A 2021 study by the Council of the Great City Schools emphasizes the need for teachers to have ongoing access to high-quality professional development (PD). The study maintains that high-quality PD “must be actionable and contextualized within the framework of daily classroom life – whether those classrooms are physical, virtual, or hybrid.”
This study, along with recent events, demonstrates that, as with most other forms of education, professional development needs to be flexible and convenient yet still robust.
Face-to-face PD is still the optimal experience, of course, but sometimes that’s just not an option. And, while webinars offer a decent alternative, I would like to posit that online PD is an even better option for these times.
Online PD puts the power of learning in teachers’ hands, much the way we empower children to own their learning through student-centered education. Online opportunities that employ platforms such as Teachable offer learners the convenience of choosing when to complete the course, freeing them from the physical constraints they might have with traditional PD. Moreover, online learning can be engaging, even interactive, a noticeable difference from the static nature of webinars.
Pillars of a strong online PD course
As with all learning opportunities, the strength of an online course depends on the time and effort put forth by its creators. Solid online PD:
• Makes the most of the e-learning platform, providing learners with relevant, open-ended activities and challenges and the option to access the course anytime, anywhere.
• Incorporates helpful, downloadable, and interactive resources such as planning tools that can be filled out on the spot, videos, quizzes, and links to supporting articles.
• Makes the learning simple by presenting concepts in small, digestible pieces that learners can easily build on as they complete the course.
• Is relevant and timely. As we know, educators’ time is valuable. They need – and deserve – courses that make good use of their time. Courses on how to use a specific product, for example, or how to implement a given solution into an already busy classroom provide tangible learning that teachers can actually use.
• Employs the engineering design process whenever possible. Stick with me here. I know not every course lends itself to the engineering design process, but you’d be surprised how often this iterative method works to really drive home various concepts.
• Provides a certificate of completion at the end. To be truly relevant and worthy of educators’ time, e-learning PD should include a way to receive those all-important continuing education credits.
If you’re looking for a strong online PD course, make sure it checks off all, if not the majority of, those boxes.
Of course, when it comes to professional development, the proof is in the pudding. In this case, the “pudding” is educators. Two educators evaluate an online learning course titled “Creating STEM PBL.” Both teachers appreciated the way the content was presented. “The content was very clear and easy, even for someone who had no understanding of any STEM concepts,” replied Chris Gibson, STREAM lab teacher for Grades K-6 at S. F. Austin STEM Academy in Jones Creek, Texas. Amanda Wood, a STEM teacher and coordinator in Atlanta, TX, agreed. “I think it’s a great training. I loved how it was broken down into very small pieces.”
The included resources were also a big hit with both teachers. “I love the planning tools,” said Wood, who added that “the videos were to the point and the activities were useful.” Gibson noted that “the use of video, supporting articles and web links, and downloadable work-along documents” were really helpful. “I really appreciate the PDFs that you can fill in,” she noted. “I thought that was great to include rather than including just a download.”
But perhaps the most important question: Was this a good use of their time? According to both Gibson and Wood, the answer is a resounding “Yes!” “I felt like my time was put to good use,” Wood said. “I think teachers will appreciate that.” Likewise, Gibson stated, “The course gives a good basic introduction to STEM and PBL as if the learner doesn’t have much experience in either.”
If you’re looking for a convenient, robust alternative to traditional professional development, I encourage you to look into online PD. When done well, it hits all the necessary PD requirements while also providing that added bonus of flexibility and learner ownership.
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