Personalized PD & Adult Learning: Autonomy & Choice

We're exploring how personalized professional development can support adult learning theory, a concept developed by educator Malcolm Knowles. In last month's post, we took a look at how project-based and incremental learning experiences support the five principles of this theory (self-concept, experience, readiness to learn, orientation to learning, and motivation to learning). Another way that personalized PD embraces the cornerstone of adult study is in it's inherent ability to provide self-directed learning opportunities. What is self-directed learning? According to Knowles, self-directed learning "describes a process in which individuals take the initiative, with or without the help of others, in diagnosing their learning needs, formulating learning goals, identifying human and material resources for learning, choosing and implementing appropriate learning strategies, and evaluating learning outcomes." In terms of PD, it's about giving teachers a choice in when, how and what they study. There isn't a one-size-fits all approach to autonomous learning.

Take a look at what Knowles' described as the Role of the Learner:

  • Learners should know why they are studying something.
  • Instruction should be task-oriented, and it should take into account the wide range of different backgrounds of learners.
  • Learners should be able to relate what is being studied to their personal/professional experiences.
  • Learners should be motivated and ready to learn.
  • Learners should be involved in the planning and evaluation of their instruction. Instruction should be problem-centered rather than content-oriented.

These principles embrace self-directed learning: taking into account different learner backgrounds, self-motivation, understanding the purpose of study, and a learner's direct involvement in planning their instruction. These concepts are what personalize any successful professional development program.

Autonomy makes blended-learning PD possible

Blended-learning, personalized PD exists on the basis of self-directed learning. The success of the experience is dependent on participants' autonomy over their learning and engagement with the platform. Unlike with traditional 'sit-n-git' PD, teachers typically aren't scheduled for a set amount of time for blended-learning PD--there isn't an administrator taking attendance, ensuring that every teacher is present for a half-day inservice. Teachers must make the choice to engage with their learning platform, and to select what topic they'd like to study. Some of our districts, like San Jacinto Unified SD, take self-directed learning one step further by not mandating the game.

The benefit of using a blended-learning platform for professional development is that it provides teachers with a resource and a framework to structure and asses their learning. It also gives administrators the opportunity to select and quality control for core learning materials. How the teacher chooses to apply what they've learned is up to them, but they can evaluate their understanding throughout the process using built-in assessments. Essentially, a blended learning PD platform simply provides tools for teachers and administrators to use in their self-directed learning.

"The relationship between self‑directed learning and life‑long education is a reciprocal one. On the one hand, self‑directed learning is one of the most common ways in which adults pursue learning throughout their life span, as well as being a way in which people supplement learning received in formal settings. On the other hand, lifelong learning takes, as one of its principle aims, equipping people with skills and competencies required to continue their own self‑education beyond the end of formal schooling. In this sense, self‑directed learning is viewed simultaneously as a means and an end of lifelong education." - Philip Candy, Self-Direction for Lifelong Learning

Check out "Is Learning Increasingly Self-Directed in the Digital Era" for more information on how technology and learning autonomy impacts students, and how you can help your students navigate digital learning.

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