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Checking Professional Development for Alignment to Learning Theories

Checking Professional Development for Alignment to Learning Theories


In this lesson, students assess the alignment of professional development plans to learning theories.

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Source: Globe, Clker,; Stick Figure, Clker,; Learning, Pixabay,; People, Pixabay,; Tenmarks,

Video Transcription

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Hello there and welcome. We've been looking at many learning theories and how they relate to professional development. Well, in this lesson, we will assess the alignment of those theories to school-based plans and activities. We'll do this by asking some very specific questions. Let's start by taking a peek at them.

As we attempt to determine if our professional development plan meets the needs of the adult learner we are targeting, we want to check for alignment between the plan and those theories. The questions that we ask will center around choice, the learner's previous experience, motivation, self evaluation, the culture, learning style, sustainability, authenticity, and collaboration and support.

Let's begin by setting the stage for our alignment check. The setting for our example will be a K-5 elementary school. The faculty is made up of about 30 teachers. Based on the previous end-of-year's testing results, administration has determined that they would like to support teachers and students in math by subscribing to TenMarks, an online program that allows for teachers to differentiate homework by assigning specific playlists connected to the standards that the student needs help with.

Additionally it gives students exposure to the online testing that they will be expected to encounter in the Spring. The professional development plan will be created in the Fall. And here is an example of what that school-wide plan might look like. Prior to the beginning of the school year, the principal will send out an article that introduces the staff to TenMarks.

During the first faculty meeting, the staff will analyze the results of the previous end-of-the-year's math data. They will really drill deep and make meaning out of the data. At the next faculty meeting, a representative from the company will be present and demonstrate how to use TenMarks, and teachers will be instructed to set up their accounts and enter their class lists.

The principal will hold drop-in sessions weekly until the Spring, when the representative will return for a second round of training. We will check this plan for alignment against three learning theories-- andragogy, network learning theory, and social learning theory. I've selected these three because in this particular example, it's geared specifically towards adults and involves 30 individuals who work in the same building.

We will start by looking at whether or not the professional development plan is aligned with Malcolm Knowles' six assumptions. Do the adults have an opportunity for choice? Yes. But it is very limited. They do have the choice to attend the drop-in sessions, but otherwise, the learning is being presented to them. An example of how this could be addressed is by offering learners more than one resource for background knowledge, perhaps links to videos on YouTube or directly on the site.

Does the plan take into consideration the experiences that the teachers bring with them? Not really. We are assuming that the training session from the representative isn't differentiated and it's pretty standard. This assumption could be improved if the presenter finds out who the experts in the room are and elicits their help.

Will the teachers find value in the training based upon their current context. Those who teach math certainly will.

Will the plan help the teachers address a need in their practice? Yes. And the teachers will clearly see this after reviewing the data.

Does the plan allow for internal motivators to drive the learning? This plan does not have any motivators built into it. Perhaps some sort of recognition for those who come to the weekly drop-in sessions will increase motivation.

And finally, does the plan demonstrate the rationale for the development of this plan to the teachers? Yes, it does. The article cites research for using a program like TenMarks. And the end-of-the-year data clearly shows a need to do something.

Next, let's check for alignment between our plan and network learning theory. Do the adults have an opportunity to work with one another and also support one another throughout their professional development? The answer to this question is yes because of the weekly drop-in sessions. These are meant for teachers to give and get support from their colleagues in an informal and non-threatening venue-- right for authentic learning.

And finally, let's see if the plan is aligned to social learning theory by asking the following questions. Is learning both cognitive and behavioral? This plan is both because it involves both a conceptual understanding of the program and also the ability to upload the names and manage playlists.

Are there opportunities for observations? As the plan stands, there is not. However, that is something I would highly recommend adding to it.

Is there opportunities for modeling? Yes during the presentations, the TenMark representative will model how to navigate the website.

Is reinforcement built into the plan? No. However, by providing teachers with credits for attending sessions, this could be addressed.

And are there opportunities for teachers to be active participants? Absolutely, during the weekly drop-in sessions.

So let's summarize what this exercise is all about. We took a school-wide professional development geared toward 30 elementary school teachers and checked for alignment with three learning theories-- andragogy, networked, and social learning theory-- by asking and answering a series of questions.

And now for today's food for thought. Think about the challenges you face when participating in professional development. Would aligning the PD to learning theory help alleviate them?

As you reflect on how this new information can be applied, you may want to explore the additional resources section that accompany this video presentation. This is where you'll find links and resources chosen to help you deepen your learning and explore ways to apply your newly acquired skill set. As always, thanks so much for watching. We'll see you next time.

Notes on "Checking Professional Development for Alignment to Learning Theories"

(00:00-00:17) Intro

(00:18-00:49) Questions

(00:50-01:30) Background

(01:31-02:23) PD Plan

(02:24-05:04) Alignment Check

(05:05-05:53) Summary/Food For Thought

Additional Resources

Seven Principles for Effective Professional Development for Diverse Schools

This article by Abelardo Villarreal outlines seven helpful considerations for professional development design. In particular, Villarreal stresses the importance of aligning activities to Knowles' adult learning theory.

Professional Learning Communities: Professional Development Strategies That Improve Instruction 

This guidebook from the Annenberg Institute focuses on professional development strategies to improve student achievement; alignment to adult learning theory is inherent in the design. The guidebook is a useful tool for any school embarking on the PLC journey.