Motivating K-12 teachers to learn new pedagogies, tech tools, or teaching skills is not always an easy task. While there are a number of ways teachers can seek out their own professional learning through social media sites, blogs, books, and research, some skills and materials are still best learned through an ongoing course format. Professional development courses are also easier for K-12 schools, districts, and state departments to track to ensure professional learning, and hopefully professional growth, continue to take place. Usually, this is done through the use of seat time in such courses, but the introduction of badges and micro credentialing has created a method of tracking learned skills as opposed to time spent learning.
The way recording institutions track the learning of teachers is not the only thing that has evolved. The way teachers access their professional development courses has also evolved. This change comes about because technology is readily available to allow for on the go learning. The shift to digital learning environments has created an opportunity to provide students of all ages with alternative ways to learn the material and the skills they need. These environments require that designers and teachers of these courses think differently about how they will get students to remain motivated from the beginning of the course through to the end.
The success of a K-12 teacher professional development course is best measured by how it helps the teacher to create better learning opportunities for his or her students. While most teachers are motivated to engage in these types of learning environments strictly for the potential of creating better student learning outcomes, the design and implementation of these courses should follow the best practices available to keep teachers motivated. The act of using online and blended learning environments for professional learning can, in itself, provide teachers with a model of a different form of teaching that they may not have seen before. This exposure could lead these teachers to begin to utilize the practices they were able to learn from in the course in their own classrooms.
Blended Vs. Online Learning Environments
Teachers in most K-12 educational institutions are provided a computer, internet access, and software to use as they instruct their students. These tools are also being used as a way to deliver professional development in blended and online learning environments. These environments have a number of benefits and have the potential to allow for teachers to learn pedagogies, tools, and skills that can be used to solve classroom problems or create better learning environments.
In a fully online professional development, the participants and the instructor would have no face to face interactions. This method provides a way for learning to take place without individuals having to physically meet in the same location. K-12 professional development that uses this mode provides teachers an opportunity to learn from others around the world. It also provides an opportunity for schools and districts to create professional development that teachers can complete when it is most convenient for them.
A blended learning model is being used when a “... student learns at least in part through online learning, with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace” (Harn & Staker, 2014). There are a number of ways to implement a blended learning environment, but the main benefit this form has over strictly online learning is that the participants are able to meet face to face. For K-12 educators who work at brick and mortar schools, the face to face component can allow teachers who do not normally get the chance to plan or work together to interact and work through common issues together providing new perspectives across multiple disciplines and grade levels within the school or district.
According to Lim, Morris, and Kupritz (2006), the blended and online learning courses are not significantly different in how much learners perceive they have learned from the course. What has been found is that individuals who participate in a blended learning course perceive that the learning community is stronger than that of an online learning course. In addition, online courses are seen by participants as being harder than those delivered in a blended learning format. The difference may be the addition of the face to face interaction that the blended learning environment allows learners to participate in. The only downside to the blended learning environment is the need to physically attend the face to face meetings, although it could be argued that courses who have found a way to introduce regular synchronous conversations via a video call may allow for a blended type environment that is no longer limited by location of its participants.
Regardless of which of these two professional development formats is being implemented, the considerations needing to be made and the problems the instructor and/or designer of these programs may face are similar. The organization and set up, feedback practices, support strategies, and personalization methods used in these professional developments will play a major role in how motivated K-12 teachers are to participate in and complete the course.
Parent, Educator, Technology Lover