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How to Personalize K-12 Teacher Professional Learning (Part 3): Hybrid Methods Enable Flexible and Authentic Teacher-Centered Learning

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Recommended practices for supporting authentic K-12 professional learning, including through hybrid and blended approaches.


In the final of our three-part blog series, we look at a few recommended practices for supporting authentic professional learning, including through hybrid and blended approaches. These steps help make professional learning more timely and relevant, and thus more personalized.

That personalization is important not only to teachers’ satisfaction in their professional development (PD) as described in Part 1, but also in their overall engagement and retention amidst increased teacher burnout. In fact, 45% of superintendents and administrators who responded to a recent D2L survey cited more personalized, relevant and flexible professional learning as among the most helpful surveyed practices to reduce teacher fatigue/burnout and increase teacher satisfaction, retention and even recruitment.

Let’s take a look at several practices and examples of how hybrid, embedded and blended teacher learning can support a more authentic and relevant experience.

Enabling Practice and Feedback Supports Personalized Professional Learning Success

One-time workshops and lectures too often ignore the importance of learning timeliness and learner application and reflection. Learner-centered best practice requires not just personalization of content, pace and place, but equally as important, the ongoing opportunity for practice and feedback to deepen learning.

This approach starts by including teacher voice so that professional learning is based on an individual or group-identified problem of practice. By structuring the PD across an extended period, we can provide opportunities for classroom implementation, ongoing reflection and adaptive learning.

Where professional learning extends beyond the school/district or is not specific to the local curriculum and instruction, provide local professional learning communities (PLCs) or other opportunities for practice for that localization needed for curriculum relevance. Relevance is also gained by repurposing large-group synchronous learning for peer-to-peer learning designed around individualized teacher experiences and questions.

How ISTE U Scaled Personalization Through a Modular, Flipped Classroom Approach
Based on teacher feedback for additional flexibility, the International Society for Technology in Education’s ISTE U accelerated its prior plans to deliver many shorter courses in a more modular approach. These shorter courses are available on demand and are self-paced. Intelligent agents automate task releases and reminders within the Brightspace learning management system (LMS) powering ISTE U.
Many school districts leverage ISTE U self-paced courses in a flipped classroom model. Teachers access the most relevant content at their own pace and then join a local PLC where cohorts can apply that shared, foundational knowledge to their own context and environment. This format provides alignment to district curriculum and priorities, and a 360-degree learning experience inclusive of practice and reflection.
“This outsourcing and collaboration is so important to providing all teachers with ongoing, job-embedded and relevant professional learning that supports their growth,” said Liz Miller Lee, director of online learning at ISTE.

Hybrid Formats Support Effective Instructional Design

The intentional use of technology can provide a more engaging and meaningful professional learning experience that better meets individual needs and matches formats to the learning task. A blending of in-person and online, synchronous and asynchronous, and group and independent learning can most effectively ensure sound instruction and learner agency.

The use of a flipped classroom model supports on-demand, self-paced consumption and leaves live sessions (online or in-person) for deeper feedback and discussion.

Where learning is synchronous (online or in-person), you can extend and reinforce the learning with ongoing virtual engagement such as asynchronous discussion groups, session recordings and other on-demand resources. Facilitating participation in PLCs allows teachers to connect both asynchronously and by flexibly scheduling synchronous sessions, including with experts outside their district as well as with school peers.

How the Putnam Northern Westchester Board of Cooperative Educational Services Flipped Professional Learning to Respect Educators’ Time and Individual Needs
When the pandemic hit, Putnam Northern Westchester Board of Cooperative Educational Services (PNW BOCES) reoriented its professional learning to a flipped classroom model. This approach not only helps eliminate the barriers of distance and travel but also enables a more learner-centered model that allows time for teacher application and improvement.
“With the flipped classroom, it’s not about just soaking up information and then walking away,” said John Boniello, former director and systems change facilitator at PNW BOCES. “It’s about changing your practice and applying what you’ve learned. That’s a much better use of everybody’s time.”
PNW BOCES’ use of the Brightspace LMS also provides a streamlined user experience that helps educators use their learning time productively. A single hub brings everything together for the teacher, from instructional videos to course content to links to live virtual sessions. The system also automates personalized reminders to learners and unlocks course content and assignments at each learner’s pace to scale personalization.

The K-12 Guide to Personalizing Professional Learning

To help support the need for modernized K-12 professional development, D2L convened a working group of educators to identify practices that will help reimagine teacher professional learning. This guide delivers their top eight recommendations for improving the timeliness, flexibility and relevance of professional learning.

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How the Ohio Department of Education Created a Hybrid Model for Scaling Flexible, Customizable Professional Learning
When the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) rolled out a state-mandated course, they needed to design it with the flexibility for teachers to work through the course according to their personal needs and school schedules. The solution was an adaptable, hybrid model.
School districts can schedule state-certified course facilitators to lead their staff’s training on site. Often, the facilitators ask that teachers complete pre-work in the LMS while blending LMS-hosted digital resources into their onsite discussions. This hybrid format allows each educator to also have access to the content for ongoing review and to complete the requirements at their pace. Many districts have scheduled times for building-level teams to work through the course together in PLCs to also support local feedback and reflection.
“Valuing and protecting teachers’ time must be an important part of both the planning and executing of professional learning,” said Allie Sberna, pHCLE, professional development eLearning coordinator at the ODE. “This hybrid model provides the flexibility needed for teachers to collectively and individually access learning when and as needed, both in-person and online.”

Taking the Next Steps to Personalize Professional Learning

These practices and examples complete our three-part summary of recommended practices identified by an expert working group assembled by D2L. The full list of eight practices is listed below, while our full K-12 Guide to Personalizing Professional Learning includes some 60 more detailed steps that school systems can implement, along with considerations and vignettes. Identification of these practices emerged from D2L’s teacher survey and research review.

The scale and scope of these practices may appear overwhelming. Like any other systemic initiative, you can employ a strategic framework for success that includes building a shared vision, enabling teacher voice, employing an iterative model to pilot, evaluate, improve and scale, and repeating as you grow your practice toolkit.

Like your students, teachers have a diversity of experiences, knowledge and skills, and only by recognizing and empowering their individualized needs can you build an effective and engaged instructional staff. Learner-centered approaches must apply not only to your students but to your teachers as well.

  1. Value Professional Learning: Create a school culture that values teachers as professionals and professional learners.
  2. Incentives and Measures: Incentivize, measure and reward teachers for their personalized learning time and progress.
  3. Actionable Communications: Provide clear, relevant and actionable communications to teachers about professional learning expectations and resources.
  4. Modern Infrastructure: Provide a modernized, teacher-centered professional learning infrastructure.
  5. Resource Catalog: Curate a robust catalog of professional learning resources and formats to address the scope of teacher needs.
  6. Authentic Learning: Design authentic professional learning that incorporates practice, reflection and feedback.
  7. Personalized Pathways: Build flexible content pathways, including through competency-based progressions and modular approaches.
  8. Hybrid Methods: Employ multiple formats, methods and modalities for effective instructional design and learning personalization.       

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Written by:

Mark Schneiderman
Mark Schneiderman

Mark Schneiderman is Senior Director for the Future of Teaching and Learning at D2L. Mark curates research and strategic partnerships to support the K-12 education sector in identifying and implementing best practices. He previously held senior roles in the technology and nonprofit sectors where he built public-private partnerships to help imagine and advocate for public and school policies that enhance student success through the use of technology and digital learning.

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Table of Contents
  1. Enabling Practice and Feedback Supports Personalized Professional Learning Success
  2. Hybrid Formats Support Effective Instructional Design
  3. Taking the Next Steps to Personalize Professional Learning
  4. Summary of Recommended Practices
  5. Learn More

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