While the advantages of using online services for teacher professional development are well-known, the potential disadvantages have been less carefully explored. The author, who is the director of special projects for the National Staff Development Council, discusses some of these potential pitfalls:
1. Unexpected costs. When considering online courses, keep in mind the costs of computer hardware, software and internet access, as well as the possible need for in-person supplemental training. Putting information about new district policies online is probably cost-effective, as is distributing other types of information that already is in print. However, actual training might be more costly to implement online than it initially would appear, as features such as interactivity or video are needed.
2. Course development. This is both a cost and a quality issue. Online educational programs are different than traditional professional development courses, and they must be designed with the online user in mind. It might be worthwhile to develop in-district expertise in adapting current training to the online environment, but this will take time and investment.
3. Instructors. Online instructors must still be paid, so even though travel costs might be eliminated, the savings are less significant than they might appear. In addition, trainers say that lower student-to-teacher ratios are necessary in online environments, so the travel savings may be counterbalanced by the need to hire more instructors or the same instructor for more sessions.
4. Applicability to audience. Some staff members are more ready for online learning than others. Online learning does require a higher degree of initiative and discipline than a mandatory, in-person training. In addition, some learners really need the personal feedback of a discussion, which may be absent in a CD-ROM training environment (though feedback is available in an online discussion group).
5. Technology literacy. Even learners who might thrive in an online environment might not have sufficient access to the appropriate multimedia technology, or they might not know how to use what they do have. Some support services will be necessary.