Online professional development is becoming, well, professionalized. In the past year, K-12 educators and administrators have come to accept the concept of online training, and several types of vendors are now moving in to expand upon the work of web-based discussion groups that have been around for several years.

Universities might be the leaders in this emerging field, although they have a tendency merely to put textbooks online and supplement that with eMail access to a professor overseeing the course. For-profit companies might do a better job today of creating online communities in which teachers from around the country can work together and share experiences on a particular subject.

Administrators are awakening to the many advantages of online professional development, say leaders in the field. First of all, costs are lower, with prices as low as $50 per educator within a particular school or district, or a bulk-rate “site license” that lets any number of educators participate. In addition, online courses can (in most cases) be completed whenever the teacher prefers, thus eliminating the convenience barrier for many teachers. Another major benefit is that online courses focusing on technology education often generate ideas that can be implemented in the classroom immediately, which ultimately is the goal of professional development.

However, course developers still are feeling their way toward the ideal model for courses. For example, anecdotal evidence indicates that approximately 20-40 people in a class brings sufficient mass to create good interaction, while still allowing all participants to be heard. As another example, course developers are experimenting with different ways of assuring administrators that teachers really are participating in courses for which they’ve signed up—by using individual identification codes, for instance.

Administrators can help educators get the most out of these courses by meeting with them before the course begins to outline goals, added one developer.

Here are just a few of the many course providers: http://cu.classroom.com; http://gsep.pepperdine.edu/online; http://www.att.com/learningnetwork; http://www.schoolimprovement.net; http://www.onlinelearning.net; http://www.learn2.com.