Jump Starting Your Course Idea with Mind Mapping


When it comes to the actionable content we’ve created to help our customers succeed with profitable courses using WP Courseware, one of our current users recently pointed out something which I hadn’t realized and of course it now seems very obvious.

Over the last four and a half years, we’ve spent a lot of time writing articles for our blog, guest posts for other sites, emails with valuable resources, and hundreds of hours of video tutorials.

But all of that content has tended to focus on three broad topics…

1. How to come up with a profitable niche or idea for your first course.

2. The technical details of getting your first course published and how to charge for it.

3. Strategies for pricing your course and for successfully marketing it.

So What Did We Leave Out?

Well, I have to say I’m a bit embarrassed to admit it, but I’m glad that this particular customer brought it to my attention so that we can begin creating more content to help our users with this.

As many of you know, Ben and I first developed WP Courseware a few years ago to assist us in delivering our own online training course with WordPress. Since there were no “LMS” plugins at that time, we built our own to assist us with organizing the content we had created.

And we had a lot of great content! In fact, we had each spent over 200 hours producing videos for this particular course. But somewhere between 1.) realizing there was an untapped need for the training we were about to offer and 2.) sitting down to produce the videos and add them to a course, there was another critical step which took place.

What was it?

The reason we were able to successfully move from our course idea to the creation of the content we were going to sell was that we had already taken time to completely plan out our entire course.

This subject is almost equally as important to the process of evaluating the viability of your first course as it helps you determine how much content you could come up with, how far you can take each micro-topic, and what you might be able to charge based on a broad view of all of the value you’ll be offering.

After Ben and I had decided we were going to move forward with our first training course, we quickly honed in on using a collaborative mind map as the most effective way for us to design the course we were going to begin working so hard at developing.

Why Mind Mapping?

For those of you who have never used mind mapping for a project before it’s simply a way to graphically represent ideas and concepts, while also allowing you to include workflows, process flows, or, yes, course outlines.

It’s a bit of a free-form process, but this is basically how it works:

1. First, you create a primary topic and place it in the center of the mind map. This might be your main course topic.

2. Second, you place the broad sub-topics around the main topic. In terms of a WP Courseware course, this might be modules which are groups of related course units which teach specific knowledge points.

3. Finally, you add micro-topics for each of your sub-topics. At this point you’re basically outlining the individual course units or lessons you want to deliver in your course.

You can even add further branches to flesh out overall outlines of your individual course units. And these final steps are what will help you in the long-run. They will not only help you in validating your course concept by showing you exactly how much content you can create, but they will also pretty much be a checklist when you sit down to begin producing content for your course.

And I cannot stress the importance of that last bit enough. Whether you’re developing your course on your own or with other experts in your field, having a collaborative visual space of all concepts in your course will be incredibly helpful when it’s time to create content, what the most logical way to structure that content is, and if you are working with other instructors, who will be responsible for what topics and what can be expected within each lesson.

Getting Started Mind Mapping Your Course

Now that we know what a mind map is and how the basic steps relate to course creation, let’s start talking about how to begin working on your mind map to successfully plan your course.

If you’re working on your course without any other collaborators, it’s really as simple as opening up a sketch book and beginning your doodle. Ok, it’s not a doodle, this is serious business…but it is still very simple.


Yes, you can even make your topics, sub-topics, or micro-topics fluffy clouds if you want to.

But there are also a number of web-based collaborative tools for mind mapping. Ben and I chose to use the incredibly popular MindMeister to design our course as it includes a great set of features and an outstanding iOS app for iPad. You never know when ideas will hit and having access to your brainstorming on the go is actually priceless.

But there are a number of web-based versions of these mind mapping tools out there:


As I mentioned, Ben and I really like MindMeister so here’s a sample screenshot of what a course design might look like:


Again, the benefits of a web-based mind mapping tool like this is that you always have access to it and any other collaborators you’re working with will have a current version. You can even track changes made by different users.

But Mind Mapping Can Help Course Creators in Other Ways, Too!

In addition to helping us create our own online course, we eventually started using mind mapping to help us with other tasks as well.

Breaking down and planning larger videos

While we discussed extending your course mind map to listing individual unit points above, when we create our own video content we often diagram the entire sequence. This can be useful for creating longer videos for your course units, or as we even use it, for outlining the content of a marketing video. It really helps prepare you with what you want to say during a video, but without sounding like you’re reading from a script.

Outline multiple course sequences

We have many WP Courseware users who have multiple courses, and we have some customers who have dozens or even hundreds of courses. When that’s the case, organizing those individual courses into a larger visual representation of all course offerings can help to both reduce redundancy for students and also determine a prerequisite flow if necessary.

Building quizzes

While mind mapping is very helpful for designing a course, your modules, and the included units, it can also be very beneficial when building quizzes. For many of our WP Courseware users, quizzes are “end of module” and may cover topics from several units. Mind maps can be a great way to design a quiz which covers key concepts for all units included and since it is a visual representation, it can also help with ensuring that your quiz presents an evenly distributed number of questions across all topics.

Course purchase and registration flow

This is an area which many course creators initially overlook until they’ve launched their course and received some feedback from customers/students. But mind mapping can be very helpful in charting the course purchase and registration process for your students. It can help you determine what they see and when during the process of buying your course, what communications are sent immediately after purchase, how they experience your content after login, and what follow-up communications you send.

Email campaign design

It’s no secret that a very large number of our WP Courseware users offer expensive training and need to “warm up” a potential customer before making a sale. We have many course creators charging 4 and 5 figures for their courses, and most of them tend to lead off with some sort of free lead magnet in exchange for an email opt-in before selling the prospect on the high-price training. This may be a white paper, ebook, or even a free “mini-course”. But any of you who have spent time evaluating email marketing strategies for products will understand that mind mapping is a great way to plan ahead as it allows you to evaluate every contact point where a prospect may stay on your lead list or be moved to your customer list.

I hope this primer on mind mapping will help you begin thinking about ways you can incorporate new brainstorming strategies into your courses or business.

Are there other ways you’re using mind maps? Feel free to let us know in the comments below!

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