How To Divide Up Your Course Into 9 Steps

Your Nine Steps

9 is a good number of steps for your online course, because it’s not too many and not too little. Research has shown that online courses with between 5 and 10 steps are the most engaging. In 10000 MEMBERS, our systems help you create a course with 9 steps.

We’ll explain here how to find the right steps for your course.

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The Desired Result

At the end of the day, people will choose your course if they believe it will bring them closer to a result that they desire. This is the big “WHY” of your course that you need to be very clear on. What overall result can your course bring to your students? When you understand the answer to this question, the rest of your work in “planning a course” becomes a lot clearer.

Before you think about the big “WHY” of your course, have a look at the main approaches to getting results in online courses.

Online courses can vary quite dramatically. There are 3 main types of online course: “Task-based”, “Learning-based”, “Resource-based”.

Some online courses focus on the tasks of the students and are called “task-based”. This course you are doing is an example of a “task-based” course because the main emphasis is on the tasks that you complete.

Other online courses focus on the learning of the students and are called “learning-based”. In a learning-based course, the learning is more important than the tasks. In this kind of course, the task is used mainly to help with the learning. Tasks in a “learning-based” course could be as simple as a multiple-choice test at the end of a step.

Other online courses can focus on the resources being provided for the students and are called “resource-based”. Resource-based courses can rely on a mixture of learning and task activities, but the emphasis of the course will be on the resources being provided.

Overall, most online courses have a mixture of all three approaches: the learning, the tasks and the resources. You are going to build an online course that uses all three approaches.

Now that you understand your course can deliver value to your students in different ways, you need to think about the overall result of your course for a student. Usually in an online course, the overall result comes about as a collection of mini-results. These mini-results are achieved by absorbing the learning, by completing the tasks or by using the resources.

How do you figure out the big “WHY” of your course?

To some extent, it depends on what you can provide. Can you provide teaching that helps your students learn? Can you provide tasks to help your students become more accomplished? Can you provide useful resources that your students can use to achieve results?

Your big “WHY” also depends on what you think people want. If you do some research into online courses that are currently available, you will get an idea of the demand that already exists. You can go on to websites like and have a look at the very popular courses, paying special attention to the “WHY” of those courses. This means “Why are people doing those courses?” and “What results are the courses promising?”.

You can also go and research question and answer websites (such as to find out what people are searching for help and guidance with. You can search popular Facebook groups to see what communities are most active and engaged. You can search YouTube to find popular tutorial videos. You can conduct a survey with your friends, fans or your email list to understand what part of your expertise they will be most likely to buy as a course.

Overall, it is important to validate the “WHY” of your course. Try to understand the main result people want from your area of expertise. By validating your ideas, you can potentially save yourself a lot of time developing a course that nobody wants. If you can focus on the results that people want, you can ensure your course will have a demand.

Now, take some time to think about the big “WHY” of your course. What will your course provide? What result will it promise? Why will people want to sign up and complete your course? To find the answer you can:

  • Make a list of courses you think you could provide
  • Look around the internet to see if there are courses like that (if there are, it’s a good thing)
  • Search Facebook, YouTube, Quora and other sites to find areas of interest
  • Ask your friends and family what they think of your idea for a course
  • Conduct a survey online to your fans or email list about the options ( is free)


Now that you have decided on the main result your course will provide, or the big “WHY” of your course, you need to start to think about how to bring your students to that result.

Where Is The Focus In Your Online Course?

As mentioned in the last point, there are 3 main approaches through which your course can benefit your students: the learning, the tasks & the resources. Think about the overall result your course will provide and think about the most likely steps your students will take to achieve that result. You are going to choose nine steps for you course and you are going to be creating learning, tasks and resources for each of these steps.

You are going to do some “brainstorming” to find your nine steps.

To complete your first “brainstorm”, just get a blank piece of paper. Then give yourself ten to twenty minutes writing down all the different ideas you have for this approach. It doesn’t have to be neat and it doesn’t have to be in the right order – the key to completing this well is to write down the maximum number of ideas. Do this exercise and put yourself under some time pressure to help you to think of things you might have otherwise forgot.

Group Your Ideas Into Steps

The main objective of the brainstorming exercise is to find the 9 key themes or “steps” in your course. After you have spent 10-20 minutes writing your ideas, take a small break and come back to your sheet.

Are there any themes? Are there headings that you can group the ideas into? Try to group your ideas under 9 different subheadings. This course is set up to help you build 9 steps, so try not to create more than 9 main steps. If you have more than 9, try to group 2 or more together so you end up with 9.

You can put a circle around each point and put a number next to each circle with a key. For example, in a course for computer coding, the key could be 1=programs, 2=languages, etc.

Have a look at your sheet – are you able to pick out 9 main steps?

Now that you have grouped your ideas into 9 main steps, you can think about the order they need to be in. This will be obvious if your topic has progressive learning from easy to difficult. Other times it will depend on your preference. For example, a course on computer coding may progress from easy to difficult, whereas a course on losing weight may have different headings such as exercise, diet etc. and it will be up to you what order to put them in. Either way, have a quick think about the order of your steps.

Complete Brainstorm & Find Your 9 Steps

  • Take a blank sheet of paper
  • Write the overall desired result of your course at the top
  • Brainstorm for topics to include in your course & then group ideas into 9 steps

Learning, Tasks, Resources

Now that you have completed the brainstorm for steps in your course, have a look at the 9 different groups that have emerged. You will need some learning, tasks and resources at each of the 9 steps of your course.

Have a quick think about the contents of each step for your student. For each step, you need to consider the learning, the task and the resources. In Task 2, you will write a sentence briefly describing each of these for each step. Think about these now before you complete the task. What will be suitable?

Bear in mind, the learning, the tasks and the resources are only ideas at this stage, so don’t worry too much about the details. You will expand on them in later steps.

Think again about the order that you will present your steps. In some courses, the ordering of the steps will be obvious. For example, some courses will start with the very basics and move through more and more difficult topics, like a course in computer programming. In other courses, the steps will not really vary by difficulty and the ordering is up to you, the course designer.

Most of you will probably have a good idea in which order you want to present your steps. However, if you are not sure, follow these guidelines:

  • If any of your steps are pre-requisite, present them first
  • Start with the easy topics and move progressively through more difficult topics
  • Figure out the order by starting at the last step and working backwards (reverse-engineer)


At this point, just before you finalize your steps, you can do a sense-check. Think about the “usefulness” of your steps. Be honest with yourself and think about the main abilities / learning / knowledge your students want from your course. Why are people going to complete your course? What specifically do they want to get from it? What are the main benefits?

Don’t fall into the trap of trying to teach everything you know about a topic. It is likely that your students will only want to learn a subset of that knowledge. Try to restrict your headings to the main concepts that people want to learn. You can add any other areas of knowledge into extra “bonus sections” or you could even bring out a more in-depth course as a sequel.

By focusing on the essential elements of your topic that provide them with a result, you will ensure your students feel like they are achieving something. You are avoiding unnecessary information that won’t help them. A famous author when asked to write a speech once said “If you want me to give you a two-hour presentation, I am ready today. If you want only a five-minute speech, it will take me two weeks to prepare.” So, take the time now and cut down your topics to the essentials. The task here will provide a solid foundation for the rest of your course.


Task 1: Confirm the titles for your 9 steps

Here you must decide on your step titles. Between your brainstorm and your research, you will have a lot of ideas about what you can use as your step titles. Make sure you get the ordering correct and then list them out.

Along with each step title, think about the main learning a student will get in each step. Also think a bit about a suitable task for each step keep notes.

About Steve OConnor

I am the founder of 10000 Members Grow Your Membership To 10000 Members. The reason I run this site is because I love helping course creators and membership site owners build a successful business. I do this through webinars, coaching, speaking, consulting and heading up the awesome community at 10000 Members.

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I am the founder of 10000 Members Grow Your Membership To 10000 Members. The reason I run this site is because I love helping course creators and membership site owners build a successful business. I do this through webinars, coaching, speaking, consulting and heading up the awesome community at 10000 Members.