Setting Goals for Your Online Course

If you’re anything like me, you like setting goals to help you accomplish things you’ve always wanted to do. Maybe every December, you take time to review your accomplishments and set goals for the new year? Maybe you sit down each Sunday to create a list of goals for the upcoming week? If so, congratulations, you're one step closer to creating better online courses.

Key Learning Points in this post

  • Course goals are what your students will be able to do after taking your course.
  • Course goals help you & your students measure success.
  • Work backwards to break course goal(s) into topics.
  • If you know how to set life goals, you can set course goals!

What Does Setting Goals Have to Do with Online Courses?

If you set goals in life, you already know how to set course goals. A course goal is what your student(s) should be able to do after completing your course. Some people call them learning outcomes.

Another way to think about course goals is as a measure of success, i.e. How will you know whether what you’ve promised your students is what they're actually able to do? By setting course goals and sticking to them.  

Why are Course Goals Important?

Course goals are super helpful for you and your students because they help you measure the success of your course content. They also serve as a guide for you during development. For example, if I say my online course will teach you how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and you end up with a slice of burnt toast covered in marmalade, then maybe I need to review my content against my goals. Make sense?

Let's Practice 

Let’s say you set a goal to learn to swim. That’s a pretty intimidating goal. To make it more manageable, you might ask yourself "How can I break this down into smaller tasks?" That's called working backwards and it's the key to organizing your course.

Working Backwards

When you work backwards to meet life goals, you think about a big goal, then break it down into smaller tasks or steps. To learn to swim, for example, first you might decide to find a class or private instructor. Once you get into class, your instructor would break things up into parts like learning to float, learning basic strokes, swimming one lap, etc. It could look something like this:

  • Life Goal: Learn to swim by the end of this year
    • Task: Sign up for a swim class that fits my schedule
    • Task: Learn how not to totally die of anxiety upon entering the water
    • Task: Learn to hold my breath underwater
    • Task: Learn to float
    • Task: Learn to float and kick at the same time

You get the idea. When this method is applied to online courses, working backwards becomes Backwards Design and tasks become topics. It looks something like this (yes, you can learn to swim online...it's called suspended disbelief!):

  • Course Goal: Learn to Swim
    • Topic 1: Getting Started
    • Topic 2: Controlling Your Breathing
    • Topic 3: How to Float
    • Topic 4: Kicking: The Basics
    • Topic 5: Arm Strokes
    • etc.

Let’s try another example. Remember the PB&J sandwich I mentioned earlier? If we made an online course about it, it could look like this:

  • Course Goal: Make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich
    • Topic 1: Setting Up Your Workspace
    • Topic 2: Buying Your Ingredients
    • Topic 3: Making the Sandwich
    • Topic 4: Cutting the Sandwich

and so on...

The Key

There are tons of books on using Backwards Design to create online courses and this is just the tip of the iceberg. For entrepreneurs, it all comes down to this: the key to Backwards Design is to determine your course goal(s), then ask yourself, "What would my student(s) have to learn/ do in order to be able to accomplish this goal?" This will force you to think about your course from a learner perspective and outline your content in the most effective way.

Back to You 

Ask yourself two questions:

  1. What should your student(s) be able to do after completing your course? This is your course goal. Tip: focus on coming up with ONE ultimate goal for now.
  2. Next, break it down. What are the topics that your students need to learn in order to complete the goal? These are your topics. We'll dive more into them later.

I’d love to hear what you come up with. 

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