Clive is a consultant learning technologist. He works with a broad range

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ABOUT CLIVE SHEPHERD (Learning Technologist, Director – Onlignment Ltd. & Fastrak Consulting Ltd.):

Clive is a consultant learning technologist. He works with a broad range of public and private sector organisations internationally, helping them to build capability in the application of new media to learning, and to transform workplace learning through the effective integration of formal, informal, on-demand and experiential learning.

He established his interest in interactive media as Director, Training and Creative Services for American Express in EMEA. He went on to co-found Epic, one of the UK’s major producers of custom e-learning.

He is widely acknowledged as one of the UK’s foremost experts in workplace learning and development, with hundreds of published articles to his name. He is the author of a number of books, including The Blended Learning Cookbook, The New Learning Architect and Digital Learning Content: A Designer’s Guide. He speaks regularly at major international conferences and contributes regularly to his blog, Clive on Learning. He designed and co-delivers the Certificate in Blended Learning for the Chartered Institute in Personnel and Development.

He was recognised for his Outstanding Contribution to the Training Industry at the World of Learning Conference in 2004 and for four years was Chairman of the eLearning Network. Clive is a Director of Onlignment Ltd, which provides expertise in all aspects of online communication.

This year Clive is releasing his new book, More Than Blended Learning, the culmination of ten years of enquiry and practical application.


Crystal Balling with Learnnovators’ is a thought-provoking interview series that attempts to gaze into the future of e-learning. It comprises stimulating discussions with industry experts and product evangelists on emerging trends in the learning landscape.

Join us on this exciting journey as we engage with thought leaders and learning innovators to see what the future of our industry looks like.


1. Learnnovators: What are the latest trends in organizational learning & development, and performance support? What do some of the interesting research findings and survey results point to? How exciting is the scenario?

Clive: It is easy to get confused between trends in thinking, as evidenced by the latest books and keynote presentations, and trends in actual behavior. There is quite a difference. I’d like to suggest some trends in what I see happening on the ground:

  • Less emphasis on courses and more on resources (we’ve probably moved from 95:5 to 90:10 – still a long way to go). These resources are often videos. I think that online video is a bigger phenomenon than self-study e-learning and has much more potential. However, most learning professionals do not understand how you get videos made.
  • A move from solutions consisting of a single component to blends. Nearly every organisation agrees with the concept of blended learning but very few know how to design anything other than the most obvious blends. We are perhaps 25% of the way along this particular journey.
  • Learning resources and activities are getting shorter all the time, or at least more modular. People want to learn in small chunks as and when they want. Organisations are less inclined to release people for long periods of learning.
  • An acknowledgement of the potential of social learning alongside total bewilderment at how to make it happen. There are very few successful case studies of social learning in a corporate setting, mainly because the culture is not right, but we know there is potential there.
  • Mobile is a given. Technically it is no big deal – just another computer – but for some organisations, it is a game changer.
  • MOOCs are relevant because of their fabulous scalability. At the moment many MOOCs are poorly designed (academics have no idea how to do this stuff) but they will soon get much better.
  • Artificial intelligence is making a comeback – we will see much more sophisticated and adaptive learning resources.

2. Learnnovators: You are enthusiastic about the blended learning approach (as a delivery model). Unlike many others, you also carry clear thoughts on blending learning styles (formal with informal and social) and possibilities (such as spaced learning and gamification). You have been an ardent proponent of this approach, sharing your views along with wonderful examples and statistics all along. What is your definition of blended learning? Do you agree that we learning designers are being pushed to design e-learning courses where blended learning may make more sense? How do we change this?

Clive: Learning professionals are still primarily responsible for designing and implementing formal interventions and will be for a long time to come. Blending is the way to make those interventions really work. Interventions with a single element are OK for achieving very simple goals but completely inadequate to effect major change. ‘All classroom’ is not enough. ‘All on-job learning’ is not enough. ‘All e-learning’ is also not enough. A well-designed blended solution takes the learner much further along their learning journey and crosses boundaries from formal to informal.

My definition: A blended learning solution is one that includes a number of contrasting methods and/or media.

Yes, we are pushed into non-blended solutions but hey, we’re supposed to be the experts. We should expect our clients to offer us problems to solve, not the solutions themselves.

3. Learnnovators: You were one of the early proponents of ‘blended learning’, and advocate and help organizations introduce the blended approach into learning and performance support initiatives. You have been saying for years that ‘The future of organisational learning is blended learning’. Could you please share your blended journey for our readers? How has blended learning started transforming workplaces around the world today? How are organizations seeing this approach? What are the trends? What are some of the successful examples? What will future workplace learning look like?

Clive: Big question. I have been designing and delivering blended solutions for at least ten years. They work. I’m utterly convinced. All the research data is positive – they are effective and learners like them. I don’t know why we are so sceptical. Where there is resistance, it comes mainly from learning professionals who are convinced that what they do – run courses, offer coaching, build resources – is the answer to everything. They try to make their classroom courses or their e-learning programmes completely self-sufficient but they never will be. There is no such thing as a single approach that will work for the whole learning journey. The problem is that we have too few blended learning designers who understand all the possible ingredients and who can think beyond formal courses.

4. Learnnovators: How do you think today’s emerging learning technologies and strategies (such as micro learning, spaced learning, gamification, mobile learning, corporate MOOCs, and flipped classrooms) are helping position blended learning as the right solution to handle workplace challenges? Are these also helping add new dimensions to blended learning?

Clive: MOOCs add a new dimension of scalability, although usually this comes at the expense of a really rich blend, which requires some degree of interaction between learners and ‘teachers’.

Mobile learning makes it possible for those who are not sitting behind a desk to take advantage of online resources and dialogues – so much potential here.

The flipped classroom is really nothing new, but at least it represents an example of a simple blend – learn the theory on your own; practice, explore, discuss with others.

Gamification is a nice tactical enhancement because it increases motivation.

5. Learnnovators: What according to you is the ‘right’ blended learning solution? What are some of the techniques and best practices that you would like to share with our readers on this topic?

Clive: There is absolutely no such thing as a right blend that will work in every situation, but there is a right way to design a blend, taking account of the learning requirement, the learning characteristics and the logistical constraints. Great blends are ‘end to end’ – they prepare the learner, they provide opportunities for application, and they follow-up with resources. I will be explaining this method fully in my book ‘More than blended learning’ which will be released later this year.

6. Learnnovators: You have been conducting interviews with leading e-learning designers in the UK in conjunction with e.learning age magazine. You have deliberately chosen to interview the new breed of young designers rather than the old hands. How did they fare in fascinating you? What are some of the fresh perspectives they have on learning design? What are the major challenges that they are facing while designing learning experiences for today’s workplaces? Could you share your observations with our readers please?

Clive: I was very encouraged to see what great work the new designers were doing and how they were adapting to new challenges and opportunities. The ‘old guard’ in e-learning finds it difficult to believe that what worked in 1980 does not work in 2014. E-learning still has enormous potential to engage and excite us, yet we still see too much rubbish. The new designers are winning friends for e-learning. If they do not succeed, e-learning in its traditional form could disappear.

7. Learnnovators: You say it is important to ‘keep a balance between the synchronous and the asynchronous’. Where do you think today’s learning designers stand with respect to their skills in designing blended learning experiences? What would be your advice for them to re-learn the strategies required for designing effective blended learning solutions? What are some of the useful resources that you recommend for re-learning/re-skilling?

Clive: At the moment, few designers know how to blend. I spend a lot of my time trying to change this situation and I am encouraged by how quickly they get the idea. Balancing synchronous and asynchronous elements is just one of the considerations in blending.

8. Learnnovators: You are of the opinion that L&D is one of the most conservative professions. Could you please elaborate? What is your vision about how corporate L&D needs to change in order to align with the dynamically changing demands of this knowledge age?

Clive: L&D has been trusted to do its own thing for as long as I can remember. Senior management rarely takes an interest as long as there are no complaints. As a result, little has changed and the same old practices continue – very few other professions have been so static. On the other hand, our distance from business realities means that senior management is only too happy to cut our budgets when times are tough. We are often peripheral but we do not have to stay this way.

9. Learnnovators: How do you differentiate your learning model (which defines four contexts: formal, non-formal, on-demand, and experiential) from the other existing ones (such as the 70:20:10)? What, according to you, are the advantages of your model over others?

Clive: I sympathise with the sentiments behind 70:20:10 but get infuriated about the naïve way in which it is adopted as some sort of strategy. The numbers are ‘a nonsense’ because every situation is different. It also completely fails to recognize on-demand learning / performance support or the myriad of non-formal possibilities which are not simply ‘social’. It also does not adequately differentiate between initiatives which are top-down and bottom-up.

10. Learnnovators: Your book ‘The Blended Learning Cookbook’ has been a great help for people who create blended learning solutions for workplaces, and has gained immense popularity with its creative recipes (ideas and solutions) for a broad range of typical problems. How has blended learning evolved further (from the time you published the second edition of your book in 2008 till date)? In case you are planning for a third edition, what would be the most significant addition?

Clive: My model has evolved considerably and the new book this year will explain that. I decided against revising the Cookbook, preferring instead to examine a number of real-life case studies and to go into more detail about how blends are designed and implemented. I’m very excited about the project.

11. Learnnovators: You say that the ‘(e-learning) format has hardly advanced since the 1980s, except perhaps in superficial graphical terms, and there appears to be little interest among producers for fully exploiting the potential for intelligent, adaptive tutorials’. Could you please elaborate? What are your recommendations and suggestions to change this state?

Clive: There was far more innovation in self-study e-learning in the 1970s than now. There used to be much more emphasis on establishing a tutorial dialogue with the learner. Now there is so much tell-and-test. The exception is the rise of the interactive scenario, which we are beginning to get right. There are signs of a lot more work being done on adaptive e-learning but not from the corporate world – this is primarily in education.

12. Learnnovators: One of the most significant challenges that learning professionals face today is the absence of a connected framework that unifies the numerous new learning models (areas or aspects) such as informal and social learning, mobile learning, micro learning, and gamified learning in a cohesive manner. In this context, the new book ‘The Really Useful eLearning Instruction Manual’ (that includes a chapter you’ve written on ‘e-learning’) is an exciting development since it includes some wonderful insights from experts on all these different aspects of learning. What are some of the other similar resources that could be of help for the community in this context?

Clive: I’m not sure you would ever get agreement on a connected framework but I have my own ways of creating order from chaos, primarily through my model for learning architecture and my model for blended design.

13. Learnnovators: As we know, content curation is one of the most important skills of L&D professionals, and in the near future, the role of an L&D person will look more like that of a content curator. However, you have already been handling this role for quite some time now as part of your work. How do you manage this? What tools do you use? What are the rules and best practices for curating content effectively?

Clive: I’m not sure this will be the main role of the L&D person, but it will certainly be one. The curator has to know the needs of the people for whom they are curating and be thoroughly familiar and up-to-date with the resources currently available. I use RSS readers and I subscribe to things like YouTube channels. I follow people on Twitter who can unearth resources. The content curator has to immerse themselves in content so that their learners do not.

14. Learnnovators: You were one of the co-founders of Epic Group Plc, the UK’s major producer of bespoke e-Learning, where you won many industry awards for design. Could you share your experiences with our readers please?

Clive: These were exciting times with a lot of innovation and a succession of technologies from videodisc to CD-ROM to the Internet. However, the whole process has got a lot more refined since then and projects these days tend to come in on time and budget. I don’t remember many projects like that!

15. Learnnovators: You are widely acknowledged as one of the UK’s foremost experts in e-Learning, with more than one hundred published articles and four books and e-books to your name. How significant is knowledge sharing in today’s world? What would be your advice to learning designers who would like to get started in building a brand for themselves and for their organisation?

Clive: Sharing knowledge is important, because you tend to get back what you put out, but not everyone is suited to blogging. I’ve always enjoyed writing and I approach blogging as a form of journalism. If you are confident about your ideas, get out there and communicate them, because then people can easily make up their mind whether you are someone they would want to work with.

16. Learnnovators: You have been a consultant specializing in e-Learning, blended learning, and business communications. As part of your career spanning 30 years, you have been helping organisations capitalise on the potential of online learning technologies in the workplace. How do you help organizations perform better? How do you educate your clients about the most effective approaches to learning? What are some of the challenges you face in convincing them with respect to the shifts happening in today’s learning space? What would be your advice to budding learning professionals who aspire to consider consulting as a career option?

Clive: I do not do anything that is mysterious or magical. I share my written work and videos, I make presentations and run webinars, I do research, I write reports, I run online courses, I have meetings and I run workshops. The tools are familiar for a consultant.

I do not get disheartened by skeptical clients because, if I was them, I would be skeptical too. I tend to have a lot of success in shifting opinion so I am always optimistic.

In terms of consulting as a career option, I would recommend that you do not do this until you feel really confident in your analysis of your particular domain. You will not gain this confidence in a couple of years, so consulting is probably a role for later in your career.

17. Learnnovators: You are part of the Serious eLearning Manifesto (launched recently by Michael Allen, Clark Quinn, Julie Dirksen, and Will Thalheimer) in the role of a trustee. As we know, it is an attempt to raise the quality of e-Learning and we do support this wonderful initiative and all the 22 principles that the manifesto contains. However, like many out there, we too are of the opinion that this initiative shouldn’t be limited to only e-learning and should encompass all forms and types of learning (including blended learning). What are your thoughts? Why should it be called ‘eLearning Manifesto’?

Clive: Yes, the principles could apply to all learning, but that is not the theme that brought these people together. There is a degree of despair about the quality of much e-learning and an impulse to do something about it. I was happy to endorse the initiative.

18. Learnnovators: It looks like you are very much fascinated about your ‘More Than Blended Learning’ project that you are presently working on. Could you please share some quick thoughts on this project that the community is eagerly waiting for?

Clive: As I have said already, this is a major extension to my thinking on blended learning and it will be much more clearly articulated. The ‘package’ will consist of a book, videos, templates and materials to help people learn about blending. I am very, very keen to get this project out this year and see how it resonates with learning designers.

19. Learnnovators: You have proclaimed 2014 as the year of the blend. We are always inspired (along with the community) to have you as the evangelist for ‘blended learning’. What is your vision for the learning community?

Clive: I would like us to become professionals not order takers, architects not just builders. We are not taken seriously as professionals and we should be. But we have to earn that respect, we cannot just expect it.

Learnnovators: Thank you so much for sharing your valuable insights and experiences, Clive. It was wonderful interacting with you. We wish you the very best!

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