Understanding Effective Remote Professional Development

POSTED: October 29, 2020Category: AISA ArticlesBY: AISA P9

Authored by Graham Watts, Deputy Executive Director, Association of International Schools in Africa

With the move to remote teaching, we have seen a move to online professional development (PD). There are advantages to this mode of PD, especially in a part of the world where flights and travel can be expensive and time consuming. Online PD allows anyone access from anywhere (depending on internet connections of course); there are no extra costs like flights, hotel, visas or vaccines, the registration costs of lower and the PD experience can span weeks or months thus allowing for guided implementation. But questions should be asked of the efficacy for online professional development. Key issues to consider include:

  • How does the efficacy fo remote, online PD compare to face to face PD?
  • What learning architecture leads to the greatest outcomes?
  • What can be borrowed from face to face PD to support online PD?

Last month, the UK’s Education Endowment Fund completed a rapid evidence assessment that explored these and other questions relating to the efficacy of remote professional development. This study searched meta-analyses and systemic reviews that address the efficacy of different modalities of PD. Their key findings include:

1. Teachers can increase their knowledge and skills, change their practice and in turn, improve student learning through remote PD.

The evidence did not specify if this was to a greater or lesser extent than if the PD were face-to-face, but the data was clear that remote, online PD was of value. The report suggests that the mode of learning is less important in ensuring outcomes than factors such as the design and facilitator. The conclusion is that school-based PD need not be delayed in the hope that face to face opportunities will soon be available.

2. Remote PD is most effective when it allows participants to collaborate.

While online collaboration extends the length of remote PD programmes, it also increases retention and completion rates and the knowledge and skills developed by participants. Strategies like collaborative reflection and collective problem-solving increase the outcomes of an online PD programme. An approach that stood out as a highly impactful is the use of teachers filming their own practice and reviewing this in a collective context. It was recognised that this takes time but in terms of successful implementation of PD outcomes and developing mastery of new practice, this is an approach that is singled out for praise. This technique on its own is of limited impact but when the review of practice is accompanied by rubrics and evaluation schedules, the impact increased.

The use of online coaches and mentors is effective in improving knowledge and skills of remote PD participants. Online coaches also help overcome feelings of isolation that can characterise on online, PD programmes and lead to increased outcomes for the participant and their school.

3. Some things are the same regardless of the mode of delivery.

The role of school leaders, PD Coordinators and colleagues is crucial in creating a fertile school environment for teachers to practice, innovate and experiment during and after a PD programme. As with face to face PD, participants of online PD, achieve greater outcomes when they feel supported by their leaders, when they have allocated time set aside for PD and of course, have access to the technology to access online learning. As with face to face PD, the outcomes are greater when the participants understand the purpose of the PD, the role of the participant and the online facilitator, and understand the expectations of the programme.

As the AISA five-week Deep Dives launch this week, I am delighted (and relieved) that the characteristics of effective online PD feature in their design and facilitation. A five week model is an innovation for AISA and one that we hope will increase the likelihood of participants making sustained changes to their practice. PD like so many things in our world is changing fast and we at AISA are working hard to stay on the crest of the learning wave.

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