The New Learning Architect – A review

On 7th January, Clive Shepherd announced the advent of his new book The New Learning Architect. I waited impatiently for it’s arrival later that month and promised a review. I wasn’t disappointed – not that I thought I would be – and dipped in and out of it when time allowed. This didn’t do it justice and before writing the review, needed to give myself dedicated time to read it all through in a shorter time. Even now, I know I’ll enjoy reading it all over again and still take more away.

Clive Shepherd, author of The Blended Learning Cookbook, is a consultant in learning technologies and their application in the workplace.

I reviewed his Blended Learning Cookbook 2nd edition where I predicted that his new work would likely take blended learning to a new dimension. Boy did it ever!

Clive starts explaining why a ‘learning architect’. “An architect is someone who creates the plans from which others build” and likens a learning architect to that of a building architect. Building Architects designs “environments for living” whereas the learning architect designs “environments for learning”. Although they wouldn’t necessarily become involved in building the environment they would have to have detailed knowledge of current research to design suitable and safe environments. Not only will they have to meet the brief but consider the needs of the inhabitants. Clive affirms what it really means to be a learning architect. We hear of the responsibility they have to advise and consult with the client on what would be most appropriate, drawing on their expertise in adult learning theories, brain science and learning technologies. Learning architects, he says, are not order takers – order takers are builders not architects.

The New Learning Architect reflects on how there has been a battle between delivery options in the past where you either had to choose between one or the other e.g. classroom v eLearning; formal v informal and people were firmly footed in one or other of those camps. What this book clarifies is that there is no need to choose sides. Each would work with not against the other where appropriate and towards one goal. It is the learning architect’s role to establish, based on the situation, how these options would work together.

Clive investigates when formal learning interventions are more or less appropriate and under what circumstances the learners can take more responsibility for their own continued professional development. We also see how we can provide opportunities for them to become more self-directed and independent. He goes on to explore the various contexts in which learning will occur:

experiential
on demand
non-formal
formal

The book also explores why it’s important to look at these contexts from two perspectives – top down (directed from the organisation) and bottom up (directed from the individuals) and why there is a place for both perspectives in learning at work. This book will guide you to establish what types of learning contexts will be suitable for your particular requirements, what types of top down or bottom up approaches to consider.

Whole chapters are dedicated to each of the four learning contexts in which Clive provides examples of various learning activities and media tools, when they are best used and when to avoid them. He also explores them from each perspective.

Clive discusses how important it is for people to be motivated to learn and that when breaking down the barriers to access resources, people will learn when the need arises. We also hear that it’s down to the good design of the instructional methods rather than the delivery medium that will ensure success.

In a recent article in the eLearning Age about the 70,20,10 rule, John Helmer calls for a template or a model to help L&D professional implement informal learning and until there is one, informal learning will be more style than substance. Well, The New Learning Architect does just that. Here L&D professionals can take Clive’s four contexts for learning together with his explanation of top down and bottom up approaches as that model.

So who is this book for? Well, I would recommend this book to anyone who is remotely interested in improving results and investing in the development of a workforce whether a large multi-national or small business.

I recommend this book to all those senior managers and CEOs who call for courses (eLearning or otherwise) as panaceas. This book will help you establish whether there really is a formal training need and help you seek advice from your learning and development professionals so that the most effective and efficient solution to a business need is put in place.

If you are a more experienced learning and development professional; if you have benefited from the Blended Learning Cookbook and already implemented some successful blended courses, this book will guide you beyond training and help you take learning into the workplace. It will help you explore and employ informal and social learning methods. It might also encourage you become more architect than builder by advising rather than taking orders from those who don’t know any better.

And if you are new to learning and development then this book will be a welcome guide taking you through the different learning contexts and providing your with lots of examples and case studies.

The New Learning Architect is available on Kindle and from Lulu. Oh and Onlignment will be reviewing individual chapters inviting open discussion too. It’s probably the cost of a couple of drinks or a cinema ticket but could be worth £1000s in improved results.

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