Wondering how to create an online course PDF and how to use them effectively to enhance learning? You've come to the right place!
When Ben and I began creating our first online course in 2011, we wanted a way to ensure that our students not only retained the information presented within a lesson, but we wanted to also ensure that they implemented the lessons learned.
Fortunately, we’d both just taken a course which implemented PDF action guides which were included with each video lesson. These became incredibly helpful for us and I even printed mine throughout the course and kept them in a three-ring binder for easy review. This particular course taught a system for achieving marketing results, so it was great to have a reference guide to keep repeating the process.
In this post, we'll share some of our tips on how to create an online course PDF and how you can use them in your course. Within our own courses, we refer to them as action guides because we generally use them to guide the students on what steps they need to take before the next lesson. However, as you'll see shortly, PDFs can be used in a lot of creative ways to enhance your students' learning experiences.
A few ground rules first...
Before we dive into the details of how to create an online course PDF, let’s cover some basic ground rules when it comes to using them within your course(s).
Rule #1: Be consistent with your designs.
This is probably evident, but as you begin preparing PDFs for your online course develop a set of templates first for each intended purpose and make sure you keep the design of all of them consistent. Use the same logo (if you’re using one), the same colors, the same font families, similar layout elements, etc.
Rule #2: Proofread everything three times.
The tricky thing about PDFs is that once you create them in a word processing or slide creation software and export the PDF, most other tools you use to view them won’t automatically check for spelling and grammar. Make sure to thoroughly check your documents before you export them as a PDF file.
Rule #3: Ensure proper formatting.
Before making your online course PDFs available for download, take a look at how they display in the different ways that your students might use them. If you use a Mac, check them in Preview. If you use Adobe Acrobat, open them with that program. See how they look in different web browsers. And finally, check to ensure that they will print properly.
So what's in an online course PDF?
We’ll be linking to the templates we use for our online course PDFs below, but first I’ll briefly outline the information we include in our course action guides:
- Course logo
- Lesson titile
- Key concepts learned
- Action steps required (with room to brainstorm if necessary)
- An area for taking personal notes
- Copyright information
Again, we use PDFs in our online courses for two primary purposes:
- To reinforce what the student just learned (bullet points)
- To clearly instruct them what to do next (a checklist)
However, you can modify your online course PDFs to fit your needs. For example, you might have a course on playwriting which could require multiple blank pages for students to work with.
How else can you use PDFs in your online course?
The sky’s the limit, really!
However, these are some of the ways we’ve utilized PDFs in our own online courses in the past…
There have been times where we’ve come across other third-party resources which we have felt might be helpful to our students, but which we didn’t want to include directly in the lesson to prevent distracting students from the main concepts or so as not to overwhelm them with too much information.
This often includes things like video interviews on YouTube or podcast episodes. We may not want to distract the student with these in the middle of our course, but maybe they’re great resources for down the road to keep the student engaged with the topic. A supplemental resources section in a PDF is a great place for them to come back to these later.
Another way to utilize PDFs in your online course is by including text transcripts of your video lessons. We’ve primarily used Temi for this in the past and it’s a very affordable and surprisingly accurate platform for producing transcripts from your videos. You just upload your video, wait for Temi to transcribe it, and then you can edit if and as needed.
The best part? You’ve already created the content for this PDF when you made your video!
We currently teach several courses on, not surprisingly, how to create online courses. In some of those courses, such as How to Validate Your Online Course Topic, there is quite a bit of independent research that the students need to execute. We provide PDFs to help them structure and keep track of their research as they go along so they can make the best possible decision later on.
If you’re like 90% of the course creation clients we’ve worked with since 2012, then you’re likely going to be using presentation slides in at least some of your course lessons. If you are, that’s another great form of PDF content that you’ve already created! It’s very simple to export your presentations as PDFs and allow your students to download them.
And...free online course PDF templates!
To get you motivated to begin using action guides to help your students along within your course, we’d like to provide a free action guide template for you to work with.
These files are included in PowerPoint, Keynote, and Canva formats. Once you download them, you can make styling or color changes, add/remove elements, or even just use them as a framework to create your own action guide from scratch!
Once you’ve finalized an action guide, simply export it as a PDF:
After that, simply upload the PDF to your WordPress Media Library, link to it from your course lesson, and voila!