When writing an online course, always try to see it from the learner’s point of view:

  • who is he (i.e.: novice, experienced etc.) and
  • how will he receive it?

In a presentation, you would be talking about, and expanding on, the slide on the screen – perhaps setting it in a real industrial context and giving personal examples. You might also allow questions, so you would know which points the audience found difficult and they would benefit from immediate feedback. So when writing an online course, you will have to imagine these things. Ask yourself:

  • “If I were not experienced, would this be clear to me?”
  • “Would I benefit from more detailed explanation, more examples?”


Aim for clarity from the outset: use a short, descriptive title, followed by a brief definition of the course subject and a list of the topics. The topic list could be modified to allow an individual approach for the learner, who could then select only those topics he needs from its menu.


Create a brief narrative, or ‘storyline’, as part of the Introduction. To achieve this, imagine a conversation with a stranger who asks you what you do: how would you explain the course in a short, non-technical way in that situation? This can be referred back to throughout the course to improve connectivity.


We learn by making connections – by linking new data with material already in our knowledge base – so familiar but memorable examples will help in this process. However abstract the chemical theory may be, it might help to associate it with a Mars Bar or an ice cream. Learning is reinforced by a multisensory approach, so enrich your text with illustrations, videos and audio sections. Stories, games and quizzes could be incorporated too.


Context, or the ‘big picture’, will also help the learner to integrate the course into his own wider knowledge and experience: it may have elements of history, economics, politics, sciences or all of these, but it helps the learner to ‘step back’ from the details of the subject and see its position in the scheme of things. Context can be included throughout the course, at the start of each new topic as well as in the Introduction.

Finally, throughout the authorial process, continually ask:

  • What would a much less experienced, less knowledgeable person make of this?
  • What might help make it clearer?