Full confession. Twenty years ago, I made a serious mistake that haunts me to this day.


A local non-profit had hired me to teach English to a group of refugees who were working as housekeeping staff for a large hotel chain. I was fresh out of graduate school, and I was psyched to get this job. The fact that there was no curriculum in place, no course outline, no ready-made course materials, no teaching resources, no time to prepare to teach the course, and possibly no designated space in the hotel to conduct the classes did not deter me in the least. After all, I came armed with an advanced degree in teaching English as a second language. I was the proverbial deer in the headlight, and yet I thought I could handle anything. Serious mistake #1.


Me, 20 years ago, as a clueless deer in the headlight



Photo from pixabay.com



So, armed with my naïveté and my misguided notions of my preparedness to teach, I entered the lions’ den. To my credit, I did prepare doggedly for each class. Each week I somehow managed to string together a random set of activities to conduct the classes, undoubtedly much to the bewilderment of my students. Why? You ask. Because I had done nothing to logically tie these activities together. Serious mistake #2.


But worst of all, I had committed the most grievous of offenses that any teacher can inflict upon a group of unwitting students. I had failed to set any learning outcomes or goals for the course. In short, I had no end game. Serious mistake #3.


And that, my friends, leads me to the purpose of this post, which is to spare those of you who are seriously interested in creating learning content or e-courses a whole lot of heartache.


How? By offering you six critical steps that will help you determine learning outcomes for your online courses.


If you want to create high-value e-courses or digital learning products of any sort, you have to know what you’re aiming for. You have to design with the end in mind. In other words, you have to wed the courses and products that you design to realistic, concrete, and achievable G-O-A-L-S.



If you do this, not only will you build better courses, you will also create and sustain better learning experiences for your students. And depending on your personal goals, you will either set the stage for a highly successful online business, and/or you will pave to the way to creating high-value learning content for your clients. Either way, having a clearly defined end game as the guiding force behind any learning product sets everyone up for success.


So what are the 6 steps to creating learning goals and outcomes for digital learning?


Step #1 – Clearly articulate your course topic
Do this by choosing a course topic based on one of the 3 key factors below:


  • Key Factor #1 — Choose a course topic that you are passionate about.

  • Key Factor #2 — Choose a course topic that is a natural extension of your knowledge, expertise, and/or skills, or perhaps even some aspect of your identity, a cause you are committed to, or your brand.

  • Key Factor #3 — Choose a course topic that will offer a solution or fill a real or perceived knowledge or skill gap for your target audience.


Step #2 – Identify and describe (in detail) the target audience for your course


You absolutely must be able to identify and describe the ideal target audience for your course. You will have a much easier time designing your course if you feel like you are addressing a real person or a real group of people as you design and develop your course.


Step #3 – Identify the specific type(s) of pain points or gaps that your course will address.
These pain points or gaps will usually fall into one or possibly two of the following categories:


  • Knowledge gaps

  • Skill gaps

  • Psychological gaps

  • Motivational gaps

  • Behavioral gaps

  • Technological or tool gaps

  • Process gaps

  • Social network gaps


For example, let’s say your course topic is “Procrastination Rx ”. Procrastination falls primarily into the psychological and behavioral gap categories.


Step #4 – Now create a list of 5-10 knowledge, skill, motivational, behavioral, etc. pain points or gaps that your ideal course participant needs to remedy or resolve with respect to your course topic.
For example, some psychological pain points or gaps specific to procrastination are:


  • Fear of failure

  • Fear of success

  • Perfectionism

  • Lack of self-compassion

  • Anxiety or depression


To frame these gaps from your ideal client’s perspective, I suggest you rephrase them as questions. For example, Why does fear of failure contribute to procrastination?


If you cannot list the pain points or gaps central to your course topic, then you can do some research. Some simple research strategies include:


  • Brainstorming a list of questions that you know (or think) your target audience has or needs answered about your topic.

  • (Re)Searching the table of contents of books on your topic in Amazon.com, or doing a Google search on your topic to see what sub-topics or content bubbles up from your search.

  • Exploring Facebook groups, YouTube video tutorials, or online training and education sites like Lynda.com, Udemy or Coursera to explore comments, questions, sub-topics, titles, descriptions and course module titles and lesson topics related to your course topic.


Step #5 – Finally, analyze these gaps to SET the overarching goals (or learning outcomes) for your course.


Use the intended length of your course as a guide to determining the degree and number of objectives you will set for your course. For example, if you are planning a short course, perhaps just a 5-10 day automated email course, then I recommend that you restrict yourself to one or two learning outcomes. However, an eight to ten module course might have 10 or more outcomes.


Step #6 – Compose observable and measurable learning objectives for your course using simple, precise language.


The key to doing this successfully is to use action verbs. Here is a great list of actionable verbs from Montclair University.


To provide you with an example, let’s take our psychological pain point/gap example from Step #4 – Why does fear of failure contribute to procrastination? and reframe it as a learning outcome:


By the end of this course, you will be able to develop a 3-step action plan for preventing fear of failure from causing procrastination.


Now, you should have some idea about how vitally important it is to set learning outcomes for your online courses and digital products. You also have at your disposal a clear, sequential process for writing clear, actionable learning outcomes for your course(s).


If you want to talk course creation shop with me, please take advantage of my free 20 minute consultation call offer. Want to get more free tips and tricks like this? Sign up for my free newsletter and never miss another update.