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‘A massive skills gap is holding us back’


Learning expert, Clive Shepherd shares his views on the skills gap in L&D, blended learning and creating compelling content.

Clive has pretty much done it all in the world of elearning. He started as a Learning and Development (L&D) manager at a big corporate before co-founding the elearning company, Epic.

Now a freelance consultant, he’s one of the industry’s most influential writers. His latest book, More Than Blended Learning is the culmination of a decade of work and sets out his vision for strategic learning design in the workplace. In this exclusive interview, he shares his thinking on a range of topics from the L&D skills gap to compelling content.

What are the barriers that stop organisations creating successful blended learning?

Some people are doing quite well so it’s not that there are dramatic problems. I think that people have a very narrow view of what blended learning is which doesn’t help. At a very simplistic level, a lot of people see it as a way of just reducing the cost of your classroom training by offsetting some of it into some other medium, typically online. That’s okay as a start but it misses the point that blended learning is not just a cheaper version of what you had before, it’s a much more effective version. So I think the barriers are both awareness and the capability of learning professionals. An awful lot of them are either in denial or don’t understand the opportunities that they have and there is a massive skills gap which is really holding us back.

How serious is the skills gap and what needs to be done to address it?

It’s a big issue. I think what’s holding back a complete change in the way that corporate learning is designed and delivered is not the readiness of organisations (although some are obviously more ready than others), but the willingness and capability of learning professionals to make it happen. Many of them just haven’t been orientated properly into what is possible with learning media and what the new thinking is in terms of learning design. I suppose it’s because a lot of learning professionals are afraid of the whole process, they think it’s technical and beyond them, they hide away from it. But when you can actually break through, and I do a lot of capability building work with them, they are absolutely fine though you do realise what a barrier there has been.

Video: Clive on the L&D skills gap

You recently wrote about the art of media chemistry in learning design – can you explain what you mean?

It’s a very simple idea and not a huge concept. I did write a ‘mini book’ about it about four years ago. It’s about getting content designers much more aware of why they are using each of the basic elements of all digital media, which you could regard as being text, still images - whether that’s photographs, illustrations or diagrams, speech, music, animation, video and possibly 3D. They must be very savvy about why they are using them and how they are using them rather than indiscriminately plastering them all over a programme with the idea that more is better. There are all sorts of ridiculous ideas people have about stimulating all the senses and all that sort of stuff which is largely nonsense. Yes, we want to be able to make use of the eyes and the ears on certain occasions but it’s not really about senses it’s about what’s the best way of conveying a particular message.

Video: Clive expands on his theory of media chemistry

What is the most important thing to remember when trying to create compelling learning content?

I think there are actually six characteristics. I’ve just finished a blog series on this and I’m about to start doing some presentations on the subject, so it’s very much on my mind at the moment.

Here are the six characteristics as I see them:

  • A compelling concept – An idea where there is a real demand, an idea for content that will motivate people to use it in the first place, something relevant, practical and not too long.
  • A compelling structure – So much digital content is really slow to get going so it’s got to start by really engaging people in terms of lifting the emotional level of interest and end with a call to action.
  • Compelling use of media – Certain media combinations are compelling and certain ones put you off, so that comes back to the media chemistry issue I talked about earlier.
  • Compelling copy or writing – You have to write in a way that is compelling not in corporate drone as if the content is written by the legal department - it’s about personality in the writing.
  • Compelling stories – Your content needs to be liberally spread with stories whether they are scenarios, examples or demonstrations.
  • Compelling challenges – These need to be stretching but reachable tasks or interactions within the content.     

Clive Shepherd has written several books about workplace learning design and strategy. For more details visit or his blog