10 Reasons Schools are Making the Switch to Online Learning
A lot of school training sucks… Agreed?
Think about this for a second…
What descriptors come to mind when you think of the words professional development? Does it change if we abbreviate it and call it PD? If you’re like most educators around the country then words like, “boring”, “obligatory”, “snooze-fest”, “lame”, and “irrelevant” might be the first to come to mind. You know it’s bad when #worstpd is a legit hashtag on Twitter.
Why is this? For most, P.D. has a tendency to be top-down in nature and usually lacks in its ability to differentiate to the needs of each teacher. A recent study concluded that a large percentage of teachers feel a lack of choice when it comes to their own professional development.
I’ve been there before…
As a former school administrator and technology integration specialist myself, I tend to agree with these teachers and I am constantly on the lookout for a more effective way to deliver and receive training. After all, I was tired of my staff drowsily stumbling into the cafeteria for a 6 AM P.D. session only to discuss the school’s new app downloading policies (thanks a lot, Candy Crush). Online training is an incredibly simple and effective way to deliver and receive relevant training content regardless of existing skill sets or savviness. Allow me to elaborate:
1) Easy Delivery
Have you ever trained on any of the following topics?
- Bloodborne Pathogens
- Digital Citizenship
The list goes on! With so many different training requirements and areas for professional growth, how can we possibly expect to deliver it all effectively with only a handful of dedicated staff development days? Housing PD online gives organization and structure to the mind-bending amount of training material you need to cover each year. It also makes distributing that content to groups or individuals who really need it a heck of a lot easier.
2) Analytics and Data
Ready for a few buzzwords? Here we go…
Remediation. Intervention. Feedback
These are all ideas we work on with our students and ones we ought to emphasize in teacher training as well. The ability to monitor teacher progress, field questions as they learn remotely, and refer learners to specific content related to the concepts they are working to master is significantly enhanced in an online format.
3) Individualized Content
Speaking of relevant content and buzzwords, “differentiation” is another proven factor that leads to successful learning. Capable school administrators work hard to understand the unique needs of their staff members and can prescribe targeted content to individuals striving to master a particular concept. Even though “cafeteria style” in-service days have their place, when it comes to individualized instruction, online learning gives the training facilitator a helpful leg-up.
4) Up-to-date material
Here’s a scenario for you: You host a back-to-school boot camp for your teachers a few weeks before they return to the classroom. After the spirited chit-chat of summer happenings has dwindled down, you delve into the first part of your training to talk about the updates Google, Apple, and Microsoft have made to all of the tools your staff uses while they were gone. Navigation has changed here and there, some apps aren’t supported anymore, and you want to tell everyone about a neat little browser extension that saves you a bunch of time! The training concludes and school kicks off a few weeks later. Is everything you talked about in your summer session still relevant or have the tools been updated again? Is another (better) tool available now? Has a school policy changed? Taking all your training online allows for on-the-fly tweaks to ensure material is up to date and relevant to your staff.
5) Supplemental Content
While omnipresence may be your end goal, as a mere mortal here on earth you are likely lacking in your ability to be everywhere at once. Sure you might be able to nail down a time and date for an in-service day that works well for most of the staff but it’s hard to get everyone together face to face with any degree of consistency. Through online training resources, you can give your teachers valuable supplemental or follow-up content that they can view long after you’ve left the assembly hall. Good online training software will also allow you to assign content to both individuals and groups and allow you to build quizzes and track analytics for the content you send out.
6) Teacher Choice
Your school or district likely has specific initiatives or goals in place that are built around outcomes that the LEA wants to achieve. Ideally, a good professional development plan has been built to support these initiatives in order provide teachers with abundant opportunities for personal growth. But what about teacher choice in PD? As referenced in the survey above, “Teachers largely said principals and district leaders made the decisions regarding professional learning for teachers in the school.” Online training resources lend themselves very well to providing teachers choice in their learning. Companies like Kyte Learning, Coursera, or Lynda.com provide learners with an abundant library of courses that allow teachers to explore and learn about content that is interesting to them without getting in the way of achieving district goals.
7) Community collaboration
Collaboration and feedback are key in any learning environment. The craziness of everyday life as an educator, however, can hinder a teacher’s ability to spend meaningful time with their peers to discuss best practice or swap experiences. Online training platforms whose course libraries have been built by a community of other educators can open up a whole new realm of possibilities. Teachers can see what tools or methodologies are being used successfully in districts across the country. They can delve into project-based ideas for applying certain technology tools or find ideas for engaging a group of third-graders. The world wide web brings limitless ideas and opportunities for collaboration to the fingertips of anyone with a Wi-Fi enabled device.
If meaningful professional development is our end goal as providers of training in our schools and districts, then one of our first questions ought to be, “what makes training meaningful?” For some, it is career advancement and pay-lane changes. For others, it is meeting requirements for relicensure or recertification. For many, simply having a “lifelong learner” mentality is motivation enough to kindle a desire for discovering new ways to engage students or to enhance our own effectiveness as teachers. Online training platforms provide concrete evidence of learning. Since the future doesn’t care how you become an expert, the ability to earn meaningful badges and certifications is a great way to communicate legitimate skills and make continued professional growth an extremely appealing training option.
How many teachers are you responsible for training?
Perhaps you’re one of many in a role as a teacher on special assignment (TOSA) with only a handful of educators you assist from time to time. Maybe you’re in charge of training for an entire school or district with thousands of educators to support. Either way, time and money are finite resources that can and should be preserved. Have you ever hired substitutes in order to bring full-time teachers in for a one-day training? Have you interrupted your own classroom time to help a fellow teacher switch the input on their projector? If so, you know there has to be a better way. An online training format offers greater flexibility and increased efficiency for getting meaningful training content in front of those who need it the most.
10) Anytime Access to PD
I sucked at math when I was in high school. And while it wasn’t quite high-sparrow, bell-ringing, Game of Thrones style shame I had to deal with, I still remember how I felt when I was given a tattered blue “Algebra 1/2” textbook and then watched as many of my friends received a gold-encrusted, still-in-the cellophane, “Algebra 1 textbook”. Not to worry though, a dedicated cry-pillow and a few years of therapy have cured me of most my algebra-induced emotional damage.
My point? Math scared me as an 8th grader and listening to a classroom lecture on the quadratic equation and then being expected to understand/apply it seemed like an impossibility to me. Online content helps alleviate this by letting teachers learn at their pace on their time.
Quick story for you: I recently witnessed a younger sibling of mine working on that very same equation on his school-issued iPad. He was watching a pre-recorded video lesson from his teacher who broke down each part of the problem, explained what was happening at each step, and offered helpful memorization and application tips along the way. I watched him rewind to the midpoint of the lecture several times until he felt like he understood what was being taught. Kablammy! My mind was blown! How much pressure do our staff members feel in a PD session when we’re talking about teaching concepts or technology tools that are totally foreign to them? How many of them are nervous to raise a hand or ask a question in a lecture setting out of fear of being viewed as technologically illiterate or out of touch? Online training provides every learner with equal access to supplementary training content that reinforces concepts being taught in-person.
Regardless of how we choose to deliver training, our goal should be to provide positive professional development experiences for every stakeholder. Training facilitators should feel empowered and effective in their ability to deliver timely training content. Learners should feel engaged and inspired as they acquire new skills and exercise choice in what they learn.