Blended learning with no regrets

After 10 years refining blended learning, Clive Shepherd has come up with the perfect four steps to success, beautifully abbreviated as P.I.A.F. Follow these and you’ll have brilliant blended learning, and no regrets…

Edith Piaf (1915-1963) was a singer of chanson and ballads, and one of France’s greatest international stars. Her music was often autobiographical, telling of love, loss and sorrow. Perhaps Piaf’s most famous song was Non, je ne regrette rien – no, I have no regrets.

So what does Edith Piaf have to do with blended learning? Well, to be honest very little. It is just that her name is the perfect way to remember the four phases in an effective blended solution!

I have been refining my method for the design of blended solutions for close to 10 years now, testing it against hundreds of different real-world problems. I feel comfortable with the processes I have settled on for gathering data about the requirements of a particular situation, and for the way in which decisions are made about methods and media.

But until recently I did not believe it was possible to follow a standard sequence within blended solutions, a series of phases that could be applied effectively in a wide variety of situations. However, what I found when I looked back over many different designs was that successful solutions seemed to follow a certain pattern of four phases. I struggled to find names for these phases that would apply to both formal and non-formal interventions using a wide range of different strategies, but I’m happy with what I’ve settled on. You can imagine I was amused when it also spelled out a name, PIAF.

Preparation: In this phase your aim is to prepare the learner for a productive learning experience. You may include measures to pinpoint areas of need, establish goals, address any shortcomings in pre-requisite knowledge, introduce learners to each other and provide an overview of what is to follow.

Input: This phase represents the primary formal element of your programme. This is when you do things like run workshops, provide on-job instruction, make available core learning material, and so on.

Application: In this phase, learners put what they have learned into action, whether directly on the job or through individual and group assignments. With larger programmes, Input and Application are likely to cycle as the learner progresses through a number of modules.

Follow-up: It is very unlikely that you will have achieved your objectives fully at the end of the Application phase. The follow-up phase allows your solution to become an on-going process rather than a one-off event. You will look to provide facilities such as coaching and materials that the learner can access on demand. As the balance shifts from ‘courses’ to ‘resources’, the follow-up phase will become increasingly dominant.

PIAF is not rocket science – I’m sure that, given the chance, you’d have come up with something similar – but that does not mean it is common sense. Most workplace learning interventions have just one phase – Input – typically a classroom course or a piece of e-learning. They are disconnected from the real world in which the employee operates. They struggle to make an impact, even when – at the time – they are engaging and enjoyable. What PIAF does is to put formal Input in its place – just one step in an on-going learner journey that will most likely also include non-formal, on-demand and experiential elements.

I believe that if the four steps of PIAF are applied rigorously, you will have less regrets about interventions that start promisingly then fizzle out. Like Edith Piaf, you’ll be able to say ‘Non, je ne regret rien’.

About Clive Shepard

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 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 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 work.


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