July 13, 2016

A combination of in-person and online lessons is the best way to teach today’s teachers.

By Karen Larson

We’ve all been there. You’re about to present to a room of 30 teachers and staff on a topic related to effective technology integration. Some brought notepads, others have laptops, some have only the agenda picked up at the door. You already know there is a wide range of engagement, skill levels, and interest in the room. First of all, you need to make sure that everyone in the room can clearly hear every word. Why not repurpose your classroom audio system for professional learning events?

Once you’re confident that you’re reaching your audience, how can you provide small-group professional learning opportunities that support all of them and takes into consideration those aspects that make adult learners unique? How do you respect their time and allow them to work at their own pace?  How do you make sure the learning is relevant to their grade level and subject matter? That’s a tall order, and what you are about to do may not fit that bill. Consider a blended approach to professional learning.

Blended PD is a combination of face-to-face and online learning geared to one particular topic.  The combination allows the participants access to content (provided through an online learning management system) when it is convenient for them—and they know that they have the opportunity to meet with a trainer and their colleagues when the need arises. Facilitators can follow a participant's progress through the course, answering questions and addressing issues as needed. 

Quality blended PD frames the coursework so that participants create outcomes specifically geared to improve student learning in their own classroom.  For example, if the topic is formative assessment, the trainer can provide teachers videos to watch and articles to read on the pedagogical benefits of formative assessment and prompt the teachers to reflect on how formative assessment will look in their classrooms. The next step would be for the trainer to share three or four different online tools and resources so that the teachers have some choice and the time for careful review. The third component would be for the teachers to create a lesson that includes one assessment tool where it makes the most sense to them. Finally, the trainer should ask the teachers to reflect on the experience and on any adjustments that could be made in the future. (Teachers need the opportunity to prototype too!).

Critical to any training is developing a sense of community. It is especially important in online training so that learners do not feel alone in their pursuits. Small-group learning can be built into a lesson, either online through a discussion platform like Google Hangout, or in person through arranged “office hours” at a specific location. Knowing these meetings are scheduled gives more reticent learners the support they need to ask questions and learn who they can later go to for assistance.

Clearly, blended PD requires a considerable front-end commitment. It is important that, over time, the trainer creates enough learning pathways to provide choice to all teachers. And as you know, technology changes, so these courses must be reviewed and updated periodically.  Someone has to facilitate the course, monitor assignments, answer questions, and meet with the learners as well.

Consider a platform such as Badgelist or Canvas to not only provide the content but also award badges when teachers successfully complete tasks.  These badges provide learners with a sense of accomplishment, and they can also equate to hours of seat-time, which could lead to other district-provided incentives or compensation.


Karen Larson

Karen Larson

Karen Larson is an academic technology specialist for the Santa Clara County (CA) Office of Education, working with teachers supporting the integration of technology in their classrooms. Previously Karen served as an educator and administrator in elementary education. She sits on the Board of Directors of Silicon Valley Computer Using Educators, is a professional developer for Leading Edge Certification, and is a certified educator with Common Sense Media. Connect with Karen at about.me/ karen .larson

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