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Exploring New Models for Professional Learning

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By Don Knezek, CEO of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE)

As the education community continues to collaborate to transform instruction in ways that will engage all learners and accelerate student achievement, we are increasingly hearing about new learning models. These emerging models — such as project-, problem- and challenge-based learning, the flipped classroom, the flat classroom and blended learning — are allowing teachers to engage struggling learners and personalize learning for students of all levels and abilities.

However, what about the adult learners in our schools: the teachers, principals and other education professionals? Wouldn't they also benefit from new ways of learning, new models for professional development? Just like many of our young learners find the traditional "sage on a stage" model of instruction challenging, educators also experience challenges with traditional models of professional learning — often called professional development — where a workshop leader imparts knowledge and skills for improving teaching to a group of educators, often outside of the classroom environment and largely devoid of their primary clients, school-aged learners. Throughout our careers, we have all participated in these experiences, whether it be in a class, institute or in a traditional conference presentation.

In the digital age, however, professional learning for educators — in the same way as instruction for young learners — is now being offered in a multitude of engaging ways across a wide variety of settings. Successful and growing models include virtual communities of practice, such has ISTE's Special Interest Groups (SIGs), professional learning communities, coaching and mentoring, facilitated strategic work sessions, and co-learning.

In particular, the coaching and mentoring approach is seeing wide adoption in the education community. As detailed in ISTE's free white paper on coaching, this model for professional learning opens the doors of the traditional classroom, solving the problem of teacher isolation by allowing them to connect throughout their school, district and the world to exchange ideas, tips and techniques. And it appeals to the learning habits of the new generation of teachers — the "digital natives" — who grew up relying on social networks and other digital connections to collaborate instantaneously to solve problems and develop ideas.

Building on the belief that often the best professional development occurs when educators connect and collaborate with like-minded colleagues, the power of online learning allows organizations, such as ISTE, to offer year-round professional development communities on topics of interest ranging from mobile learning to arts education. These SIGs feature free webinars and other online content, as well as updates on best practices through online newsletters and other resources. In addition, educators can ask colleagues questions, get advice for learning or tools for tackling a teaching challenge, as well as build their professional network by jumping into the SIG discussions on the ISTE Community Ning.

Participants in these growing online professional development communities also have the chance to connect face to face at SIG-hosted events and recommended sessions in just a few days at the ISTE 2012 Conference in San Diego. The sessions presented at conferences, such as ISTE, also represent the numerous new approaches to professional learning. At ISTE 2012, attendees will experience model lessons, collaborate in "bring your own device" sessions, participate in hands-on demos and workshops, as well as have the chance to partake in 400 informal and interactive learning activities. Later this year in Indianapolis, school leaders who are leveraging technology to transform learning in their schools and districts will have the chance to connect and collaborate at the ISTE Leadership Conference, where they will discover a similar mix of professional learning opportunities. In today's digital learning environment, many of these educators arrive at the conferences having already connected and collaborated online through professional learning communities. Likewise, many return home to continue to support each other in their professional growth and learning, enhancing and expanding the global community of innovative educators who are focused on transforming learning in their schools.

It's clear from a long list of national and international comparisons of educational achievement, such as NAEP and the PISA Study, that we must continue to invest in educator professional learning to continue to raise the bar on student achievement in this country. The good news is that, in this digital age, we have opportunities to leverage a multitude of more engaging models to support professional learning by educators across an array of settings. ISTE, other organizations and schools and districts around the country are already taking advantage of a number of promising models. We encourage readers of this blog to explore emerging, engaging models for professional learning and to connect and contribute to the learning of their colleagues around the country and the world.

Views expressed in this post are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the endorsement of the Learning First Alliance or any of its members.

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