How to Turn Long-Form Content into Online Lessons

Want to turn a lecture, presentation, or ebook into an online course? Here’s where to start.

Many of our tips for creating online courses start from the assumption that you’re creating your course from scratch. You’ve gotten an idea for your course, you’ve researched it, you’ve created an outline, and now you need to populate your outline with the content that will form the bulk of your course.

However, for some online educators, especially those who are trying to move in-person lectures into an online format, the situation is different. These educators already have content, but they’re looking for a way to transition it into workable online lessons.

Fortunately, long-form content provides an excellent backbone for e-learning. With a little thought and some extra research, you can expand the content you’ve already created from lectures and written papers into valuable online courses. Here’s where to start.

1. Review your content to determine what is suitable for online lessons.

To start, read through your content and look for any areas that might not be suitable for online lessons. If you’ve devoted part of your lecture to an in-class activity, or if you’ve included several long interviews in your written documents, they may not translate well into an online course.

Think about how you might replace these portions with something more interactive. Your in-class activity could become an interactive quiz or a group project. Or you film new interviews so that you have more diverse learning material.

Remember that the original material was not intended for online delivery, and so was designed with the advantages and limitations of its original format intact. In translating it to e-learning material, you’re trying to use the new online medium to its fullest advantage.

2. Determine your learning objectives.

Take a look at your long-form content piece. When you created it, what purpose was it intended to fulfill? Many times, these content pieces are designed as informative reference pieces. The assumption is that whoever is reading the content or attending the lecture will have access to other content, such as a textbook, or will be using their source as a reference as they work on a project.

For an online course, the learning should be more robust. The course should make a promise up front about what learners should achieve from taking the course, and then the materials and references within the course should build toward those learning objectives.

3. Set your assessment criteria.

With your learning objectives set, you next need to determine how you will find out whether learners have achieved them or not. In short, you need to create quizzes and assignments to measure learner retention and critical thinking.

So, you might have written an ebook about becoming a copywriter to offer some advice to freelancers, expecting them to seek out more information elsewhere. But the content of your course should include quizzes, practice sessions, and additional example content to help the learner master the techniques.

Similarly, you might have used a series of geology lectures to create your course, but each lecture should have quiz questions so that learners can test their knowledge.

4. Break your content into manageable chunks.

Next, take a look at your content and find the natural breaks and pauses. If you’re working with very long content, it is more than likely that you have already divided it into subtopics. An ebook might have several chapters, or a lecture might be part of a series. Even within a chapter or a lecture there are sections and header breaks.

These translate well into lessons and topics within your course. A chapter would be one lesson, and the headers within that chapter would form the topics. If your chapters don’t contain headers, or if you are working from a lecture that usually takes forty-five minutes to deliver but doesn’t have any section breaks, find places to add them in. You want to create segments that can be completed within five to fifteen minutes, so that learners have more flexibility to fit them into their schedule.

5. Find places where your content could be turned into visual or audio content.

Next, look for ways to include rich content—as opposed to only text content. Are there points where you can turn something into an infographic? What about a video? Rich content gives learners more ways to approach your material, and can help them stay engaged and retain information.

If you’re offering a “how-to” course for some kind of skill, this might be the time to include videos, or some pictures of each step of the process. If you’re giving a lecture on a topic, look for maps, illustrations, or even animated videos to add interest to your course.

6. Include new resources that back your original content.

Finally, an online course gives you the space to add new resources to the content as you find ones that you think will be valuable to your learners. Did you find a Ted Talk somewhere that touches on your subject? Include that. Even better, find two Ted Talks that cover different viewpoints on the same issue, and use that as a spark point for class discussion.

This supplementary background content can help you create a richer course while expanding your long-form content into a complete learning experience.

Long-form content makes for great e-learning material, but for the most part, it can’t be posted as-is.

There is one way you can quickly turn long-form content (an ebook, a lecture series, etc.) into an online, course, and that’s to offer it as a single purchase download. However, this does nothing for your learners in terms of real instructional design. Your learners won’t get quizzes to measure their mastery of the material, and they won’t have any extra materials to expand their understanding of the subject matter.

Clearly, breaking your long-form content apart into meaningful lessons adds a lot of value for your learners. Long-form content also serves as an excellent base for planning a longer course. So don’t let the content you’ve already developed go to waste. Instead, take the time to expand it into rich lesson material, and you will see better results for your learners, and have a better course to sell in your catalog.


Laura is a marketing specialist with experience presenting at WordPress events in Ann Arbor and Vienna. She speaks Russian and German and holds a double MA (Hons) in History and Russian Studies from the University of Edinburgh.

1 Response

  1. Some great advice for those already teaching in a classroom who have tons of material they want to convert to online courses.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *