How to bake an elearning course

Pouring Cake Mixture Into Baking Tin

It occurred to me that instructional design of an elearning course has similarities to baking a cake. What parallels can you think of? What elearning skills are required to go from home baker to professional pastry chef?

Bake for your audience

First understand who you are baking for so you can choose a recipe to suit – no point on baking a nut cake for a person with a nut allergy.

Alternatively no point using lots of high definition video for a company that has little bandwidth or creating a course full of audio when your audience’s computers have no speakers. Choose tools, techniques, and an appropriate tone to match your target audience.

Keep the occasion in mind

Why are you baking a cake, is it for a birthday, a baby shower, a wedding, or something else? The purpose will inform what sort of cake you will make and how it is presented.

a chihuahua blowing out candles on a piece of cake

In elearning the why is also important. Why is an elearning course being developed? What’s the strategic purpose and the performance goal? You’ll need to know this before exploring possible solutions.

The ingredients

What and how much ingredients are needed to successfully bake your cake?

This is where we set the specific learning objectives. What are the behaviours that are required for success and how important are each of these?  Cathy Moore’s action mapping is an excellent method for sourcing both your performance goal and your learning objectives.

Content of the recipe

The baking instructions are always in order, with the equipment needed.

With an elearning course, you also need to logically chunk and sequence the content so it flows in a coherent manner. What equipment is needed to support making the content i.e. rapid elearning tools, multimedia software and equipment, project documentation.

Final checks before baking

Review the recipe. Do you have everything you need?

woman cook reading recipes book, isolated on white

Check your proposed solution with your stakeholders and and adjust the solution to ensure there is agreement on what the end result will be.

Baking your cake

Put your cake in the oven, set timer, watch for quality. Use a skewer to test.

Begin developing your storyboards, prototypes and drafts. Watch project time frames, quality and budget. Put your elearning course through a review, testing, and sign-off process so you know when it’s fully completed.

Taste testing

Second and third opinions are invaluable.

Closeup of woman eating chocolate cupcake

Pilot your elearning course with a small group of your target audience. Does it work how it’s intended? Do any adjustments need to be made before sending a completed course out to the wider audience?

Eating the cake

Mmmmm…. my favourite part!

How do you know your course has hit the mark, what are you using to assess success?

This post by no means includes everything about baking a cake or making an elearning course. Unfortunately it’s not a ‘piece of cake’ otherwise everyone would be producing results like this:

Final Touch Ups On Ruffled Wedding Cake

Like anything, producing high quality elearning courses takes practice.

If you found this post interesting, click on the links below to read some related posts:

Why storytelling should be part of your elearning toolkit

Performing an elearning makeover

In the meantime, I might just have a piece of cake, mmmmm….

Second hand shopping for elearning

Hand pushing virtual search bar

I have a passion for secondhand shopping. I often find useful, quality, beautiful items discarded by previous owners just waiting for me to breathe life back into them. The same goes with content that already exists in places like the internet.

Once the learning objectives for a course are sorted, I start hunting for what exists already so I don’t have to create everything from new. One of my favourite places to secondhand shop for content is YouTube. There are millions of videos on YouTube, most without copyright conditions, and some very high quality that would take hours to develop.

When I find relevant content this doesn’t mean my development and instructional design is done for me – I now need to think of how to utilise it. Is it pre-course work or a motivator? Will it be used to introduce a point, emphasise a point, tell a story, will it be used as an activity starter, or even as a summary? There are a multitude of ways to use already existing content.

When using ‘second hand’ content always keep copyright in mind. Check if the resource has copyright on it – most YouTube videos are fine but a few do have copyright or viewing conditions. Acknowledge the source, this may be as simple as making sure the original source can be tracked back. Look at the embedded videos later in this post you will see you can track them all back to YouTube where they were originally uploaded.

Below are a couple of examples of my latest secondhand content finds. For each of these videos I designed an activity around it that directly related to the learning objectives of the course. Imagine the time it would have taken to create each of these from scratch.

This video supported a learning objective about information overload:

This video supported a learning objective around advantages and disadvantages for ICT information sharing:

Do you partake in secondhand content shopping? What strategies do you use for re-purposing other people’s content?

You may also find these blog posts of interest or click follow to see more of my posts:

Writing learning objectives how to use them

No-one likes a cheat!

Writing learning objectives: how to use them


Writing good measureable learning objectives takes skill but once you’ve written your learning objectives, what do you then do with them? Here are some ideas to make the most out of them:

Share them with your Subject Matter Experts (SMEs)

By sharing your learning objectives with your SMEs you can check they are correct and precise. Invite your SMEs to review them to make sure the right behaviours are being learnt. Do this upfront and you will prevent rework later.

Use them for course flow

Use the learning objectives to plan the flow of course. What learning objectives are pre-requisites and therefore require to be learnt before the other learning objectives? Or do the learning objectives happen in a natural sequence and you can plan the course mirroring what would happen in the real life?

Use them to plan interactions and learning activities

The verb used in a learning objective will give clues as to what type of interaction and practice task would be most relevant and suitable for the that learning objective. For example, verbs such as match, categorise, and order, may suit a drag and drop activity. Whereas verbs such as explain, and discuss, may suit an online forum type of activity.

What type of verbs do you think would lend themselves to branching scenario interactions?

Use them to build assessment

It’s logical to use learning objectives to build the assessments. Afterall the learning objectives are the precise goals for what learning should be taking place! Use them to measure if the intended learning has actually occurred.

Use them to check the structure of the course is complete

Do you have content and practice activities covering each learning objective? Have you assessed the learning for each learning objective? Does any of the content or assessment need to be removed as it’s outside the learning objectives for the course?

What are your thoughts on using learning objectives?

If you liked this post you might also like these posts:

Writing learning objectives: knowing what to aim for

Why use branching scenarios?

Writing learning objectives: knowing what to aim for


I’ve found that writing measurable learning objectives speeds up my instructional design process and makes elearning quicker to design and develop. I use measurable learning objectives to get agreement from the Subject Matter Expert on what successful behaviour change (learning) looks like and then use them to inform what content, practice activities, and assessment are included in the learning solution.

How do you write a measureable learning objective?

A clear measureable learning objective starts with an active verb (doing word) and is worded so that others can clearly detect if the objective has been achieved or not by the end of the training session. Examples of active verbs are: list, demonstrate, match, identify, record, describe, state, compare, and contrast. Blooms Taxonomy gives a list or verbs and different cognitive levels that are useful for writing learning objectives, here is a printable list you can use to help you.

Vague verbs such as “understand”, “know” or “learn about” should be avoided and replaced with the more specific verbs. For example, it is impossible to observe if a person has achieved “understanding”.

Measurable learning objectives include three components:
*  the behaviour that will be observed (verb),
*  the conditions in which this behaviour will occur and
*  the criteria or how well a learner must perform that behaviour to be judged competent.

For example, suppose a learning objective for this blog post is that you will be able to: write a learning objective on how to blow a bubble from gum which includes the three components of a measurable learning objective (the behaviour, conditions and criteria).

Can you recognise the three measurable components in the bubble blowing objective above?

So what could a measurable learning objective for blowing a bubble look like? How about this: blow a bubble with hubba bubba gum that is larger than a 50 cent coin in diameter and stays inflated for more than three seconds. Could you clearly observe success for this bubble blowing learning objective? What other measurable learning objectives could be written for how to blow a bubble?

I’ve only scratched the surface of learning objectives here and would love to hear what your thoughts are on writing measurable learning objectives?