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Learning Theories and Professional Development

Learning Theories and Professional Development


In this lesson, students will evaluate the significance of networked learning, situated learning, and socio-cultural learning in professional development.

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Source: Globe, Clker,; Stick Figure, Clker,; Heart, Pixabay,; Teachers, MorgueFile,; Students, Provided By Author

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Hello there and welcome. We've discussed adult learning theories, but that certainly isn't the only research in the field that is relevant to learning and professional development plans and activities. In this lesson, we'll cover network learning theory, situated learning theory, and social learning theory. Familiarizing yourself with these theories will also help you toward continuous professional growth. Let's get started.

Network learning theory is defined as a process of developing and maintaining connections with people and information, and communicating in such a way so as to support one another's learning. I'd like to reference my time as induction coach for first year teachers to illustrate this theory. I certainly had a great deal of experience and expertise to share, but so do a lot of other people. What made the learning successful in that setting were the relationships been connections that were made.

Any type of peer coaching can be described as network learning, and it doesn't even have to be in person. It can be through the use of technology, as well. I communicate regularly with an administrator in another state, and consider him a mentor. We were connected through a mutual friend, and have never met each other. But I feel supported with him, and I hope he feels the same way, too.

Next, we'll take a look at situated learning theory, which can be traced back to the work on social learning by Lev Vygotsky in the early 1900s, and later [INAUDIBLE] Levy and [INAUDIBLE] Wagner in the 1990s. Situated learning is another theory of knowledge acquisition, in which students growth or social interaction, and a real world application of the content, standards, and skills being learned. In other words, situated learning theory states that learning is a product of the context in which it occurs, and should be presented authentically.

This is why many teachers try to create authentic learning experiences for their students. For example, I know a class that acts as an editorial board for a kids page in the town's local newspaper. That's an example of situated learning.

That's not all. Situated learning also calls for communication, interaction, and collaboration to be present in order to lead to greater student understanding and achievement. This is true for the adult learner, as well. Think about how push in models of professional development are working today. In many districts, a consultant teacher is hired to work in a classroom with the teacher and her students, while other members of the staff observe and learn. It's not contrived at all, but rather a real teaching and learning situation with real students.

This theory is a perfect fit to what we do as teachers, because the professional growth and development we engage in is usually done within the context of our daily experiences. So by its very nature, it's always embedded, or should I say, situated.

The main idea of social learning theory is centered around the notion that people learn from one another throughout observation, imitation, and modeling. And furthermore, there's a connection that goes both ways between cognitive, behavioral, and environmental influences. These ideas were introduced by Albert Bandura in the late '70s, and he also included several other key components, that learning is more than just behavioral. It's also shaped by cognitive processes and social contexts in which the learning actually takes place.

Observation of behavior, including the consequences of a given behavior, leads to learning. This is clearly evident when working with younger children, but it's true for all learners.

Learning also includes drawing information from the observed behavior, and making decisions based on that information. This is one of the reasons collaboration and peer modeling is so important. I see this as a call to opening the doors of our classrooms. Reinforcement influences learning, but it's certainly not the only or most important factor leading to learning.

The learner is an active participant, not a passive recipient within the learning process. Social learning suggests that learning should take place in social contexts, therefore collaborative professional development is directly connected to social learning theory. Although learning occurs through direct interactions, it also occurs when others are observing interactions, as well.

If you want to see social learning theory, walk into any school that has a mix of veteran teachers and younger teachers, and watch the interactions. Because they will tell you a lot about the school's culture, and their beliefs about adult learning and professional development.

When veteran teachers set the bar high for their own professional growth, any new staff member who joins the faculty will recognize this and do the same.

Self-efficacy is also discussed by Albert Bandura. He defines it as one's belief in their ability to complete tasks and reach goals. This may be one of the reasons we are seeing so many schools develop or strengthen their social curriculums.

Self-efficacy is yet another piece of the overall success of site based management in schools and districts. It helps to build capacity, initiate need for change, impact improvements, and support m continuous improvement efforts. Bandura believed that self-efficacy is strongly connected to the individual's well being and personal accomplishment. When a learner is confident and has healthy self esteem, they are more likely to try new ideas, take on challenges, and accomplished difficult tasks. In other words, be a learning risk taker.

An administrator can certainly support or even encourage a teacher who wants to go this route. For example, I once knew a teacher who primarily taught language arts, while her partner taught math. Her growth goal was to learn an entire new math curriculum, so she could integrate math throughout the day. This was ambitious yet relevant, and important to do, and was possible because she believed that she could do it.

Let's take a look at a couple of potential professional development plans, and see how they align to the learning theories mentioned in this lesson. The first one is a special educator, whose goal is to do a better job of co-teaching with the classroom teachers within an inclusion model. Her plan might sound something like this. In order to become a better teaching partner, I will attend a workshop on the topic, watch videos about co-teaching, and read the book, A Guide to Co-teaching, by Richard Villa. In this example, network learning is somewhat weak, as most of her plan can be completed independently.

One could make the case that watching the videos reflects a little bit, but to a much lesser extent than watching a class in person and talking with the teachers afterwards. In doing so, this would also address the tenants found in social learning theory. Since this individual is currently working in a co-taught setting, this is considered situated learning. And by initiating these steps, she is demonstrating self-efficacy.

Next is a first grade teacher whose professional development plan is built around using a responsive classroom approach with her students. Her plan might sound something like this. I will attend a training on responsive classroom, and read the assigned textbooks. I will also join an online form about the topic, and file a responsive classroom on Twitter.

In my opinion, this plan is aligned to network learning theory, through the use of forms and Twitter. Attending the training will also address social learning, since you will be learning with others. and finally, as with most of our professional developments, we are learning while we're in the midst of it-- so let's all considered it situated.

To summarize this lesson, we began by discussing how learning theories impact professional development planning. Then we considered four learning theories-- networked, situated, social learning, and self-efficacy. By providing two examples of professional growth plans, we pulled out elements found in each and identified areas that could have been improved to include even more.

And now for today's food for thought. Review the theories mentioned in this video, and think about your most recent professional development plan. For more information on how you can apply what you've learned in this video, check out the additional resources section that accompanied this presentation. The additional resources section include links useful for applications of the course material, including a brief description of each resource. Thanks for watching. We'll see you next time.

Notes on "Learning Theories and Professional Development"

(00:00-00:21) Intro

(00:22-01:08) Networked Learning Theory

(01:09-02:40) Situated Learning

(02:41-04:25) Social Learning Theory

(04:26-05:33) Self Efficacy

(05:34-07:06) Examples

(07:07-07:54) Summary/Food For Thought

Additional Resources

Andragogy and Teacher Professional Development

This site explains the importance of considering andragogical principles when creating professional development opportunities for teachers.

The Importance of Andragogy in Education

This blog post by Tom Whitby stresses the importance of considering the principles of andragogy in professional development design. Whitby indicates professional development should be active, teacher-centered, and include opportunities for dialogue.