Blended-Learning PD: Minimizing Costs

A few weeks ago, we explored how blended learning PD platforms, like Chrome Warrior, can minimize classroom interruptions and their impact on student performance. Addressing and solving the common challenges of traditional "sit-n-get" professional development is a big part of our design process. We work closely with our partner districts to identify how we can keep improving our software: from delivery and content, to evaluation. One of the challenges identified by many of our partners is the cost associated with providing professional development, and knowing how best to invest in programs. With blended learning PD platforms, costs are upfront and transparent, and the results of the program are measurable.

Uncharted spending
Professional development spending is a nationwide challenge. Not necessarily that too much is being spent, but that too little is being done to track spending. "Because districts tend to characterize professional development as programming, they typically underestimate other investments in teachers’ knowledge and skills—such as how much they spend on salaries during hours teachers attend in-service workshops," says a report from Education Week. One district was reported to have over nine different offices overseeing how their PD funds were spent--without auditing the quality of these programs. National standards for PD don't exist--so the responsibility falls on districts to ensure that these funds are being spent in good faith. And the stakes are high--it's estimated that the top 50 largest schools in the country spend a combined $8 billion dollars on PD per year.

A return on investment
One of the biggest challenges associated with PD spending is knowing whether or not programs have had their desired effect. Did the teacher understand and absorb program objectives, and were they able to implement them in their classroom to improve student performance? The answer to this question is often "no," or even more often, "we don't know."

This of course, is not a reflection on educators, but rather a reflection on a system left unmeasured and unaccounted for. "'There’s a sense that teacher effectiveness matters, and we’ve got to help teachers improve in effectiveness, but we don’t necessarily know how. But districts are operating as though they do know how,'" said Marguerite Roza, a scholar at the Center on Reinventing Public Education in Education Week.

A 2015 study from The New Teacher Project found that despite professional development spending and initiatives, teacher performance rarely improves as a result. Again, this is not a reflection on educators--but rather an indication that there is a lack of understanding on a higher level.

"Where we have fallen short, as a field, is monitoring whether professional development efforts are really helping teachers improve their instruction—or even setting a clear vision of great instruction for teachers to work toward—and absorbing those results into future strategies. We’ve been too slow to evolve when things are not working," says the TNTP report.

Setting and measuring goals

"In reality, professional development should be viewed as a means to an end: better teaching practice and student achievement. As such, we should assign concrete, measurable goals to development initiatives and invest in those that actually produce the desired outcomes." -Dan Weisberg, 2015, TNTP

Not only can blended learning be less expensive to implement than traditional PD, but it can help districts collect data to determine whether or not their program is a good investment. Just as teachers evaluate their students' learning, districts and administrators are able to evaluate PD learning through collaborative online platforms. Evidence is submitted and reviewed in a constantly scaffolded environment. Teachers experience new content and tools firsthand, and engage with them to produce results--whether it be working with multimedia presentation software, or developing an online professional learning network. Learning is transparent: teachers and administrators can see their colleagues' progress through leaderboards and digital badges. With blended learning, time (and money) spent on professional development can return positive, measurable results.