New Market Opportunities in Professional Development

Annie Teich“Online teacher professional development has the same effect on student learning and teacher behavior as more traditional face-to-face models, according to a new research study to be published next month by the Journal of Teacher Education.”

Earlier this week, Benjamin Herold wrote in Education Week about these study results that support advocates of online professional development. This rigorous study, financed primarily by the National Science Foundation, compared groups of high school teachers preparing to introduce a new environmental science curriculum. Some teachers participated in 48 hours of face-to-face professional development over six days while the other group participated in an online workshop that covered the same material.

The conclusion of the study was that both sets of teachers confidently implemented the new curriculum and recorded similar results when it was introduced to the students. There was no difference in outcomes from the two professional development models.

So what does this mean for educational publishers?

Because we often find that professional development and good implementation of new programs go hand in hand, online professional development provides a flexible and efficient alternative to face-to-face coaching. This professional development research comes at a time of great change in U.S. schools. Transition to the Common Core, increased technology, higher curriculum standards, and new teacher and principal evaluations all require professional development to implement successfully.

The lead researcher in this study, Dr. Barry Fishman at the University of Michigan, stated that a growing body of evidence suggests that when it is well designed, there is no difference in outcomes between online and in-person professional development. The study results certainly support that conclusion. With little or no additional time in educators’ work days, using online programs for professional development has advantages including that educators can move at their own pace throughout the programs.

Even with a robust, comprehensive, and interactive online course, the costs to both publisher and district can be significantly less than in-person professional development and training. If the efficacy is the same, then districts can offer educators more flexibility with online course options.

Educators will need ongoing and sustained professional development in multiple areas including: curriculum, technology, data-informed instruction and other teaching strategies. The shift to the Common Core State Standards involves a transition from a teacher-centric classroom to a student-centric classroom. The move from the teacher role as “sage on the stage” to “instructional coach” is a significant shift that requires additional support of classroom teachers and principals. Another shift that affects teachers is the move toward project-based learning. It is a different style of learning that requires a different instructional style. As students take more responsibility for their own learning, the traditional role of the teacher will continue to evolve.

Leveraging the positives of online courses gives schools and districts additional opportunities for effective and efficient professional development. It also presents multiple opportunities for publishers in that they can choose either face-to-face, online or even a blended model for their professional development programs.

The educational landscape continues to shift as a result of the move to higher standards and increased technology. This transition provides opportunity for the marketplace.