Clive Shepherd

A consultant specializing in e-Learning, Blended learning, and business communications

Clive Shepherd is a consultant specializing in e-Learning, Blended learning, and business communications with a particular interest in the application of media and technology. He has been the Director, Training and Creative Services for American Express in EMEA (Europe — Middle East — Africa), the co-founder of Epic Group PLC and the UK’s major producer of bespoke eLearning, where he won many industry awards for design. He is widely acknowledged as one of the UK’s foremost experts in eLearning and is arguably today’s most respected voice on the topic of Blended Learning.

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Interview with Clive Shepherd

Only a few days ago, you launched the “More Than Blended Learning”, a whole new way of designing learning interventions. How would you describe this new invention of yours in a few words?

It is hard for me to think of More Than Blended Learning as a new invention, because I have been working on these ideas for ten years, since the publication of The Blended Learning Cookbook.

The new book describes an approach to the design of workplace learning interventions that draws on the experience of talking with hundreds of learning professionals over the past ten years.

What is the most revolutionary fact you introduce in your new book, “More Than Blended Learning”, a culmination of ten years of work?

The book broadens the way we look at blended learning, particularly when it comes to designing end-to-end solutions that deliver in terms of performance. It may not be a ‘fact’ but perhaps the most notable take-away from the book is PIAF, an acronym that stands for Preparation, Input, Application and Follow-up. PIAF provides a structure for blends that deliver end-to-end solutions.

What does “Blended Learning” really mean in 2015? What is it that is actually blended?

For most people, blending is probably just a mix of delivery channels, i.e. face-to-face and online. However, I never found this to be enough to describe what makes for great blends. In the book we talk about four ways to blend: (1) in terms of the social contexts in which people learn (on the own, on-to-one, in small groups and in wider communities); (2) in terms of the learning strategy (exposition, instruction, guided discovery, exploration); in terms of the communication mode (synchronous and asynchronous); as well as delivery channel (face-to-face, offline media, online media).

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Is Blended Learning a more effective solution of (just) eLearning and why?

Blended learning is a completely separate concept from e-learning. The word e-learning describes the use of a single delivery channel (computers and networks) to facilitate learning. A blended solution does not have to make any use of technology (although this is unlikely in 2015). It could use nothing but technology.

The key to a blend is that it incorporates highly contrasting methods and/or media.

What is the most “refreshing” fact about the “More Than Blended Learning” approach? What “more” does it bring to the up-to-date Blended Learning strategies?

The most important element in the approach is that methods are chosen before media. The choice of methods is what makes a solution effective or not, not the decision about media. All the research tells us that there is very little difference in effectiveness between learning media. What makes the difference is the choice of methods, in particular the social contexts and strategies that I talked about earlier. What technology does is introduce efficiencies (scalability, accessibility, time and cost), but never at the expense of quality.

The More Than Blended Learning structure is based on Preparation, Input, Application and Follow-up. To your experience, which is the most difficult part and why?

Difficult question. All are important yet Preparation, Application and Follow-up are often ignored. What is difficult is a shift of mind-set from believing that the task is accomplished when the Input has been provided, to believing that what really matters is what happens on the job.

What challenges do you anticipate in the implementation of your new approach? How would you address those?

There are many challenges. The first and most important of these is the up-skilling that is needed among learning professionals so that they stop being order takers and become trusted professionals who really know how to design. The next challenge is to engage with all the key stakeholders – managers, learners and others – so they understand what learning solutions are going to look like and why, and how this impacts upon them.

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Having worked with numerous organizations across the world, what are the most common weaknesses you have met in their offerings?

The first really common problem I have encountered is over-emphasis on providing knowledge. These days, people mainly need access to good quality information – they don’t need to know all this stuff. Another really common problem is providing nowhere near enough support to learners as they practise new skills. Often they get one practice and are then sent on their way.

What forms of evaluation do (or will) you use in order to determine the effectiveness of More than Blended Learning on a business model?

The only evaluation that really matters is whether a blended solution satisfies the underlying need. We hope the More Than approach will make that more likely. We’re not expecting organisations to follow the approach religiously but we hope it will influence key decisions.

How difficult is the integration of new learning technologies into the services of an organization? What determines the difficulties in the process?

It is proving to be a slow and difficult process to integrate learning technologies but much has been achieved by now (after all, we’ve been doing this for 35 years now).

The biggest hold-up is the lack of skill and confidence among learning professionals themselves – learners are not really an obstacle.

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What are the most common points in the use of new Learning technologies that might cause some resistance or push back while using them?

People will be frustrated if learning technology is applied where it is really not appropriate. There are situations in which face-to-face communication is still vital. Learners will justifiably also be annoyed of they are confronted with endless slides full of bullet pointed abstractions. People want stories, challenges, practical tips, not theory.

In your opinion, what are the biggest gaps between what people should be doing and what they are actually doing, in terms of learning strategies?

There are lots of gaps. We are over-emphasising courses and not putting enough effort into providing great resources. We also need to make sure that employees are properly supported by their managers, their peers and coaches when they are learning on the job.

You are widely acknowledged as one of the UK’s foremost experts in workplace learning and development, with hundreds of published articles to your name. What do you see on the frontier for learning and development? Is there a “trend” you recognise as the next big thing in the following years?

The technology is there with cheap, powerful mobile devices and adequate bandwidth to do whatever we want. What matters now is how we use these. The trend, I believe, is towards providing the same type of learning experience at work as people have in their personal lives. In terms of media, video will dominate.

How much do you believe Blended Learning will vary, given the rapidly growing social media environment?

It will vary to the extent that organisation’s feel ready to incorporate social learning into their blends. There’s nothing in the More Than approach that dictates what methods or media you use. Social learning will, and already is, undoubtedly enrich many blended solutions.

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In a future world, do you believe that traditional learning will be totally replaced by eLearning/Blended Learning? How do you see such a prospect?

I cannot answer that question because e-learning and blended learning are totally different things, but let me take them in turn. E-learning will never totally replace other options because there are many situations in which computers cannot deliver what is required. And not every solution will be blended either. Some are so small in scale that blending would be over the top. And much learning takes place outside the context of solutions that anyone sits down and designs.

How do you imagine yourself in 20 years from now?

Still very interested in refining and improving my ideas based on evolving technologies and social changes. However, my work-life balance will be very much focused on the latter.