Online Course Planning Guide

What is an Extension online course?

  • A guided learning experience designed to teach viewers specific tasks or information
  • Limited in scope – could be a short as 30 minutes, or as long as the equivalent of a multi-day workshop
  • On demand – learners can begin immediately once they purchase access to the course materials
  • Asynchronous – learners pace themselves through the lesson content
  • Does not require instructor involvement to monitor and respond to assignments (Options for instructor responses to questions or submissions are available if necessary for a special course.)
  • May offer continuing education credits or certification when necessary

Course Components

An online course consists of the following components:

  • Introduction w/a welcome video, overview and objectives
  • Learning content organized into units and lessons, consisting of:
      • Presentation videos: Recorded PPT videos (LearnNows) can offer to users the presentation experience they might receive at a live workshop.
      • Readings (traditional web text or article content)
      • Handouts, downloads, and/or links such as spreadsheets, worksheets, reference guides, articles
      • Photos, graphics, charts and diagrams
      • Quizzes and assessment
      • Demonstration videos, live action (only where truly needed)
      • Audio files, such as podcasts or recorded lectures.

    What does an online course look like?

    Introduction - Welcome

    All courses will have an introductory page with the following components:

    • A video introduction narrated by the instructor
    • A written introduction, overview and objectives


    Navigation through Learning Content

    • Hierarchical arrangement of main content sections
    • Visually organized and intuitive


    Powerpoint Videos

    Recorded PowerPoint videos (LearnNows) will be the main component of many online courses that are adapted from workshops or programs. PowerPoint videos can be presented in several ways:

    1. Broken down into smaller, navigable sections organized into a playlist.
    2. Embedded with other web page content, text for reading, or downloads/handouts.
    3. Web articles, graphics, handouts, downloads, and quizzing can also be used in an online course.

    How do I create an online course?

    Getting Started

    1. Choose a topic

    2. Evaluate existing programs/presentation/workshops. What materials are already available?

    3. Evaluate your audience’s needs. What problem will this course solve for learners? What task, skill, or knowledge will it teach?

    4. Evaluate team priorities. Does course content relate to the team’s most important objectives or sought-after learning?

    5. Evaluate revenue generation possibilities. Online courses are the most expensive products to develop, and it is critical to consider revenue opportunities to offset development costs. Will participants be willing to pay for an online course experience? If they are willing to pay for a workshop, there is good possibility they will pay for an online alternative.

    6. Determine course scope and learning objectives. Develop several learning objectives stating what you want your audience to learn or do as a result of taking this course. Clear objectives are important to help focus course development -- to keep it on the right track and prevent ‘scope creep.’ Course objectives are also used to determine if a course is meeting its goals.

    7. Complete a short course proposal. The proposal gathers information about your audience, objectives, scope, and existing materials, and will be reviewed by the Atlas team.

    8. Upload or share materials.Provide any and all existing materials that could be used to develop the course content to the TCS team – digitally or in print:

    • Existing PowerPoint presentations
    • Handouts or worksheets
    • Articles
    • Existing web content
    • Image, video or audio files
    • Publications

    As soon as a course project is proposed, a technical communication specialist (TCS) will create an online Box folder to share materials. (If you’re not experienced using Box to share files, just let us know; it’s easy and we’d be happy to teach you.) A TCS will evaluate all existing material and draft a course development plan to share with the extension program team.

    Developing Content

    1. Write a course outline

    Together with a TCS, develop an outline of the topics and units to be covered, and plan how they will be presented (via PPT video, reading, etc.). An outline is important for keeping the project organized and enabling communication between the educators and TCS.

    2. Agree upon a production schedule

    Together, the TCS and educator and/or team will set a target production schedule with tasks and due dates.

    3. Develop Course Materials

    Course materials may include recorded PowerPoint presentations, readings, quizzes, activities and handouts, graphics, etc. Developing materials into an online course format will be a collaborative process between the educator and TCS, determined per project.

    4. Develop Recorded PowerPoint Presentations (LearnNow videos)

    This process consists of the following steps:

    • Generating Scripts. When creating a recorded PPT video, it is important to begin with a written script in document form. A script enables sharing the details of presentation and course with the TCS team so we can evaluate the best ways to deliver your content online. A script is also required to produce close captioning for online videos. An educator can create a script by writing out the details of their presentation, or by making a rough audio recording that we’ll transcribe and then work with in document format.
    • Adapting PowerPoints. A PowerPoint delivered at a workshop often needs to be adapted for online recording: it can be converted into a widescreen format and enhanced with images, graphics and text suitable for online viewing. While the educator is responsible for providing the content, the TCS team can assist or take on completely the work of adapting and editing existing PPTs.
    • Recording PowerPoint Presentations. PowerPoint presentations can be recorded along with the audio narration to produce a video. The TCS team will take on the main responsibility for recording and producing these videos.

    5. Develop additional course materials.

    Gathering, developing, or revising articles, worksheets, graphics, handouts, or quizzes (as needed) will be a collaborative effort between the educator and TCS. While the educator is responsible for providing the content, the TCS can assist with production, design, editing, and advise on the capabilities of the learning management system.

    6. Build course in the Learning Management System

    The TCS team will be responsible for building the online course and uploading materials.

    Collaboration: Roles and Responsibilities

    An online course is a collaborative effort between the Atlas team and extension educators.


    • Provide content/materials as appropriate (PowerPoints, presentation scripts, readings, handouts, quizzes)
    • Identify learning objectives
    • Serve as a content expert
    • Create new content as needed
    • Review and edit created course materials
    • Verify that course content is current and correct.

    Atlas Team

    • Evaluate content and suggest a course outline and approach suited for an online learning environment
    • Produce and assist with learning tools to meet objectives (recorded PPT videos, worksheets, quizzes, etc.)
    • Edit and revise learning content to ensure it meets quality standards and a format appropriate for online learning.
    • Build course in learning management system
    • Create a product page
    • Cross-promote with related content