More Than Blended Learning

‘Blended learning’ like ‘e-learning’ has a bit of a reputation to live down. Take this exchange reported by Jo Cook:

Bank worker: We’ve got that sh!t at work.
Me: Blended learning? Do you mean click next, self paced e-learning modules that are boring, locked in some kind of passworded system that you have trouble getting into, which you have to complete for compliance but don’t actually tell you anything useful for the job you can already do?
Bank worker: Yes, that’s it, blended learning!

That’s from the user viewpoint. Trainers have often embraced it for the wrong reasons – taking the boring bits out of the course into pre-course work shortens the course (saving money) and putting them online instead of in a workbook reduces print costs. And we say then we’re ‘blending learning methods’

Clive Shepherd’s mission in his new book More Than Blended Learning is to show that there are many, many more options than we typically consider, and that you can be intelligent and systematic in choosing the ones that best match the situation you’re in.

Vintage photo of woman in kitchen.If you work in L&D, you get bombarded with advice on what you should be using – scenarios, social media, mobile, bite-size chunks, mobile bite-size chunks, spaced practice, spaced mobile bite-size chunks. If you’re in a project as a learning designer, you may be dealing with sponsors or subject experts who have also been on the receiving end of this advice and be determined to use whatever medium they saw at yesterday’s presentation. In my own experience, the flipbooks (‘we like the page-turning sound’) and the 40-minute ‘drawing hand’ animation requests come to mind. The mistake they’re making is thinking of a blend of media instead of a blend of methods.

Shepherd’s book draws on strands of his previous writing to give each of these its rightful place in an overall framework of the learning need, the audience, and the learning methods. The choice of media then goes from being the first decision to being the final one.

Clive Shepherd More Than Blended Learning framework
Clive Shepherd More Than Blended Learning framework

His model pulls together in a graphic rather like a jukebox

  • the need (learners, learning, logistics)
  • the social context (individual, 1:1, group, community)
  •  the strategy (exposition, instruction, guided discovery, exploration)
[clear] and a design strategy of four phases – Preparation, Input, Application and Followup (yes, PIAF!). There are checklists of questions and thought-provokers for each of these,  bringing you to the most effective set of learning methods for this particular need.  Then you can pick the media (face to face, offline, online, same-time, own-time) that deliver your most effective methods in the most efficient way. So the methods give you effectiveness, the media give you efficiency.

What it offers you in your design process is a ‘home’ for all the ideas and suggestions and buzzwords  that are usually brought to the table – plus a few you hadn’t thought of. It allows you to evaluate all the options in wholistic but critical way.

It’s not a glib formula which you can throw up on a flipchart, nor is it just a look-up table. For all its use of mnemonics it’s not a light load on the memory –  you’d probably want the graphic at hand in any discussions. What it will give you is a structure for an intelligent decision-making conversation, which will take you some practice to get the most benefit.

You could take issue with some of the definitions – for example if social media enable you to discuss your topic with experts across the world, then they’re as much about effectiveness as efficiency. But the value of the whole jukebox is greater than the genre classification of the songs!

Clive Shepherd
Tonight, Matthew, I’m going to be Michael Stipe!

As well as Shepherd’s characteristic blend of rigour and humour, the chapters of the book are punctuated with case studies analysing successful training programmes in Waterstones, PWC and others in terms of the More Than model. Like all successful creative ideas, they look inevitable with hindsight, but at one stage each of these design teams faced the same blank page we’re all used to. This book and the model it describes will give you a first step to get started, and a reliable guide through the rest of the process.

It’s not just a book – there’s a whole, er, blend of activities launching in January from, where you can register for goodies.


If you’re going for a mobile version of the book I’d recommend the PDF over the Kindle and ePub, at least going by my venerable Kindle which lost the pleasing visual design and the table of contents.

Declaring an interest, I received a pre-publication version of the book.

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