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6 ways to make your blended learning PD more successful

By Peter West
April 12th, 2016

pd-blended-learning

“Just do it” may be an effective slogan for a sporting shoe company, but it is not an effective change management technique to move to blended learning.

The move to blended learning has been labelled as “disruptive” by many, such as Clayton Christensen in his book “Disrupting Class.” It is a significant shift in the teaching and learning paradigm. Thus, it would seem obvious that substantial professional development should be available to staff involved in this change.

Some of the aspects of professional development that need consideration are covered in this article. A radar graph is provided to allow an organization to determine its understanding of and commitment to the changes that are needed. (Other aspects of an organization wide move to blended learning, namely infrastructure, leadership, mindset, organizational staffing structure, and flexible learning spaces, are outlined in previous articles in this series.)

While reading these components of a professional development program, rate your organization’s current or planned program on a scale of 1 (Poor) to 5 (Excellent) on each of these points. Plot these points on the radar graph provided (below).

radar-graph-blank

Leadership involvement – The leadership of the organization must be actively involved. They should attend and be active participants in every training session as a minimum. This demonstrates to staff that the professional development is important. If the leadership regularly misses training sessions, staff may also believe that they have other things that are more urgent and important than the professional development program, and thus commitment and attendance may decline.

Ideally, the leadership of the organization should develop and present some of the professional development sessions. This is real “leading from the front” and it shows commitment to the changes. (The principal at my school led professional development sessions on blended learning during two days at the start of this academic year. It was extremely valuable and left no doubt of the commitment of the leadership to change.)

Technology/pedagogy blend – A major focus of the professional development program should be the pedagogy. Being able to use the hardware and software effectively is absolutely vital, and this will probably be a major component of the professional development program during the early phase of the change. However, it is easy to continue to focus on this to the exclusion of other things.

A significant portion of the training should focus on how to change the teaching and learning paradigm. This may require a shift to small group or individual training sessions as faculties and individual teachers come to grips with the specifics of how to change what happens in their classroom.

Models of success – Teachers need to know that they changes they are implementing are worthwhile. Thus, successful models need to be explained and demonstrated. The success may come from articles and case studies, or they may involve conversations with experts in the field. These may be successful educators from within the organization (“show and tell” can be powerful) or from outside the organization.

For example, my organization in Australia recently completed a two day professional development program on blended learning by having Skype video conferences with two flipped learning expert teachers in the U.S. These teachers had proven success, and covered practical and academic subjects. The positive effects were significant; sometimes people from outside the organization are needed to widen the perspective of the teachers involved in the change.

Model the model – Blended learning professional development should have a large number of the training sessions delivered in a blended learning format. Ideally a variety of the blended learning models, from full online courses to flipped learning to station rotation (or whatever models are being used) should be involved. These should not just be demonstrations; they should be the method of delivery of the learning. This has a number of benefits, including:

  • Modelling the type of learning environment that teachers are moving to.
  • Showing that the trainers can “walk the walk” rather than just “talk the talk”.
  • Demonstrating belief in the models for all, rather than just being for school students.

General and faculty specific – Quite a few aspects of blended learning are “generic”; the same principles apply across all faculties. Examples include:

  • The SAMR Model (Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, Redefinition)
  • Blended learning models and how to implement them
  • Design principles for the online component of courses
  • Effective use and integration of online quizzes, chat/discussions, collaboration tools, etc.

Some other aspects of blended learning are specific to a faculty. For example Art may have a different method of implementing blended learning to Physical Education or Chemistry. Each faculty would also use different online learning resources and may have different expectations of students, depending on the blended learning model that is being used. Blended learning professional development should provide the broad principles of blended learning, as well as allow faculties to fine tune their approach.

Timing and structure – The professional development must be well planned and organized. It must demonstrate commitment to the change by the organization. It must not be ad hoc. This should hardly need to be stated, as it is fundamental to any professional development program. However, experience indicates that it is something that needs to be reinforced.

Thus, it should

  • Have a clearly defined path and clearly defined goals.
  • Occur regularly – blended learning is a major change to the teaching/learning paradigm. Change will not happen quickly and easily across the organization. Thus, one professional development session per year would produce almost no change. It is up to the organization whether this PD is once per month, fortnight or week, but it must be regular and scheduled.
  • Be long term – the change to blended learning across an organization takes years, not weeks or months. The professional development program should reflect this. Of course, the style and format of professional development will change over time, but the commitment must be maintained.
  • Include group training and in-class, practical training. Support for implementation within the classroom is vital. This will require expert trainers/teachers who can assist teachers in a live environment.

An analysis of a hypothetical organization is shown on the following graph. This organization has some areas that need to be improved. The optimal result would be a graph with all aspects rated a 5; the “larger” and “smoother” the graph, the greater the probability of success.

Graph 2 Peter West

The move to organization wide blended learning is a disruption for many as it changes the comfortable and familiar teaching paradigm that has been at the core of the “classroom” for many decades. It is essential that schools have a well thought through and systematic approach to professional development to assist teachers with the change.

About the Author:

Peter West is Director of eLearning at Saint Stephen’s College in Australia. He has over 15 years’ experience leading K12 schools in technology enhanced education, particularly blended learning using online learning environments. He can be reached at pwest@ssc.qld.edu.au or at www.blended-thinking.com.