Methodist Lay Ministry

Bob Bartindale (Ministry Development Officer for Local Preachers & Worship Leaders)

  • TEL Consultancy. 
  • Learning Design incl. moodle customisation
  • Site support incl. staff training

Redesigning theological training from the ground up

The Setting 

The Methodist Church trains large numbers of lay preachers and worship leaders every year. As far as training goes, these volunteers need accessible, innovative solutions which fit around the pressures of everyday life. Previously, the Church had used face to face, small-group training in hubs, with largely paper-based materials. They recognised the need to update. 

In 2012 the church decided to move training online as part of a comprehensive update. The result was a blended, self-paced learning programme. Existing course content was good, but the Church felt that the structure and overall coherence of the programme needed further development, along with the improvements to the delivery platform (Moodle) so that it could serve a wide user-base. 

The Challenge

The 2012 decision triggered an ambitious project: to get the material online as soon as possible. The result, some thought, was an overly complicated website. This presented a dilemma. Should the church start again from scratch or continue to develop the existing course? If they developed the existing course, how would this be done?

Bob Bartindale’s job is to coordinate and develop ministry training for around 8000 local Methodist preachers, plus several thousand worship leaders. Bob’s task was to find a way through the impasse with the resources and budget available. 

There were two problems: first, the church needed to understand what the aims and benefits of the blended learning programme were and be equipped to deliver it; second, the course needed to be simplified and made more accessible. Bob needed support from a Moodle expert with in-depth knowledge of learning theory and educational technology  – a learning designer who understood how to organise a curriculum into carefully sequenced, manageable chunks. He needed a learning technologist, a learning designer, an educational theorist, and a project manager with an understanding of theological education. How many people would Bob need to recruit?

Bob approached Simon for an initial discussion.     


After taking soundings from Simon, Bob realised that an overhaul of the course was needed. They didn’t need to start all over again after all. But they did need to make some big changes. 

Working with Simon was ‘a revelation’ from the get-go, Bob explains. ‘What he managed to do was to suggest ways to take a very complicated course, rationalise it, and make it coherent’. 

Simon came up with a range of solutions, from simple things like layout, to the nitty-gritty of course organisation and delivery. He gave Bob the insight and confidence to develop the course. The programme took a huge leap forward. Simon affected even the fine details of the course; for example, he persuaded Bob to take another look at assignments. Students had been required to produce large portfolios at two points during the course. Many of them put off their portfolio work until the last minute and then failed to complete it in time. Simon suggested a formative, staged process for assessment which would enhance learning rather than simply test understanding at the end. Until Simon intervened in this area ‘we weren’t seeing evidence of the dialogue between student and tutor and the developmental process.  After Simon’s input we had a complete rethink’.

‘In terms of learning design, educational technology, and user experience, there isn’t much Simon can’t do’. 

Bob explains: ‘The thing I’ve always appreciated about Simon is that you can talk to him at different levels. If you want to talk education theory with him, he can do that. If you want to talk user-experience with him, he can talk about that and come up with great ideas. If you want to talk about the nitty-gritty of how the site is administered, he can do that as well. What you get from Simon is the whole package’.

Simon is a tech-savvy educationalist – not only did he develop the educational content and shape of the course, but he also engineered its migration to the Church of England’s platform and then into a cloud hosting environment. ‘It’s been a seamless process’, Bob says. 

The impact of working with Simon 

Simon’s impact has been immeasurable, not only on large-scale development, but also in subtle ways. ‘What Simon is able to do is feed in a particular idea at the right time, to seed it so that it takes root’. 

Bob gives an example. 

During the rethink about assessment, Simon fed an idea into a conversation at a regular team meeting: “people are motivated to study by evidence of progress”. 

Bob said that ‘it was this simple insight which led us to see that students were unable to see the connection between the steps of their learning journey and their achievements’. This led directly to an overhaul of our assessment strategy so that students could see their progress. ‘This has been, I would say, astoundingly successful’, Bob adds.  

What it’s like to work with Simon?

Simon has always been responsive and adaptable. He’s always there and if you’ve got a problem, he’ll fix it. I’d highly recommend Simon, and I’d say the value of working with Simon is in the ‘comprehensive nature of the advice that he can provide’. The other area is ‘trust and integrity. Here’s a guy who does what he says he’ll do and for a fair price’.

In a sector where resources are scarce, Bob explains that being able to call on one expert rather than several of them is both efficient and economically beneficial. Simon offers the whole package.