A Model for Professional Development Considering Adult Learning Principles

Image adapted from UCBHCA: Training of Facilitators Manual for the Functional Adult Literacy Training Manual

Overview

Throughout my studies on digital education leadership, and specifically what it means to be an effective instructional coach and to design great professional development, I have continually been reminded that many of the teaching and learning practices used with K-12 students are effective with adults learners as well.  In fact, this point has been the resolution to most of my inquiries over my graduate program studies.  So, over these last few weeks I have been both delighted and intrigued to get to look at what sets adult learners apart from adolescent learners.

What Makes Adult Learners Unique?

I touched on adult learning in my last blog post, but to recap, the most prolific commentary on adult learning, also known as andragogy, comes from the adult educator Malcolm Knowles.  Knowles narrowed his theory of andragogy down to six major principles (Knowles, 2015). He claims that adult learners…

  • Are motivated and self directed.

  • Bring life experience and knowledge.

  • Are goal oriented

  • Are relevancy oriented.

  • Are practical.

  • Like to be respected.

The Australian Catholic University does a great job of summarizing each of these principles, but I was left wondering how this differs from students.  To address this inquiry, I found another great resource, from the Nebraska Department of Labor’s professional development site.  Below, I include a screenshot of an interactive infographic that details what sets adult learners apart from children.

I found the first point especially interesting–that children base what is important in their learning on what they are told to study.  If a teacher says the material is important, students will often believe them.  Contrarily, adults want to know the value of what the are learning and specifically how it will be valuable to their teaching.  I highly recommend all interested parties check out this resource!   

Adult Learning Principles in Professional Development

In studying about adult learners I quickly realized that there are so many great resources already available it would be superfluous to make my own. Instead, I choose to search for a model for professional development that is designed with the adult learning principles in mind.  I didn’t have to go far, as my own school district is currently preparing for a Learning Improvement Day (LID) that takes these principles into consideration.  In fact, the following slides are from the recent facilitator training.

How does the LID consider adult learning principles?

  • Adult Learners are goal oriented: our LID revolves around the Lake 8, which are the eight instructional components of student learning.  Each professional development session is aligned with one of these standards. The infographic below details the Lake 8 standards.

  • Adult learners are relevancy oriented: the LID consists of several sessions and participants get to choose which ones to attend.  The sessions are grouped by grade level (elementary or secondary) and, while some are subject specific, many apply to various subjects.  

  • Adult learners are practical: the goal of the LID is to leave teachers with instructional tools or resources they could implement in their classrooms the next day.  The goal is to keep each session quick and provide time to work.  The LID site also includes links to presentation materials and suggestions for future PD for those who want to extend their learning.

What’s missing?

It is unfair and inaccurate to judge just how effectively my district’s LID day accounts for all of Knowles principles until during and after the session.  The follow three principles cannot be determined yet and should therefore be the priorities of the facilitators when designing and implementing their specific professional development session.

  • Adult learners are motivated and self directed.
  • Adult learners bring life experience and knowledge.
  • Like to be respected.

Future Inquires

  • My goal for this blog post was to be reflective rather than to judge or evaluate.  However, I am curious to know if and how my district intends to assess how effectively the learning from the LID is implemented into instruction.
  • I keep reading that effective professional development is ongoing.  How could the LID be extended?

References

ACU (Australian Catholic University). (n.d.). Retrieved January 27, 2017, from http://www.acu.edu.au/staff/our_university/faculties/faculty_of_health_sciences/professional_practice_resources_for_supervisors/interprofessional_resource_library/Facilitating_Learning/knowles_principles

CAV: January 13, 2017. (n.d.). Retrieved January 27, 2017, from https://sites.google.com/lkstevens.wednet.edu/learningstrategiespd

Functional Adult Literacy (FAL) – Training Manual: Unit Two: Facilitating Adult Learning: 2.1 Characteristics of Adult Learners and Qualities of a Good Instructor. (n.d.). Retrieved January 27, 2017, from http://collections.infocollections.org/ukedu/en/d/Jh0414e/5.1.html

LSSD Professional Learning Portal. (n.d.). Retrieved January 27, 2017, from http://lifeinthetechlab.com/LSSD/plp/
Professional Development: Key Differences. (n.d.). Retrieved January 27, 2017, from http://nelearn.myelearning.org/mod/page/view.php?id=423

Differentiating Professional Development

Those in the profession of education are all too familiar with buzzwords, those bits of jargon that often come and go as topics of conversation and professional development.  While these words can often feel a bit exhausting, one that has seemed to stick, and for good reason, is “differentiation”.  Since I started studying the pedagogy of teaching, differentiation has been at the core of most of my learning .  Educators are tasked with understanding how to modify the content, process, and product of instruction to meet the needs of individual learners (Carlson).  If we understand that this is a fundamental component of effective teaching, it is safe to say that instruction should be differentiated for all learners, regardless of age level, experience, or background.  Therefore, effective professional development for teachers must be differentiated so that it is valuable, effective, and efficient for everyone.  

This is no easy task.  In a classroom, a teacher may have around 25-30 students that they see every day as they teach them one, or a few, subjects.  In this scenario, differentiating instruction is often an ongoing challenge.  Contrarily, opportunities for professional development are much less frequent and, depending on the school, there could be 50-100 (or more!) educators who all teach different subject areas and grade levels.  How can professional development be molded to meet the diverse needs of educators?

What’s Wrong With Professional Development As It Is?

Finding a comprehensive list of tips on differentiating professional development was a bit of a struggle, but it was easy to find a ton of commentary on what currently isn’t working in professional development opportunities.  One of the best resources, the Center for Public Education’s “Teaching the Teacher’s: Effective Professional Development in an Era of High Stakes Accountability” findings report, offered a clear idea of why most professional development is ineffective.  They looked at the types of professional development offered to teachers over the course of a year.  They found the following:

This information is concerning because, “most development happens in a workshop-style model which research shows has little to no impact on student learning or teacher practice” (Darling-Hammond et al., 2009).  Workshops, the report suggests, are ineffective because, in contrast, professional development programs that impacted student achievement were lengthy and intensive, but workshops are often only over the course of a day or two.  Workshops are not ongoing and there is rarely any follow-up.  Additionally, workshops assume that the issue teachers face is a knowledge gap and once they learn a few tips they will be much improved.  In reality, the struggle is in implementing instruction.  So, while a workshop may help educators gather resources, they must then have the opportunity to observe and practice good teaching in action (Gulamhussein, 2013).  This report goes on to offer some excellent tips for creating effective professional development.  While I highly suggest anyone in the education profession to check out this report, its focus is not directly on differentiation. In what follows, I use this reports tips for effective professional development, along with a few other resources, to provide an idea of how to differentiate professional development.

Differentiating Professional Development

Future Inquiries

  1. I found this topic really interesting, but as it’s one I’ve only just begun exploring, my resources were mostly introductory.  I would like to find more resources that get a bit deeper into differentiating professional development.
  2. Most of the information I found suggests that professional development be differentiated in the same ways we differentiate learning for K-12 students.  This makes sense, but are there other resources to consider when teachers are the learners?

Professional Development and Project Evaluation Mind Map

I created the following Coggle Mind Map based on my reading of Chapter 2: Evaluating and Assessing Professional Development from Sally Zepeda’s book Professional Development: What Works.  I will be using this learning throughout the quarter as I continue to look at what makes professional development valuable, effective, and efficient.

Resources

Carlson, A. M. (n.d.). What is Differentiated Instruction? Retrieved January 12, 2017, from http://study.com/academy/lesson/what-is-differentiated-instruction-examples-definition-activities.html

Gulamhussein, A. (n.d.). Teaching the Teachers. Retrieved January 12, 2017, from http://www.centerforpubliceducation.org/Main-Menu/Staffingstudents/Teaching-the-Teachers-Effective-Professional-Development-in-an-Era-of-High-Stakes-Accountability/Teaching-the-Teachers-Full-Report.pdf

Guskey, T., & Suk Yoon, K. (2009, March). What Works in Professional Development? Retrieved January 12, 2017, from http://www.k12.wa.us/Compensation/pubdocs/Guskey2009whatworks.pdf

Project Evaluation Report. (n.d.). Transforming Professional Learning in Washington State, 1-87. Retrieved January 11, 2017, from http://www.k12.wa.us/CurriculumInstruct/WA-TPL/pubdocs/2016-WA-TPL-Evaluation-Report.pdf

Zepeda, S. J. (2012). Professional Development: What Works. Larchmont, NY: Eye on Education.

Zdonek, P. (2016, January 15). Why Don’t We Differentiate Professional Development? Retrieved January 12, 2017, from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/why-dont-we-differentiate-pd-pauline-zdonek