Earlier this year, I explored Professional Learning and Development research, suggesting a Professional Development Planner that could help others plan adult learning opportunities. When colleague John Bimmerle sent me this article, Why Good Professional Development Still Fails, I read it with avid interest.

The conclusion? Research showed that professional development, even when it followed the 7 principles of effective PD, did NOT impact student achievement.

Here are those research-supported principles:

  1. Be an ongoing experience for educators that provide extended learning opportunities help them master new skills and instructional methods. These have a better chance at positively impacting student learning. (Gulamhussein; Darling-Hammond et al.)
  2. Be job embedded as much as possible so that what is learned can be applied in the classroom. (DeMonte; Darling-Hammond et al.)
  3. Provide support for teachers during the implementation stage of using a new instructional method in the classroom.  (Gulamhussein).
  4. Offer content that is specific (e.g. goal, discipline, grade level, developmental stage) instead of generic. (Gulamhussein; Darling-Hammond et al.)
  5. Be engaging and use varied approaches to support learning for both groups and individuals.(Gulamhussein). 
  6. Include modeling because it helps educators understand new instructional methods (Gulamhussein; Darling-Hammond et al.)
  7. Promote collaboration among teachers because it leads to better teaching and instruction, helping educators solve problems they are dealing with in the classroom. (DeMonte; Darling-Hammond et al.)

As you can see, the research cited above is mirrored in other PD models, such as the one shown below from Participate PD:

  • Engage in inquiry-based investigations integrated into a competency-based online course.
  • Collaborate with other teachers.
  • Create a learning product, such as lesson plans or student activities.
  • Implement and test their learning product directly in the classroom with students.
  • Reflect on the process.
  • Upload the evidence of classroom practice, student work and learning.

Simply, you’ll learn more if you leverage technology to engage with other learners collaborating on inquiry-based problem with a tangible result. And, whatever teachers learn should be used in the classroom with actual students. Finally, we learn not by experience but by reflecting on our experience as John Dewey pointed out.

Some key take-aways from that article:

  1. A series of recent, rigorous, randomised-controlled studies of professional development programmes–that incorporated all the ingredients suggested by reviews of the evidence and were thoughtfully designed, carefully implemented and significant investment, these programmes led to no discernible improvements in student learning.
  2. Summer training, video coaching and professional learning communities “improved teachers’ knowledge and some aspects of classroom practice but did not improve student achievement”
  3. Summer training, coaching and follow-up seminars over two years changed neither teacher knowledge nor student achievement. 
  4. Three years of problem solving and examination of student work and misconceptions led teachers to evaluate the programme positively, increased their knowledge slightly but left their teaching unchanged
  5. No matter how strong your external training is, culture is stronger

What it boils down to, as the article suggests, is that professional development did not result in a change in teaching practices, and therefore, no impact on student achievement.

What are the implications for edtech advocates? For years, I’ve stated that the following works:

  • Problem-based learning, 
  • Reflective blogging that takes a hard look at what you’re doing day in and out for the sake of getting better. I’m NOT talking about the blogging prevalent today, focused on sharing the latest “Wow, isn’t this cool!” app to build one’s brand so you can become a consultant or get business. Yes, I’m guilty, too, so I know how easy it is to write those blog entries. Achieving transformation via reflection is hard work.
  • Collaborate with other educators, invite them into your teaching & learning space, listen to them when they make suggestions. This often doesn’t even happen at the adult learning facilitator level. “Ok you’re an expert, we’re going to let you go be an expert!”
  • Provide in-classroom coaching support (the stats on coaching cannot be ignored!) during implementation of a new instructional method or strategy. This includes modeling by the coach. Reflection afterwards is a must.
  • Provide specific instructional support during professional learning and a wealth of resources.
  • Build a support network and nurture relationships among all learners.
This isn’t a tough formula to figure out, just a hard one to implement consistently. We often learn in spite of our teachers…our goal in professional development isn’t to make that process harder, but to minimize the obstacles human beings face when learning.

Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin’s blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure