My favourite way to map out a course

~ 2 min read | Category: Newsletters

When I was the same age that my son is now, the must-have Christmas toy was Big Trak.

Big Trak was a kind of futuristic space tank you could program with simple commands.


You get the picture.

What’s funny is that my son now has a “learn to code” game on his iPad that’s pretty similar. There’s a cute green turtle you can move around the screen using similar commands.

It’s oddly satisfying telling that little turtle what to do. Particularly since it’s 100% obedient. (Unlike the family dog, Cooper, who’s almost 100% disobedient.)

And for a while now I’ve been approaching course design from a more action-oriented perspective. Instead of thinking about what I want students to learn, I try to think about what I want them to do.

So I ask myself:

What series of instructions should students follow to get the result?

(Side note: it’s why I now prefer the term “instructor” to “teacher” — we’re giving our students instructions.)

Now, obviously instructions alone aren’t enough. Sometimes students will lack the knowledge or skill to carry them out correctly. And that’s where teaching (via lessons, examples, etc.) fills the gap.

But if you’re struggling to map out your online course, just imagine your student is a human Big Trak.

  • What instructions would you give them, in what order, to get them to their destination? Those will tell you what assignments your course will need.
  • What knowledge and beliefs will they need to follow your instructions successfully? Those will tell what lessons your course will need.

Before you know it, you’ll have mapped out the first version of your course.

(And the great thing is, it won’t contain any of the fluff you thought you should probably teach but in reality don’t need.)

See you soon,



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