Creating a Course

For those who can't find the right course or who have knowledge they want to share in learning circles, this section outlines how to design and publish an online course for learning circles.

Whether a subject matter expert or a motivated hobbyist, we believe anyone can assemble high-quality learning materials that can be shared with learning communities around the world. Along the way, you’ll also:

  • Learn new skills: Creating a course is a great way to practice and refine a number of skills, including learning design and web development.

  • Participate in our community: Course creators are invited to join our community and stay up to date on how their course is being used around the world.

  • Contribute to an OER ecosystem: By developing an open educational resource, you’re contributing to an equitable process of knowledge sharing.

The first step to creating a course is to get a good grasp of what learning circles are and how they work. The best way to do that is by participating or facilitating! Reviewing the rest of this guide, particularly the section on learning circle meeting structure, is helpful too.

Outlining the Course

Before drafting content, course creators should first identify the audience they are serving and outline appropriate learning goals.

Establish Learning Goals

Take the time to establish an outline before diving in and writing content. There are three questions that we ask ourselves as we undertake a course creation project:

  1. Who are you creating this course for? You should have an understanding of who you are creating this course for, and why. A helpful way to think about this is to write down minimal set of qualifications you have for a participant who joins the learning circle. Are there certain skillsets (language fluency, digital literacy, access to materials) that will restrict who can meaningfully engage with your course? Is it relevant only for people in a particular country or region?

  2. What expectations will participants bring to this course? No matter how clearly you think you outline the scope of the course, people will show up to a learning circle with their own expectations about the subject matter. Understanding the outcomes that participants will be hoping to achieve as well as any preconceptions that they may bring to the learning circle will help you scope out a course that is both rewarding and also appropriate given the format and time allotted.

  3. How will you know if participants have succeeded? Considering how you expect participants to demonstrate mastery of a topic is an important step in the course creation process. With some topics there will be a very clear artifact that results from the learning circle (e.g. an updated resume, a new website); other times it will require participants to articulate progress in a more abstract concept (e.g. increased confidence using computers, deeper understanding of Caribbean history).

Outline Each Module

Once you’ve established the goals for a course, start arranging materials into weekly modules, outlining 2–3 learning goals for each individual meeting. When scoping out the learning goals, keep in mind the 6-8 week length of learning circle: we tend to think about the learning content as being more than a workshop, but less than a semester’s worth of work.

Our section on creating Facilitator Guides & Agendas provides some examples of course outlines created by our community, and you can make a copy of our Facilitator Guide Template to help structure your course.

Write Course Introduction

Finally, we often find it helpful to take all of this work and summarize it into a first draft of the course landing page. In addition to drafting a course title, you should include:

  • Who you are and why you created the course

  • Major learning objectives for the course

  • Expected pacing for working through the material

  • Any needed prerequisites or expectations for participants

  • Supplemental resources to help a facilitator prepare

Collecting Content

Structuring the Course

If you're going to publish your course with Course-in-a-Box, we recommend drafting content in a Google Doc, as it allows for both easy editing and collaboration during the drafting phase as well as conversion to Markdown for when it's time to put the course online (see more in Course-in-a-Box documentation).

Pulling in Third Party Materials

In addition to bringing your own expertise to the table, we encourage course creators to broaden the perspective by referencing or including external content, as long as it can be done appropriately and will full credit to the original sources. Some practices for identifying usable external content:

  • Quotes and Ideas: Standard citations rules apply when creating online courses. The Purdue Online Writing Lab is an exceptional resource for making sure you’re citing things accurately.

  • News Articles: Linking directly to news articles is a great way to bring in outside opinions and connect your course to current events. Consider using the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine or to prevent link rot, and be mindful about not linking to articles with paywalls.

  • Images and Icons: Reuse images and icons from Flickr, Unsplash, The Noun Project, unDraw, Google Image advanced search, Creative Commons Search, VectorStock, etc. Each site has clear attribution requirements: generally, this means that you need to cite the author/artist and link back to the original work in your course.

  • Open Educational Resources: A number of platforms and individuals license their materials for free reuse, which often means that you choose between linking out to the original source and re-publishing their content directly on your site. We’ve outlined many platforms that utilize Creative Commons (or equivalent) licenses; be sure to familiarize yourself with the various types of CC licenses before republishing anything.

When in doubt, reach out! You might be surprised how responsive people are when you’re trying to share their work with new audiences.

Design the Course

Building on the four-part meeting structure, there are some principles for learning design that work well for learning circle regardless of the subject matter.

  • Project-based > theoretical: Learning circles work well when participants are working towards a shared goal. Frame your learning circle more towards “Learn to Write Fiction” than “Composition 101”; more towards “Build a website” than “Intro to HTML/CSS”.

  • Personal > “objective”: You are human! Be clear about your expertise, perspective, and motivation in creating this course. Own your expertise, and don’t try and hide behind the cloak of objectivity.

  • Group discussion > user interaction: Rely on the relationships formed in the learning circle rather than overbuilding interactivity into the course. Personal exploration comes through discussion questions, not quizzes.

  • Clear > complicated: Don’t use jargon or complex language when something simple will do. We like to run copy through the Hemingway App and target a Grade 8-10 reading level.

  • Quality > quantity: Where possible, provide a variety of forms of engagement. We like to mix up text, videos, downloadable handouts/exercises, and linking out to interactive tools and resources.

  • Further exploration > homework: Ideally, learners can have a successful learning circle experience without doing any homework outside of the meetings. That being said, your course doesn’t need to be an end-all-be-all: feel free to include opportunities for further work.

  • Self/peer evaluation > exams: Think about assessment as an opportunity for personal and group reflection, rather than a test that needs to be passed.

  • Transparency > hierarchy: Generally, a facilitator shouldn’t need a separate facilitation guide in order to run a learning circle. When thinking about the voice that you use, imagine a group working through the materials together, rather than a teacher imparting knowledge to a classroom.

  • Connected > silo: Don’t feel like you need to present yourself as the single authority on the subject: Helping people find what they’re looking for is more important than increasing course retention.

  • Open > Closed: We license course materials with a Creative Commons BY-SA license, which means that anybody can reuse or remix our content so long as they attribute us (BY) and share their derivative work with the same license (SA=Share Alike).


Once you’ve drafted your course content, it’s time to get it online. There are a number of considerations to make when choosing where to host your course:

  • Are there platforms that you’re already familiar with?

  • What types of media and interactivity do you want to include?

  • How do you plan to maintain the course long-term?

  • What technical skills do you have? What do you want to practice?

Regardless how you publish your course, make sure to add it to the P2PU course library when it's complete so that facilitators can find it!


Course-in-a-Box is P2PU’s tool for building and publishing online courses, built on the premise that you don’t need to spend money to produce a course that can stay around for a long time. While no prior coding experience is required to use Course-in-a-Box, it still provides great exposure to some of the building blocks of web development including HTML, CSS, Markdown, and Git. It’s free to use and 100% open source (see GitHub repository), so you can adapt it to suit your needs however you choose. Examples of courses built using Course-in-a-Box include:

Browser-based word processor

If Course-in-a-Box seems like a heavy lift, it may be sufficient to publish your course using a browser-based word processing tool like Google Docs, Dropbox Paper, or P2PU’s hosted version of Etherpad. This is how P2PU publishes our Facilitator Guides, and there are more resources about that in the Facilitator Guides section.

Ready-to-use website builder remains the world’s most popular website builder, as it strikes a good balance between ease of use, customizability, and cost. This is what Jordan from Boston Public Library used to create their series of courses about fiction writing. There are plenty of Wordpress alternatives, including Drupal, Joomla, and Squarespace, though beware: as customizability increases, so does cost.

Static site generator + hosting solution

The most flexibility for minimal/no cost will come by combining an open source, static site generator (e.g. Jekyll, Hugo, Eleventy) with a hosting solution (e.g. Github Pages, Netlify): this is the approach that we used to build Course-in-a-Box. While highly customizable, this option requires either a technical background or a lot of motivation and patience.

Other directions

There are plenty of other formats for hosting content on the web, some of which are explicitly designed for open educational resources. Popular options include:

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