Personalized PD & Adult Learning: Facilitation & Support

Personalized professional development supports adult learning tendencies. It embraces project-based, incremental learning experiences, and gives teachers autonomy and choice in the content, pace, and method in which they learn. However, implementing a personalized PD program at a school district takes much more than simply letting teachers pick a topic and run with it. It takes careful planning and a commitment from teachers, administrators and the team that supports the program, from TOSAs to the tech department. The role of this support team looks much different in a personalized PD program than in a traditional "sit-n-get" setting. Gone is the facilitator standing in front of a group, leading a workshop and delivering information. Instead, teachers are interacting directly with content, and participating in hands-on exploration of apps and tools. Teachers are providing their own evidence of learning, and tracking their progress. When so much of the PD experience is in the hands of teachers, the impact of a facilitator may be less visible--but it is no less critical to the learning process.

"The most significant trend that continues to make an impact on facilitators is the demand for the incorporation of technology into the content and delivery of professional development." -King & Lawler, 2003

The changing role of the facilitator

The study of adult learning theory goes back hundreds of years, but has only recently become a popular subject of scientific research. Adult learning theory, or andragogy, was popularized in the 1970s by Dr. Malcolm Knowles. His theory addressed the role of the learner, and the "assumptions about the design of learning," specifically that adults: need to know why they need to learn something; need to learn experientially; approach learning as problem-solving; and learn best when the topic is of immediate value.

Knowles also addressed how the role of the teacher changes when the student is an adult. "Basically teachers should be aware that their role has been changed. Learner-centered classes will stimulate dialogue and knowledge construction. Learners will benefit from a scaffolding approach to learning where the teacher provides more support in the early stages of the course; this support is gradually faded until learners become self-reliant."

The TOSAs, tech coaches and other program administrators of blended-learning PD platforms constantly embrace these principles. They are responsible for the smooth rollout of a program, and ensuring that teachers have a solid foundation on which to scaffold their learning. Rather than imparting content knowledge, facilitators teach teachers how to use tools to become self-sufficient as they engage with the content on their own. They help administrators translate learning objectives into a digital format. They assess the district's "bigger picture," and identify where teachers are struggling to meet objectives. They advocate for their teachers, and communicate with program developers to make the learning experience as seamless as possible.

The comfort zone

Knowles also observed, "in a constructive approach teachers should see themselves as facilitators and co-learners. Teachers must bear in mind, however, that learners are individuals with different life experiences and learning preferences. Some adult learners will still prefer the traditional pedagogical approach to teaching and learning. Teachers should respect that, and at the same time gradually try to push learners away from their comfort zone in the direction of a deeper approach to learning."

Facilitators of blended-learning, personalized PD platforms are typically the "tech gurus" of their district. They're comfortable navigating the digital landscape, and are excited to embrace new technologies. These facilitators are also aware that other educators may not all be as comfortable behind a screen & keyboard--and the support that they provide doesn't always happen online or at the computer. Engaging with teachers face-to-face, hosting events, and recognizing accomplishments in real-time are all a part of a successful blended-learning program. Effective facilitators embrace technology as a part of a teacher's learning toolbox, and support and empower teachers on their PD journey.

Hats off to all of our Chrome Warrior Admins that are paving the way!

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