Course Building and Curriculum

Where to Start

Putting your live course online is a multi-step process and, if you're working with an instructional/learning designer, he or she will have a lot of questions about your course content, which might seem intimidating at first. This section is about how to think about your course material and prepare you to have a conversation with faculty, staff, and instructional designers about how to move your course online.

First, consider how your content should be delivered—written, video, interactive quizzes or presentations? It could even be a combination of experiences. One pitfall to avoid is thinking that you deliver your content verbally in front of a class and therefore your online class should be one long video. Think about writing some of your content in a page and sharing it on Moodle or Canvas. You can add photos, short videos, and other course resources that would be visually appealing. Here are some examples of what a course page could look like:

Course with Independent Website

example of a course page that was designed in a blog format

Timing and Course Development

The longer that you have to develop a course, the more thought and development you can put into the learning features in the course. For example, if you have to put you course online in a few weeks, then you should stick to a very basic setup of videos, PowerPoints, and references to the course texts or resources. If you have a longer development time, such as 6 months to a year, then you can add in other components like interactive polling throughout the course, graphic design, and interactive learning pieces where the students engage with the course material.

Organizing Your Course for an Online Format

When organizing your class online – think of your weeks, or days, as course modules or topics. Each topic will have a discrete amount of time (one day, one week, one month) and that topic, and related sub-topics, will be the focus of the work and discussions for that unit of time. Most learning management systems are organized into blocks, or chunks, of content  and you probably already have your course organized this way in your syllabus or course schedule so you can easily adapt the content into modules.

If you have not previously developed outcomes or objectives for your class,  the section below "CME Online Requirements and Sections" has a description and resources on how to get started.

Course Mapping

When you work with an instructional designer, you might be asked to map out your course starting with the outcomes and objectives and how they connect to your course requirements. This is called "course mapping" and it is a meaningful activity for any course regardless of format.

Here is a link to a Course Alignment Grid Worksheet that you can fill out to map the different components of your course:  Create a Simple Course Alignment Grid, or you can download it from this link: Course Alignment Grid Worksheet. To help you get started with filling out the sections you will first choose an outcome and an objective linked to that outcome. Then you will list the assessment (assignment, exam, quiz) that measures whether this outcome and objective are being met in the course. You will also connect activities, such as lecture material, videos, interactive pieces, or other course components that help learners accomplish this outcome and objective. Finally, you will need to list technology needs to make these activities and assessments happen in your course. Here is a list of the items that you will need for the worksheet:

  1. Learning Objective (you can include the outcome)
  2. How will the learning be assessed? It can be assessed more than once throughout the course.
  3. Teaching and Learning Activity
  4. Technology Resources

There are other checklists to help you prepare your in-person material for an online format. This list is a bit different than the previous course mapping worksheet. It helps you organize your thoughts through an Online Course Design Checklist:  SF College Online Course Design Checklist

Another helpful resource on how to build and connect the elements in your course is the presentation "Back to Basics on Curriculum Design, Paving the Way for Your Learners" given at the Harvard Executive, Continuing & Online Education Summit.

Course Outcomes 

The course outcomes are the backbone of the course. They determine what a learner should be able to do or know by the end of the course. They should help you determine what elements you should focus each unit on. Here is a resource on how to write good course outcomes (called "course goals" in this article): On Learning Goals and Learning Objectives.

Additionally, if you are looking for the right verb to complete your outcome, here is a reference that our team uses to edit course outcomes: Appendix B: Useful Verbs for Developing Learning Outcomes. Please note that the verbs in the "Knowledge" and "Comprehension" columns. This list also helps when you write your course objectives (see below for more information). The course outcomes will be a part of the course landing page content.

Here are examples of course outcomes from the HMS CME Online course, Management of Infections in Advanced Dementia:

  • Recognize when it is appropriate to start antimicrobials for a suspected suspected lower respiratory or urinary tract infection in nursing home residents with advanced dementia
  • Examine the incidence and outcomes of infections in advanced dementia
  • Integrate patient preferences in treatment decisions for infections
  • Interpret urinalysis and urine culture results
  • Manage asymptomatic bacteriuria


The topics that are being covered in the course.


Each unit should have stated objectives. These are targeted and measurable. They act as specific goals for each learner. Each objective should aim to guide learners through mastery of the overall module.

Learning content with some active learning components

These are the readings, videos, and presentations that will provide the content learners need to master the objective.


These are the quizzes that assess whether or not the learners have mastered the content. They are auto-graded and work as a guide for learners to monitor their own progression through the course. They should not be true and false questions. Additionally, please provide an explanation for why the correct answer is the right choice. This will help the students continue learning through the assessment questions. If you would like guidance on how to build assessments for your online course, please visit the "Assessments" section on this website.

Course Description 

This is similar to an abstract and is a general overview of the course.

Here is an example from the course, Caring for Refugees and Asylum Seekers.

  • In the United States and around the world, there has been growing recognition of the marked disparities in access to and delivery of health care depending on one’s gender, race, socioeconomic status and country of residence. This can lead to major inequities in health care outcomes, and devastating personal, public health, and global consequences.
  • This course focuses on introducing the definitions and differences between refugees and asylum seekers, the impact on physical and mental health their various journeys can have, and how to best treat them as patients while recognizing their particular fears.
  • The target audiences for this course are physicians (both primary care and specialists) and other care providers who need to be aware of these disparities and understand how they may impact the health of individual patients as well as the health of societies. Another target audience is researchers and policy-makers who need to be aware of the social determinants of health and health care and methodologies for studying and addressing these issues.

Instructor Bios, Photos, and Titles 

We will need a recent professional photo of all instructors, along with job title and degrees or certifications.

The last section in your course is the summary. The following elements are needed to wrap up your course:

  • Course summary - with key facts/course take-aways
  • Posttest - You can test the learners after each module/section, only at the end of the course, or both. The minimum requirement for course posttest questions is four multiple-choice questions.
  • Evaluation or certificate - Will the learners earn a CE or CME certificate after taking and passing the exams in your course? If so, you will be working with the team to discuss qualifications, accreditation requirements, and units/credits for the course.