Starting a Course Design Using Sticky Notes

Embarking on a new course design project can be both challenging and fun.  As designers, we all have tips and techniques we use to create content.  In this article, I will describe how to kick-off a design project using sticky notes.  This is one of many techniques I will cover in my Instructional Design Consulting workshop on June 3, 2017 in Houston, Texas. 

The sticky note has been a helpful tool in my design strategy for many years.  I use them to build stories for the courses I create.  They are good for writing the course outline, structuring the course flow, and developing course activities

Writing the Course Outline

First, you should find a large open space, such as a dining room table, a floor mat, a white board or a flip chart.  I recommend a dining room table to start.  I have done this many times and believe it is the best location for this strategy.  After you have dedicated space to create your course, start listing the main topics or headings on a sticky note; try to use one color for the main headings.

After writing your main headings, stick them on the table in a logical order with enough space to allow for additional notes to be placed under them. You may stick your main headings either vertically or horizontally on the table.  Next, you would structure the content using sub-headings.

Structuring the Course Flow

Now, select another color sticky pad to start listing sub-headings for the course.  For example, a main topic for a marketing course would be identifying target markets, a logical sub-heading could be needs assessment or geographical segmentation as demonstrated here.

Main Headings - HR-OD Analytics 

Main Headings - HR-OD Analytics 

I recommend selecting another color sticky pad to start the next sub-heading.  After you have completely listed the subheadings under each main heading you would determine potential development activities that may be included in the course. Again, leave space under each sub-heading to list potential development activities or concepts that will be used in the design of the course.    

Developing Course Activities

Instructional designers use several development activities to make the content stick.  Without development activities, there is no course. Development activities may include, concept review, real-world scenarios, decision making activities, buzz groups, discussion questions, cases, stories, etc.  As mentioned previously, a sub-heading for the topic identify target markets could be needs assessment.  A possible activity for this sub-heading might be to develop a buzz group flip chart activity for an instructor-led course or a branching concept scenario for an eLearning module. The designer would place this activity under the sub-heading.  You would determine potential activities for every sub-heading displayed on the table. You would continue with this process until you have covered all topics.

Activities Image - HR-OD Analytics 

Activities Image - HR-OD Analytics 

What’s great about using sticky notes for your project, you can remove headings or sub-headings or re-order the course as needed.

When you believe the course design is complete, you would photograph or capture an image of the information and share it with others.  I have done this on many consulting projects and find it to be effective when working with clients. This strategy provides the client, specifically the Subject Matter Expert (SME), with an opportunity to review and give feedback or suggestions on the topics in the course. 

Try using sticky notes in your next design project.

Adrienne Captain, CEO & Founder, HR-OD Analytics. Real Talk from a Real Consultant:  ID, OD, and Change Management.  Visit her company page: and sign-up for one of her courses.