As much as instructional leaders and Professional Development instructors know about best instructional practices, we often fall back on traditional “sit and get”, lecture style delivery methods, powerpoint marathons and packets of information when working with adults. It’s easy to see why in some cases. We assume adults can handle getting their information that way and that they’ll pay attention because it’s related to their job. We are often pressed for time, and need to communicate information quickly and we assume that adults will be interested to learn because we are trying to help them become better teachers.
But the reality is, we aren’t hitting the mark. The pressure of standardized testing has certainly had some negative consequences but it’s also put a spotlight on data. It’s made it clear that the traditional ways we’ve been teaching our students aren’t working for all of them. The fact is, we are failing some of our kids and need to change our teaching practices and our education systems. The growth of technology that’s happened at the same time has opened up possibilities and at the same time put pressure on our institutions to think differently about our instructional practices, our ways of delivering content, the ways students can show mastery and evidence of their learning and it’s provided us the opportunity to have access to learning on our own schedules. The question is, why don’t we allow teachers to learn that way too?
Knowles (1984) identifies characteristics of adult learners that we need to revisit as we rethink how we can take the best parts of what we know about learning and bring that to new ways for teachers to learn too.
Autonomous and self-directed: If given the right tools, teachers can often self identify their own learning needs. It may be useful for newer teachers to also have the support and insight of their principal or mentor teacher to identify needs as well. Although evaluation tools like TPEP in Washington State are used punitively by some districts, it is possible instead to use those tools as a mechanism to identify learning needs for teachers that will directly impact student learning. Once those needs are identified, we can help teachers by providing resources and tools to facilitate their own learning needs. Online courses and tutorials, personalized professional development, work inside PLC groups, and learning from other teachers can all provide avenues for teacher to learn on their own.
Respect for the foundation of life experiences and knowledge: Teachers enter the profession with a variety of experiences both in and out of the classroom. We know students learn better when they can connect their learning to prior knowledge and the same should be true for adult learners. Our Professional Development opportunities need to take into account the expertise in the room and help teachers make connections to their experiences. We need to respect and honor what those experiences bring to the table while still expecting a growth mindset and a willingness to at least entertain new ideas.
Goal-Oriented: Most adults will focus better and pay more attention to something they’ve chosen to learn because they are trying to learn something that will help them achieve a personal goal. We need to give teachers choices in their professional development so they can develop skills to help them reach goals that are important to them.
Relevancy- oriented & Practical: This all goes back to purpose. People don’t retain learning well if they don’t understand the reason they are learning. I’ve stopped getting frustrated by teachers who ask me questions that make it feel like they aren’t listening or paying attention to the email’s, trainings, resources, etc. that I’ve give them. People need to know things when they are ready to know them. If it doesn’t feel relevant and practical to them at the time it’s taught to them they won’t retain it or take the time to try it out. The trick is in finding ways to increase readiness and create the conditions for the learning to be needed so it is relevant for teachers. If I figure out the trick I’ll blog about it some other time.
ISTE Coaching standard 4b asks coaches to “design, develop, and implement technology rich professional learning programs that model principles of adult learning and promote digital age best practices in teaching, learning and assessment.“ Many districts have been successfully using technology to address some of these issues. Video tutorials, online PD courses, badge based learning, webinars and other alternatives for learning are becoming a more integral part of professional development options. One option I’ve been interested in learning more about is micro credentialing. Micro credentialing “offers an opportunity to shift away from the credit-hour and continuing-education requirements…toward a system based on evidence of progress in specific instructional skills.” (Sawchuck 2016) I like the idea of a mastery based system that requires more of teachers than just “butts in seats”. Micro- credentialing allows teachers to be recognized for their expertise. One program in the Kettle Moraine district in Wisconsin involves peers in evaluating the evidence of learning from fellow teachers and approves the micro credential. Although I love that idea, I would think it would be challenging to sustain over a long period of time.
Christopher Pappas (Pappas 2014) applied Knowles theory to eLearning and suggested that adults need to have a chance to absorb knowledge instead of just memorizing it; “ the subject matter should offer them the chance to fine tune skill sets and acquire (and retain) practical knowledge by doing, rather than just memorizing.” Micro credentialing also offers the chance for the hands on, practical and relevant learning that can benefit teachers and ultimately our students.
Pappas, C. (2013). The Adult Learning Theory – Andragogy – of Malcolm Knowles – eLearning Industry. eLearning Industry. Retrieved 9 February 2018, from https://elearningindustry.com/the-adult-learning-theory-andragogy-of-malcolm-knowles
Pappas, C. (2014). 9 Tips To Apply Adult Learning Theory to eLearning – eLearning Industry. eLearning Industry. Retrieved 9 February 2018, from https://elearningindustry.com/9-tips-apply-adult-learning-theory-to-elearning
Sawchuk, S. (2016). Can ‘Micro-Credentialing’ Salvage Teacher PD?. Education Week. Retrieved 9 February 2018, from https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2016/03/30/can-micro-credentialing-salvage-teacher-pd.html