online course creation:
ADDIE | Step 3 Development | Bloom’s Taxonomy Application Examples

While creating your own course content, leverage modern techniques of engaging students, such as Gamification VRImmersive Learning and others.

70:20:10 Model for Learning and Development

ADDIE | Step 3 Development |70:20:10 Model for Learning and Development

Effective learning comes down to getting the mix between formal and informal learning just right with the 70:20:10 model. 70:20:10 is a ratio of McCall’s research which revealed that informal learning (70% experiential learning and 20% social learning) is responsible for 90% of what learners know. Informal learning is usually less structured and more spontaneous than formal training.

The last 10% comes from learning where the content is based on theory and facts. Formal learning gives the facts, figures, and solid foundations on which to build the remaining 90% of students’ development.

The exact figures of the 70:20:10 model are not the “golden ratio” but very useful as landmarks.

Experiential learning - 70%

A massive 70% of what students know is learned through hands-on experience, daily tasks, and challenges. You should think about how to create the best learning practices to improve your students’ skills in the real world. Virtual Reality and work simulation are great tools for the modern learning and custom eLearning development. Using such tools you can bring an amazing learning experience in a safe virtual learning environment

Social learning - 20%

Learning doesn’t happen in isolation. McCall’s research discovered that students learn through their relationships by sharing knowledge and observing others. Social learning is another type of informal learning because it is usually self-directed, spontaneous, and less structured than formal learning. You can use social features to encourage your students and share the course content. For example, you could create chat rooms where organization staff can share their specialist knowledge and know-how with others and answer questions. All this collaboration and communication feeds into 20% of learning that comes from social interactions.

Formal learning - 10%

Formal learning is an essential part of any learning strategy. It forms the basis of successful learning.

Formal learning is a support frame and amplifier for learning. Whatever you create you should make sure that this essential part of learning is engaging. This helps make the benefits and purpose of the training clear and shows learners why their development matters. Mobile learning technologies can deliver essential formal training wherever and whenever learners need it – straight to their smartphones. So, whenever students need help all they will have formal training to hand.

Let’s recap what should be ready at the end of the Development stage:

  • Needs and audience are defined
  • The Learning Goal and the general approach to learners are defined
  • Learning Objectives and Online Course Outlines are ready
  • Instructional Strategy for each Learning Objective is chosen
  • Action Keyword for each Comprehension Level of each Learning Objective is chosen
  • Applicable pieces of content for each Action Keyword are planned
  • Course content is created using the 70:20:10 approach

The next step is to create an environment, or online course infrastructure to deliver your content to learners - the “Implement” stage.

ADDIE Stage 4: Implement

ADDIE | Step 4 Implement

The implementation phase is actually delivering the online course content to students. To do this, you need to create an infrastructure that includes the following elements:

Implement LMS

ADDIE | Step 4 Implement | LMS

A learning management system, or LMS, facilitates delivery and management of all learning offerings, including online, virtual classroom and instructor-led courses. It automates the learning course and easily delivers training, manages learners and keeps track of their progress and performance across training activities, which reduces administrative overhead.

There are two types of LMS:

  • Proprietary LMS is licensed under the exclusive legal right, restricted from modification, further distribution, reverse engineering, and other uses. They are closed-source with license costs per user. Some popular Proprietary LMS: TalentLMS, Litmos, iSpring, NEO LMS
  • Open-source LMS works under the terms of the GNU General Public License. The license is intended to guarantee the freedom to share and change the program and ensures that it is free for all users. Good examples of open-source LMS are eFront, Moodle and the LMS that we are focused on - Open edX.

There are a lot of resources that can help you choose the LMS that would suit you best. Please Contact Us so we can help you understand whether Open edX is a way to go.

For some projects, LMSes have all the necessary content delivery tools. However, a lot of organizations use additional tools for content digitization, online webinars, files/video hosting, etc. Let’s discuss them in more detail.

Apply Course Content Delivery Tools

ADDIE | Step 4 Implement | Course content delivery tools

eLearning activities can be set by using a range of communication tools. The most common tools are:

  • Chat and instant messaging
  • Polls
  • Whiteboard animations
  • Audio and video conferences
  • Application sharing
  • Forums
  • Rapid authoring tools
  • Problem builders
  • LTI extensions

Such tools can greatly support your course delivery activities. These tools and their applications in online courses are described further.

Chat and instant messaging

Instant messaging (IM) is one of the most popular applications on the Web. It allows two or more people to exchange text-based messages in real-time, using a Web or desktop application. A group of people can start a text conversation online in a space commonly called a “chat room”. In a typical chat session, everybody sees all the messages. However, some chats allow private messaging between two session members. The Chat and instant-messaging tools that can help you: SlackRocket,Chat, Ryver, Fleep


Instructors can ask learners to respond to a displayed poll, usually consisting of a question and two or more possible answers. The Polling tools that can help you: TypeformSurveyMonkeyVizzual FormsWufooMySurveyLab, LeadQuizzes

Whiteboard animations

Whiteboard animations allow instant visual communication. They allow instructors to display content and learners to interact with that content. The whiteboard animations tools that can help you: SlideRocketVideoScribeVyond

Application sharing

Application sharing lets the presenter share programs, windows or screens with learners. Learners can watch the presenter’s actions and can take control of the display with permission from the presenter. The application sharing tools that can help you: BoostHQEdCast, GSuiteEvernoteZoho

Audio and video conferences

Audio and video conferences are audio and video sessions between two or more users at different locations, in real time. They are primarily used for meetings and project updates. The Audio and video conferences tools that can help you: Zoho Meeting, Zoom,, Google HangoutsBigBlueButtonVimeo


Forums in eLearning allow learners to connect and collaborate in online learning environments. Forums give your audience a place to share their ideas and explore the subject matter outside of the traditional eLearning environment. For example, you can create Google, LinkedIn, or Facebook groups and invite your learners to share their ideas.

LTI extensions (Learning Tools Interoperability)

LTI extensions give the ability to integrate multiple Communication tools from different program vendors. It means that using such an extension your platform can be embedded in any  LTI-supporting software like LMS (Moodle, Open edX) or Facebook apps. There is a case study how the whole adaptive learning project became standardized according to LTI specifications.

eLearning authoring tools

An eLearning authoring tool is basically a software package that eLearning developers use to create the material, deliverables to learners. A range of programs can be considered as the authoring tools, such as PowerPoint and Flash, but only a few programs provide support for the standards of eLearning content such as AICC or SCORM.

The eLearning authoring tools that provide such standards are  Adobe Captivate,  SHIFT Articulate Storyline Lectora Inspire. Any educational materials created with SCORM compatible authoring tools can be easily integrated with Open edX. We compared these (mentioned) authoring tools to assist you in choosing the best one.

Problem builders tools

You can create a great number of exercises for your course using problem builders tools. The eLearning authoring tools and modern LMS platforms include various types of such tools. For example, you will find more than 30 exercise and problem tools to deliver your content through Open edX LMS.

In the table mentioned above, we gave you examples of types of content that are applicable for some Action Keywords (that are directly connected to the Learning Objectives of the course). Here we’ll give some examples of tools that are applicable to actually deliver those types of content. 
ADDIE | Step 4 Implement | Types of Content: What to Apply for Action Keywords

Now you have everything to start your online learning course. The last but not the least thing that we want to discuss in this article is evaluating the outcomes of the actual online course. 

ADDIE Stage 5: Evaluate

ADDIE | Step 5 EvaluateADDIE | Step 5 Evaluate | Course outcomes

What is the purpose of the evaluation? Evaluating your online course outcomes can give you a powerful impulse for further development. You can make your content better, you can engage better, you can improve in a lot of ways to become more attractive, effective, and profitable.

The best practice of learning course evaluation described in the Kirkpatrick model encompasses four levels:

  • learners’ reactions
  • learning
  • behavior
  • results

Evaluating learners’ reactions means understanding how those who participate in the program react to it, if they participate actively and if they like the course. This can be measured through questionnaires and surveys, which are usually submitted to learners at the end of the course. In facilitated online training, learners’ participation is monitored by the facilitator throughout the course period.

Evaluation (or assessment) of learning, measures the achievement of intended learning objectives. Depending on the type, of course, this can imply that participants have increased knowledge, developed skills, and/or changed attitudes as a result of attending the course. Talking about corporate training is more effective to use ROI measurement techniques to estimate the expected outcomes of the training.

Evaluation can be done to accomplish specific evaluation purposes. First, you should decide if you want to evaluate the course during the development stage to improve it before it is finalized or do an evaluation at the end of the course to measure its effectiveness or examine a past course to see if it is still valid and can be reused in a new context.

In other words, you may want to evaluate a course:

  • During the development stage, to improve instructional courses or products (formative evaluation);
  • During or immediately after the implementation stage, to measure the effectiveness of education training and learning (summative evaluation).


Here it is. You have the comprehensive online course creation plan in one blog post. Actual course creation can be tricky, but if you know your audience and core message of the course you'll just need the right people for corresponding roles - good specialists will do the rest when you're good with the basics.
After your first run through the five steps outlined in this post for online course creation, it will become increasingly easier to build future courses.

What approaches do you leverage online course creation? Please live comments under this article - let's share insights to make the online learning world better than yesterday!


  1. Directorate General of Administration, Council of Europe, 2017. “eLearning course development (ST-17-123)”
  2. Growth engineering. “Informal learning: what is the 70:20:10 model?” 
  3. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Rome, 2011. “E-learning methodologies” 
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