top of page
  • Writer's pictureAngela Slate

How to Create Effective Online Professional Development for Teachers

Updated: Dec 10, 2023


A group of professionals that look like they could be teachers sitting around a table each in front of a computer with two other adults helping them. They appear to be having a good time.

The Impact of Microlearning in Providing Just-in-Time

Professional Development for Teachers Online


In Spring 2020, a global pandemic drastically transformed the landscape of education worldwide. As families were told to stay home, education was moved online and traditional classroom teachers were forced to become experts in eLearning almost overnight. There was an immediate need to not only train teachers in asynchronous online teaching, but to develop training that was asynchronous and online itself. In addition, teachers needed this just-in-time training to be presented in bite-sized pieces, also known as microlearning (ML), that could be implemented immediately and accessed when needed. This type of Teacher Professional Development (TPD) was very different than the status quo at the time in which TPD was mostly delivered in-person via whole-day or multi-day workshops (Allela, 2020). Over a year later, when the immediate threat of COVID-19 began to wane, districts had already incorporated new technology into the teaching of both teachers and students. As life began to return to “normal,” they were faced with the question of returning back to the traditional ways of TPD or embracing the new technology and methods that were incorporated during the pandemic.


The purpose of this literature review is to determine if there has been research that demonstrates how online, on-demand microlearning provides teachers with more effective just-in-time support than traditional methods of all-day or multi-day in-person TPD. It is this author’s hypothesis that this type of TPD results in better teacher performance by providing the support needed to prevent teacher burnout and increase teacher retention while ultimately improving the success of students. In this paper, we will explore traditional methods of TPD, the benefits and drawbacks of online TPD (oTPD), the advantage of Just-in-Time Learning (JITL) for educators, and examples of successful and unsuccessful incorporation of Microlearning (ML) into oTPD. Finally, we will examine a successful case study that incorporated elements of well-designed oTPD to provide just-in-time support to teachers in during the pandemic.


Literature Review


Traditional Teacher Professional Development (TPD)

In the Standards for Staff Development, published in 2001 by the National Staff Development Council (NSDC), it is recommended that teachers spend a least 25% of their time in professional development and collaboration. However, not all TPD is built the same. After reviewing 107 related texts concerning TPD in 2017, Joshua C. Elliott was able to identify the 6 main qualities of effective professional development: interactive, collaborative, differentiated, continuous, resourceful, and relevant. This aligns with the responses of school administrators when asked about what they believed to be effective TPD (Elliot).

Despite this, most research shows teacher disdain for professional development (Elliott 2017). Many described their TPD programs to be “disjointed rather than ongoing. Only 23% of the teachers felt that their professional development had relevance to their teaching” (Elliott, p.117). Very few teachers reported that their TPD incorporated collaboration time and most see it as simply a requirement to retain their credential or earn continuing education credits (Elliott). This idea is supported by a study involving secondary teachers in Sierra Leone which found that participating teachers were mostly concerned with doing only what was needed to get the certificate at the end (Allela, 2020).


Teachers’ perception of TPD is actually an important factor in effective TPD. In a study of TPD for district technology leaders in Israel, Tamar Shamir-Inbal discovered that perceived learning was even more important than actual learning. ​​He found that the “more teachers perceive skills and learning content as meaningful, the greater their understanding and satisfaction with the learning program" (Shamir-Inbal, 2020, p. 746).


Online Teacher Professional Development (oTPD)

Could moving training online improve teacher perception of professional development and therefore, improve results? There are many advantages to switching to oTPD. In addition to being cost-efficient, it is time and location independent which allows flexibility for busy teachers (Polzl-Atefanec, 2022; Elliott, 2017; Ma, 2022). Knowledge could also be continuously accessed online long after any official training session ends. In a study of online training for Early Childhood Educators (ECEs) in German-Speaking countries, teachers reported that they liked the online format because they could all learn as a team despite logging in at different times. They often discussed the training with each oher while working and helped clarify technical terms for one another (Polzl-Atefanec). Another advantage of online learning is that it opens up collaboration between districts and unites communities of educators that would otherwise be geographically distant. It also allows teachers in remote areas to have access to experts they otherwise would not have (Elliott).


Unfortunately, there are many concerns about online training as well. For example, technology does have many potential distractions, it requires stable internet along with a minimum level of technical knowledge by the participants, and can create a sense of isolation since there is less communication with instructors and peers (Polzl-Atefanec, 2022; Shamir-Inbal, 2022). In the previously mentioned study of ECEs, the participants needed much more technical support than anticipated (Shamir-Inbal). Because online learning is self-directed, it also requires self-regulation skills on the part of the learner (Shamir-Inbal). It is important to take both the negative and positive aspects of oTPD into consideration when designing online instruction as “poor online learning experience could have a more negative impact than no experience” when it comes to teacher perception (Elliott, 2017, p. 119).


Just-in-Time Learning (JITL)

If the negative concerns about oTPD can be addressed, it has the very crucial benefit of providing Just-in-Time Learning and support to teachers. One of the main complaints from teachers about traditional TPD was the lack of relevance to their day-to-day teaching (Elliott 2017). Traditional TPD is usually conducted away from teachers’ classrooms where students are not present and strategies cannot be immediately implemented, but are taught “just-in-case” teachers find it beneficial at some point (Allela, 2020; Elliot). In contrast, effective TPD should be designed with best teaching practices in mind and be relevant to the learner’s growth and needs (Calleja, 2017).

Just-in-Time Learning has the potential to address all of these concerns. JITL is modeled after the embedded tutorials in videos games, where assistance is scaffolded and provided at exactly the point the player needs it (Calleja, 2017). It is paralleled to the support teachers provide students in class as the students are working on assignments. Thus, teachers are provided with support that is directly related to what is happening in their classroom at the time they need it. There are three key aspects to JITL that contribute to effective TPD: 1) self-directed/interest-driven, 2) time-independent/flexible, and 3) immediate application of learning (Calleja).


Micolearning (ML)

Just-in-Time Learning can be even more efficient when presented online in the form of Microlearning (ML). This involves presenting information in micro-sized chunks often with a micro-assessment at the end (Polzl-Stefanec, 2022). Smaller chunks of learning align with our brains’ working memory limitations and the average learners’ 15-minute attention span (Allela, 2020; Ma, 2021; Polzl-Stefanec, 2022). This improves teacher engagement, allowing them to better retain the information while preventing burnout or information overload (Allela; Kondratska 2022; Ma). The flexibility of online ML being automated and self-paced also allows it to be easily integrated into teachers’ busy lives, while micro-assessments immediately following the lessons allow learning to be quickly evaluated without requiring special testing arrangements (Allela; Ma; Polzl-Stefanec). This flexibility could explain why this form of learning “increases appeal to a millennial learner by 71%” (Kondratska, 2022, p. 98). Short lessons also provide an added benefit for instructional designers as they can be easily produced and updated as needed (Allela 2020).


There is a concern that without cohesive structure, microlearning could result in fragmented, superficial learning without the ability to explore topics on a deeper level (Ma, 2021; Polzl-Stefanec, 2022). The study of ECEs also found that anonymous participation resulted in a lack of accountability (Polzl-Stefanec). However, research shows that these concerns can easily be overcome. For example, the concern about fragmented learning can be addressed using knowledge maps. A study of Mandarin Language Teachers showed that teachers who were provided with knowledge maps to guide their online microlearning outperformed those who were not provided the same maps (Ma). The knowledge maps also helped them structure the knowledge in a way that persisted in their memory (Ma). The anonymity concerns can be addressed by using a Learning Management System (LMS) that tracks user progress and participation (Allela, 2020). Finally, deeper level conversations can be cultivated via synchronous and asynchronous communication channels between the learner and instructor as well as between the learners themselves (Allela; Calleja, 2020; Polzl-Stefanec).


A Successful Case Study in Online Microlearning Professional Development

At the onset of of the pandemic, two professors of education partnered with a county office of education to provide oTPD to K12 classroom teachers who, like all teachers at the time, were forced to switch to asynchronous online teaching without any training beforehand (Birch, 2020). From the onset, the design of the course was not based on what the instructors believed the teachers needed to learn but instead developed couses based on teacher requests. Courses were also based on programs and applications already available to the teachers making the lessons immediately applicable.


Courses were organized into two 20-30 minute online synchronous sessions a week with the last ten minutes of each session reserved for Q&A. Each session focused around a very narrow topic that could be implemented the following day, allowing teachers to provide feedback to help shape the next course meeting. Live polling also allowed teachers to provide feedback during the course sessions as well. All content was hosted on a website along with resources to allow continued access as needed. The course was so successfu, voluntary participation grew each week (Birch, 2020).


It should be noted, however, that this particular case was in response to an emergency situation; therefore, the results may not be the same in normal circumstances. For example, teachers may not be willing to come to two synchronous meetings a week, no matter how short, if there is no urgency.


Comments and Conclusions

In a profession where everyone from parents to politicians think they know how to do your job better than you, teachers are constantly being told what others think they should do and rarely asked what they actually need. This has resulted in teachers having a negative view of professional development and only participating out of requirement or to earn credits. However, as seen in the case study, when we provide teachers with what they need when they need it, they eagerly participate.

Based on the literature reviewed, we can conclude that online, on-demand microlearning does provide teachers with more effective just-in-time support than traditional methods of in-person TPD. We can even conclude what an ideal training should look like. First, teachers should be included in choosing the topics and, if possible, multiple topics would be available from which they could choose. Learning should be presented online in self-directed, bite-sized chunks immediately followed by micro-assessments. These microlessons along with additional resources should be available online to be accessed when teachers need the information and will be able to implement it soon after. A learning management system should be used to track learning, prevent anonymity, and provide teachers with a knowledge map. Ideally, an in-person launch event would be held to introduce the online components, provide tech support, and initiate community building. Synchronous and asynchronous opportunities should be created to allow continuous collaboration, tech support, instructor support, and a deeper discussion of topics. Continuous feedback from teachers should be used to modify instruction as needed. Last, but not least, teachers should receive continuing education credits for participation.


References

Allela, M. A., Ogange, B. O., Junaid, M. I., & Charles, P. B. (2020). Effectiveness of multimodal microlearning for in-service teacher training. Journal of Learning for Development, 7(3), 384–398. https://doi.org/10.56059/jl4d.v7i3.387


Birch, R., & Lewis, K. (2020). Building Partnerships to Support Teachers With Distance Learning During the Covid-19 Pandemic (EJ1281552). ERIC. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1281552.pdf


Calleja, J., Foster, C., & Hodgen, J. (2021). Integrating "Just-in-Time" Learning in the Design of Mathematics Professional Development. Mathematics Teacher Education and Development, 23(2), 79–101. https://mted.merga.net.au/index.php/mted/article/view/599


Elliott, J. C. (2017). The evolution from traditional to online professional development: A Review. Journal of Digital Learning in Teacher Education, 33(3), 114–125. https://doi.org/10.1080/21532974.2017.1305304


Greenhalgh, S. P., & Koehler, M. J. (2016). 28 days later: Twitter hashtags as “Just in time” teacher professional development. TechTrends, 61(3), 273–281. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11528-016-0142-4


Kravchyna, T., Kondratska, L., Romanovska, L., Korolova, N., & Gudz, T. (2022). Realization of future teacher’s mental space in the process of bite-sized learning. Postmodern Openings, 13(2), 97–117. https://doi.org/10.18662/po/13.2/445


Ma, N., Zhao, F., Zhou, P.-Q., He, J.-J., & Du, L. (2021). Knowledge map-based online micro-learning: Impacts on learning engagement, knowledge structure, and learning performance of in-service teachers. Interactive Learning Environments, 1–16. https://doi.org/10.1080/10494820.2021.1903932


National Staff Development Council. (2001). Standards for Staff Development. Retrieved October 24, 2022, from https://gtlcenter.org/sites/default/files/docs/pa/3_PDPartnershipsandStandards/NSDCStandards_No.pdf


Pölzl-Stefanec, E., & Geißler, C. (2022). “micro-steps” on the route to successful online professional development for Austrian early childhood educators. International Journal of Educational Research, 115, 102042. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijer.2022.102042


Shamir-Inbal, T., & Blau, I. (2020). Micro-learning in designing professional development for ICT teacher leaders: The role of self-regulation and perceived learning. Professional Development in Education, 48(5), 734–750. https://doi.org/10.1080/19415257.2020.1763434


Soh, Y. (2021, May 12). Bite-sized learning vs. microlearning: Are they one and the same? eLearning Industry. Retrieved October 23, 2022, from https://elearningindustry.com/bite-sized-learning-vs-micro-learning-are-same


Comments


bottom of page