Online staff development can be the best of all possible worlds—or the worst of all possible worlds. Administrators who envision having educators learn in an online environment must make sure to balance two important goals: the convenience of individualized online learning and the value of shared experiences and “face time” with peers.

A staff development program that ignores the former will not draw many participants; a program that ignores the latter will leave students feeling isolated.

Face-to-face communication is important in the teaching profession, virtually all education experts agree. Online programs should not ignore these crucial interactions, and trainers should not assume that online discussion groups are an exact substitute for in-person discussions.

Many staff training programs now include at least a couple of in-person meetings for students as a way to help participants share their experiences. Some school districts supplement courses with videoconferences or videotapes of teachers in the classroom as they try to implement new pedagogical skills they’ve learned. These videos then form the basis for feedback sessions.

Other experts say that some teachers simply aren’t prepared to learn online, because of poor technology skills or a lack of comfort with nontraditional course formats. Schools cannot leave these educators behind. Some schools are experimenting with basic-skills training for their staffs, using simple computer literacy courses that must be passed before teachers are eligible for online professional development courses. Other schools continue to offer traditional in-person courses but also offer the same material online, thereby giving educators options that best suit their needs.

Another important element in devising online training is to consider the perspective of the entire school or district that is sponsoring the training, not just that of each individual teacher. Professional development should move the entire institution toward superior performance, instead of providing instruction for a limited few.