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Tech in Early Education #2: Online Professional Development - Why Bother?

19 Dec 2014 by Emily Doyle

Online learning is all the rage. With the advent of Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs), we have more opportunities than ever before to explore new information, perspectives, and people. Valuable online learning experiences are available for teachers, students, and professionals in nearly every field. For example, in K-12 and higher education, the concept of “the flipped classroom” is becoming more and more popular.

I recently read an article, published by RAND, which focused on using technology in ECE settings with children, and it got me thinking:

If technology can help children learn, then what are the potential benefits of online learning and technology for early childhood teachers?

On-Demand Access

If there is one thing we can all agree on, it is that teachers are busy! Expecting teachers to leave their classrooms to participate in one-off workshops or trainings is unrealistic—and on-demand learning helps teachers make the most of the small bits of time they do have to devote to professional development. The most successful online learning is bite-sized (according to this researcher, the optimal video length for an online learner is just six minutes!), relevant, and engaged with frequently. Online learning offers on-demand access to relevant pieces of meaningful, concise content.

Individualization

Most teachers will agree that each child they work with is different: they come from different backgrounds, educational experiences, and family lives. Teachers know that it is important to individualize learning based on the child; but how many teachers receive that same level of individualization from their own professional development experiences?

The beauty of online learning is that it holds the promise of individualization. Imagine a world where a coach could see teacher progress and data, then use that information to make informed recommendations for PD that is relevant and specific to the teacher’s strengths, challenges, and interests. Believe it or not, online learning platforms are emerging to make this a reality. I am hopeful that one day we can finally say goodbye to one-size-fits-all professional development that doesn’t work or wastes valuable time.

Community Building

At first it seems contradictory—how can online technology enhance interactions? The truth is that online technology can—and does—enhance community building, professional learning communities, and even face-to-face interactions. Rather than serve as a distraction, online professional development resources can provide the foundations for discussion (both in-person and virtual), enhancing the limited time coaches and teachers have together. A blended model approach, similar to the one described in this EdSurge article, combines independent, online learning experiences with in-person experiences focused on practical application and practice. The future of online technology is not about replacing face-to-face interactions—it’s about making those interactions more valuable.

Online tools and technology offer a variety of benefits to early childhood educators, including the promise of effective professional development; however, just like anything else, barriers exist to implementing tools and technology effectively. My next post in this series will address some of the barriers to engaging effectively in online learning and strategies for overcoming them.

Reply in the comments below to share your experiences, good and bad, with online learning and technology.