When you’ve put a lot of time and effort into building a course it’s natural to want to simply refresh it rather than start over, even if it’s been awhile since you built it. And sometimes that makes sense. But in other cases, it might actually end up taking more time to adapt the existing course than it would to scrap it and design a new one. So how do you know which approach will be most effective? In this article, we’ll look at six questions to ask yourself when trying to determine the best course of action.

1. Do you have the source files?

The first thing you need to find out is if you—or one of your coworkers—still have the files that were used to create the course. If no one has the source files and updates are required, you’ll have no other option than to rebuild the course. 

Having to rebuild a perfectly good course from scratch to make a few minor adjustments can be disheartening, but if you take this opportunity to improve your file-storing practices you can prevent it from happening again in the future. Head over to this article for some tips: 7 Insider Secrets for Working With Large Teams on E-Learning Projects.

2. Is the course effective?

Next, consider whether the existing course is effective. Depending on the course objectives, you’ll look to different metrics to make this determination. For example, if the course was built to improve performance, find out if it actually did. If it’s a compliance or awareness course, success might just mean that a certain percentage of employees completed the course. 

For help nailing down the definition of “effective” for different types of courses, see this article: How To Know if Your Online Course Is Effective.

3. Does the course still work?

If a course is really old, there’s a possibility that parts of it—or in some cases the entire thing—no longer work. For example, if you link to external resources, it’s possible they no longer exist. Or if you built it prior to the end of Flash, browsers might no longer display the content. Or maybe you didn’t consider accessibility and the keyboard navigation is nonexistent.

If there are just a couple links here and there that need updating or you just need to republish in HTML5, a simple refresh is likely all that’s needed. However, if your course is littered with broken links or it’s completely inaccessible, it might be worth starting over from scratch.

4. To what extent does the content need updating?

Sometimes out-of-date content can easily be fixed by doing a “find and replace” on specific words. For example, if you reference a person who’s no longer with the company, a simple refresh is all that’s required.

On the other hand, courses on evolving topics—like COVID-19 safety protocols—tend to require more in-depth updates. When the updates are extensive, sometimes it makes more sense to simply start over than to try to figure out how to adapt the existing content.

5. To what extent do the visuals need updating?

Visual design trends are always changing. The evolutions often happen so gradually you don’t even notice—until you stumble upon a course you made a couple of years ago and think, “wow, that looks kind of dated.” 

Sometimes there are easy ways to quickly make your course look more modern, like updating the font, color palette, or company logo. But other times more substantial changes are required.

If you can make the required updates quickly, then a simple refresh might be enough. But if updating the visual design requires a lot of manual rework—for instance, if your company went through a substantial brand refresh—it might be time to consider rebuilding the course.

6. How much time do you have?

The last—but definitely not least important—thing to consider is how much time you have to dedicate to refreshing or rebuilding this course. Depending on your workload and whether there’s a hard deadline for the updated version of the course, your decision to refresh or rebuild might be different.

For example, if you come across an onboarding course that’s extremely out of date but there’s a large group of new employees starting next week, you might decide there’s not enough time to rebuild even though it would be warranted. In that case, a hybrid approach might make the most sense: start with a quick refresh and plan to redesign the course later on when you’re less pressed for time.

In Sum

Whether you refresh an existing course or redesign it from scratch, it basically comes down to the amount of changes required and the time you have to make them. When an older course still holds up both instructionally and visually, a simple refresh might be all that’s necessary. But if a course isn’t meeting the needs of learners or has a large amount of outdated content or visuals, it might be more efficient to simply start over. 

Here’s a quick-reference table that recaps the points outlined in this article to help you decide whether a refresh or a rebuild makes the most sense:

Signs a refresh might be the right call. 

Signs you might want to rebuild your course from scratch.

  • You have the source files.
  • It’s effective.
  • It still works for the most part (and anything that’s broken is easy to fix).
  • The content is mostly up-to-date (and anything outdated is easy to fix).
  • The visuals still look polished or are easy to update.
  • You don’t have much time to dedicate to this course and/or the deadline is quickly approaching.
  • You don’t have the source files.
  • It’s ineffective.
  • It doesn’t function properly and would require a lot of effort to fix.
  • The content is extremely out-of-date and requires extensive updates.
  • The visuals are extremely out-of-date and can’t easily be updated.
  • You have enough time to rebuild the course before the deadline.


And if you’re looking for tips on optimizing your course update process, check out these helpful resources:

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