Let’s face it, the concept of blended learning is hardly new. Here at Saba we have been supporting this idea for a decade or more. So why in 2015 has learning expert Clive Shepherd decided to publish a book on the subject? In his own words, it is the ‘end product of ten years of thinking about and experimenting with blended solutions for adult learning’.
The notion of blended learning has moved beyond a simple combination of face-to-face training with a bit of online learning wrapped around it. Today it can encompass video, webinars, virtual classrooms, social platforms, collaboration…the list is seemingly endless. But Shepherd believes that successfully designing blended learning solutions is about more than just what he terms ‘media selection’. The differences between the types of learning resources and the experiences they provide is much more subtle than that.
His approach focuses on supporting learners to meet a specific need or achieve a certain goal. The aim is to help ‘establish a top-level design for learning interventions in terms of their overall structure and strategy’. He also wants the learning to result in some practical application to real-world tasks and ensure that learners are supported along the whole length of their learning journey. But be warned, the book is not a guide to instructional design or content development. If that is what you need right now then this is not the book for you.
Walking the walk
One of the best elements of this book is that is ‘more than’ just a book. It is designed to be paired with video case studies, tools, templates and explainer videos that can be found at morethanblended.com. Even if you don’t read the book, you can still check out the resources online for free! It is great to see Shepherd walking the walk and applying his own principles to the reader’s learning in this way.
The book is broken into logical sections. Upon starting the introduction the reader is immediately pulled in with a story about Harry and his wife Rita. This is supported with a series of bright and engaging pictures – neither of which I was expecting from a work related book and they made a pleasant change. From there we are taken through the four phases of an effective blended solution: Preparation, Input, Application, Follow-up. The first section includes a case study from Vodafone at the end to show how this can work in a real organisation (there is also a video to support this case study on the website, a helpful theme which continues at the end of each section of the book).
Part two introduces the ‘jukebox’ - a useful graphic which summarises the main steps in the ‘more than’ approach.
This and the following few sections read more like a traditional text book, taking the reader through the ‘more than’ process from beginning to end with 10 different stages incorporating the initial learning need, strategy and communication modes right through to implementation and evaluation. The above graphic is useful in helping make sense of the different parts of the process and seeing it through to completion.
We are then taken through different ways of structuring your solution and the various learning methods available to us. Importantly, this section refers to methods for facilitating learning i.e. exploration, instruction, guided discovery, self-study – not a focus on tools and technologies. The compendium of teaching and learning methods is particularly useful, particularly if like me you are not by trade a learning designer!
But rest assured, the tools and technologies are covered in a section all on their own and Shepherd explores different ways of blending by delivery channel. We are then taken right the way through to ideas and inspiration for actually implementing our solutions and the book finishes with a neat ‘top ten tips for better blends’.
There are elements of the book that are theoretical but overall this book is very much grounded in reality. I would certainly recommend it for anyone new to corporate learning and development, but even those with experience will benefit from the practical insights and lessons learnt from the case studies too. The one caveat is that I read the Kindle version but there are so many different tables and useful references that a paperback version might be easier to navigate when skipping between sections. I really appreciated the way Shepherd has tried to innovate the learning experience with the website resources too. Give it a try and see if you can make your learning solutions ‘more than’ they are today!