The Future of Professional Learning Part 2

You may want to read part 1 but I think this post does stand alone.

In general, I think professional offerings will be expanded and diversified moving forward. More than ever, teachers are more comfortable with webinars, chats and courses. Since there is currently little to no face-to-face opportunities, it seems participants are more accepting and less critical of offerings because there is no alternative. That said, I believe there is an opportunity for districts to be more intentional and focused on their online offerings as well as rethinking what face to face learning should be.

Professional Learning (PL) covers a broad spectrum of experiences and formats. In 2020, PL has leveraged video conferencing tools more than ever. Zoom, Google Meet and Microsoft Team are the preferred platforms and the vast majority of PL has been synchronous. Most of the asynchronous offerings have been through recordings of these same synchronous sessions. The more effective sessions have included opportunities for participants to chat and interact via breakout rooms or chat. These strategies are not new but seemed to be embraced and standardized more than ever. Personally, I’ve offered sessions that spanned anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours. The longer sessions have participants talking and sharing at least half the time. There have been other occasions where I’ve been asked to “keynote” and usually that means more of what you might experience in a face-to-face session where I do most, but not all, of the talking. Just like the millions of educators around the world who have had to learn a very new medium, understanding the medium and combining new and effective pedagogies still works. What has helped is that these technologies are much more stable than ever and technical issues are now less common and are not the obstacle they may have been in the past. But beyond the PL events which make up only a small part of the PL experience, districts are now in a position to provide a better ongoing experience for educators. While it’s agreed that ongoing and job-embedded PL is a much better value, it’s not been easy to implement. Doing something that’s mostly or entirely online would not work for many teachers due to comfort and their own mindsets. In the coming years, developing a strong resource library of pre-recorded content in small chunks that can be easily referenced will be a core element of school and district PL offerings. Working groups and committees can utilize these spaces for synchronous and asynchronous follow-ups. Often this kind of work required scheduling a meeting months in advance. 30 minutes might seem too short to have people travel to so by default it would be an hour. Even then, travel time could add another hour or more to this making this much more of a commitment than it need be. Now it’s more likely to schedule a 30-minute online meeting a week out and even if some can’t attend, recording it is easy. This transition alone opens up so many more possibilities.

Bringing people together is now going to be a really big deal. Not only will it be much more scrutinized in terms of cost, when we do decide to commit to a gathering, but it also needs to be seen as sacred. People will naturally be excited to be together and it should be honoured as such. That means providing people with an opportunity to be with each other beyond the breaks should take priority. I would also suggest that we emphasize the social side of this as much as any professional side. In the past, this would have been seen as frivolous or time-wasting, that mindset has to change. If you’re just worried about delivering content, then it may be better served online. I think this shift will be a challenge for many and like the return to school, it’s going to be easy to revert to previous models.

Over the past decade, I’ve been exploring PL models that look and feel different. Sometimes it’s the space. Not meeting in a school or district building signals this is not the same old, same old. Creating dedicated time for connection and fun and socialization says that relationships matter as much as content. Serving food because a ritual and tradition reserved for close and important relationships. These are just some of the structures and considerations that need to be explored when being together is viable.

When I think about bringing in speakers whether it’s for large conferences or for schools and districts, I think those speakers should provide something more than delivering content. I know because of logistics and expectations, I’ve done my share of speak and leave events. I give my talk and am off to the next event. Whenever I did that, I always felt a bit cheated and I wondered if participants felt the same way. I think in the future if you’re going to pay for a presenter, those presenters should be asked to stay and connect with participants. That could be in doing smaller sessions which is often the agreement but being even more intentional with that. As referenced earlier, relationships and connections should be emphasized and guests ought to add to that in some way. One of my greatest joys has been to stay connected with people after I leave. Some of my best online connections are a result of an interaction or conversation with participants outside of my presentations. But this shouldn’t be left to chance but be built into the experience. I know in the future I’m going to suggest and offer this. There are still many great minds and ideas that offer great value for a talk but struggle to provide any connection beyond their presentations. If that’s the case something pre-recorded or virtual might be a better and more economical value.

Those are a few thoughts on the future. If you’ve been thinking or planning for the future of Professional Learning, I’d love to hear from you.