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Designing effective e-learning professional learning: Starting points for schools

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Duration: 5:1

e-Learning consultant, Karen Melhuish Spencer explains, the professional learning dimension in the e-Learning Planning Framework that offers a way for schools to review their current provision of professional learning.The design of professional learning arises from identified needs in a school, and is part of the school’s strategy for developing e-learning as part of curriculum provision. She suggests teachers begin with: 

  • Identifying students' e-learning needs then asking, "What e-learning professional development do I need to help you support my students' learning?"
  • Deciding how you will gather information to provide evidence of how your professional learning is impacting on your classroom practice
  • Deciding how you will evaluate the impact of e-learning on your students’ learning
  • Regularly review and discuss your practice. 

So the research tells us that when we’re designing professional learning activities there are three things that are helpful for us to do. First of all, lay the foundation, queue up what we already know about teaching and learning, our prior knowledge if you like. Secondly explore and raise awareness around e-learning and think about our values and beliefs, and our actions. It’s quite useful to have a framework around e-learning to hang your thinking on. And thirdly, e-learning professional learning activities should allow us to compare our current practice with new ideas. For example, if a school is thinking of introducing 1-1 laptops it would be useful to have activities that invite teachers to reflect on how inclusive their teaching is, how much they differentiate their teaching and learning, and allow them to begin to unpack those ideas in a bit more depth.

Teachers engaging in professional learning should think about underpinning their approach with the inquiry methodology that we see in the curriculum, asking ourselves what is it that’s most important for my students to be learning? What are their strengths and needs? Therefore, what does it mean for me in terms of my professional learning? How can I harness technologies in ways that are really appropriate that will support my students’ strengths and needs? And when we trial the use of technologies within the classroom as part of the curriculum it’s useful for us to notice what’s going on so that we can reflect afterwards on what happened for our students. What do we need to strengthen and what might we need to adjust as a result?

So when we’re thinking about professional learning activities and the design of them in schools where do we start? Let’s start by thinking about school leaders. Where might you begin? Well the e-Learning Planning Framework has a dimension that is dedicated to reviewing what is happening for professional learning in your school. It invites school leaders to ask how safe is the professional learning community for my staff? In terms of the kind of professional learning we have, how rigorous, challenging, and collaborative is it? And to what extent is the learning for my teachers focused on the curriculum and focused on what our students need as opposed to technology skill building?

The design of the professional learning in the school arises from students needs and it’s part of the school strategy as part of the wider curriculum provision. So school leaders might like to consider how are the teachers in our schools inquiring into the use of e-learning? Does the professional learning programme allow for deep consideration of values and beliefs, and practice as well as the skills development? And leaders should ask themselves how actively they are involved in leading and mentoring professional learning in school. Keep asking the challenging questions that ground e-learning in the curriculum. Review the programme and look at the balance between deep challenging conversations and more superficial skill building. How can we balance informal networking online with close examination of what’s happening in the classroom? And lastly how visible is the practice that is happening across the schools? How are teachers sharing what’s going on?

Now when might we as teachers begin? Trialing the use of technology in the classroom is a really good way to think about how we’re using technology. We need to keep asking ourselves, how is the technology related to what my students’ needs and strengths are? We need to think about how can we deliberately gather information so we’ve got evidence of how our learning is impacting on the students that we have in front of us. And it’s useful to think about how we’re going to discuss and evaluate how well our trialing of technology has actually gone. We need to set time aside to talk about these things and also to think about how we can make our practice visible so that someone in the next classroom can see what I’m doing and we’ve got a chance to compare and talk about our practice together.

Enabling e-Learning has a section around professional learning and around teaching which would be really useful to support these conversations. And there’s also the Registered Teacher Criteria with an e-learning lens on Enabling e-Learning, which is a great starting point for discussions as well. A last resource that will be useful for teachers to have a look at will be the Virtual Learning Network groups, online social network and there you’ll see lots of different teachers talking about how they’re integrating technology into their practice and reflecting on how that went as part of community discussions.