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Do you know the 3 essential elements of effective professional learning?

By Yolanda Ramos
November 18, 2015
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Technology changes at a rapid rate. So rapid, in fact, that many of us don’t regard the proliferation of mobile devices in homes, workplaces and schools as anything new. While we continue to learn how to use – and manage – all these devices in the best possible way, many educators around the world are just beginning to understand how to use and manage technology in the classroom. Even though there are wonderful and innovative initiatives happening in some schools, most educators still have a lot to discover about how mobile technology can enrich and benefit learning and teaching.

Over a three-year period, ISTE worked with 24 schools to support professional learning focused on mobile learning in STEM education. At each school, we conducted onsite training over several days, offered instructional consulting, provided webinars and a daylong virtual conference, and evaluated each school based on surveys and onsite data. This wide scope of professional learning and evaluation gave us rich insights about how the needs of educators in schools with mobile learning initiatives changed over time.

This knowledge has shaped ISTE’s perspective on professional learning, especially in the area of mobile learning environments. Here are some key things we have embedded in our training and that you should consider when planning professional learning for educators in your school or district:

1. Professional learning is a journey. It must be a daily practice, not a series of workshops or webinars. Blended learning experiences tend to be best. Asynchronous collaboration in a virtual professional learning network is essential. While face-to-face interaction is helpful for building skills and relationships, virtual learning is effective at filling holes between face-to-face sessions, and also may be the only efficient way to maximize exposure to innovative teaching resources and ideas in an ongoing fashion.

2. Coaching is a collaborative activity that is fundamental to educational innovation. As teachers build fluency with technology, fear of technology dissipates, and in place of fear comes curiosity about mobile learning resources. The best way to support teachers in their curiosity is to provide a technology coach — someone who can go into classrooms and work with teachers to explore resources, discuss lesson plan ideas and even co-teach or observe. Having a knowledgeable person to talk with is critical if teachers are to evolve their teaching in the digital age

3. Professional learning must support building team capacity, rather than focus on individual skills. There is strength in relationships and nurturing these relationships is essential to effective ongoing professional learning. Classic professional development models emphasized ideas from the human capital perspective, which focused on building skills in individuals, but social network theory has shown how crucial relationships are to educational change. When possible, emphasize building team capacity to solve problems and change learning and teaching through both onsite activities and in virtual learning networks.

With every school and district we help, we learn more about the realities and challenges educators face integrating mobile technology in the classroom. One thing is clear; just as classroom educators seek to extend the domain of learning outside the classroom, leaders must strive to make professional learning an ongoing, ubiquitous experience for educators.

Looking for a professional learning program that encompasses the three essential elements of professional learning? Sign your team up for a free 10-week online course facilitated by ISTE faculty and expert instructional coaches. Learn all about it during this free Nov. 19 webinar.

Yolanda Ramos, Ph.D., is senior director of ISTE Professional Services. Brandon Olszewski, Ph.D., is senior educational consultant for ISTE Professional Services.