Why Online Teachers NEED Ongoing Professional Development

In our last post on instructional leadership, we touched on the issue of professional development (PD) and the necessity of providing online teachers with ongoing training, support, and PD. This post will expand on the critical importance of PD for new online teachers and ongoing PD for all online teachers.

The National Standards for Quality Online Teaching and Quality Online Programs both discuss the importance of PD from the perspective of teachers seeking out their own opportunities and the responsibility of programs to offer quality PD. 

What is offered to teachers, however, needs to be tailored to the specific needs of teachers at that time. In addition, teachers can benefit from being proactive in seeking out relevant PD opportunities. 

Teacher-Led Professional Development

While still evolving, what we know about how children learn is a well-established field. Our understanding of what it takes for learners to be successful in their online courses, however, is ever-growing and being refined. Because of this, it is crucial that online teachers continuously receive PD (both formal and informal) that increases their knowledge and skills related to online learning and how to be an effective online teacher. 

Part of finding relevant and necessary PD requires online teachers to identify areas where they are in need of growth and then seek out resources or learning communities to supplement these areas. 

Whether through formal continuing education resources or informal ones, like social media groups and virtual meetups, teachers ought to be reflective about their own areas for growth and be active, engaged participants in expanding their online pedagogy.

Program-Led Professional Development

Another option to consider is program-led PD, in which online providers or programs offer teachers specific PD related to online learning. For example, Michigan Virtual offers PD to any educator through the Professional Learning Portal but also has internal PD specific to Michigan Virtual teachers. The National Standards for Quality Online Programs direct programs to provide a “wide variety of professional development opportunities.” 

The Standards also echo conventional wisdom on PD that it be both consistent and timely. Consistency is important as repetition builds knowledge and skills as well as sets the expectation for continual growth and development. 

Conventional wisdom with adult learners also tells us that the PD content needs to be timely and relevant to the teachers’ immediate needs. If programs try to deliver too much content at one time, much of it will be forgotten due to sheer volume or the fact that teachers were not ready for certain aspects of the content. 

It is better to build PD consistently, over time and on concepts leading towards mastery of a skill or understanding of new knowledge. 

One form of ongoing, just-in-time PD can be assigning a mentor or lead teacher to work with new online teachers. This relationship provides personalized PD to the new online teacher, giving them the opportunity to work with and learn from an experienced and effective online teacher who can help them solve any issues that may arise. 

Michigan Virtual’s Administrator Guide to Online Learning discusses the importance of professional development, not just for online teachers but for on-site mentors as well. Specifically, it calls out ongoing professional development as an online learning best practice, one that is increasingly necessary given the rapidly changing nature of technology. 

Final Thoughts

PD is critically important to the success of any online program. But more than simply offering PD, program leaders should encourage online teachers to identify real, pressing pedagogical needs and seek out targeted PD to address those needs. More so than simply checking a box or meeting a state requirement, PD has the real opportunity to develop effective online teachers and, in turn, foster successful online learners. 

Success in Online Learning blog series

In our Success in Online Learning blog series, we discuss all things K-12 online learning in Michigan and across the nation. Our hope with this series is to provide a primer on K-12 online learning, cover established and emerging topics, and provide relevant research and resources. Stay up to date on future blogs in this series by signing up for email notifications!

About the Authors 

Kristen DeBruler

Dr. DeBruler is the Research Manager at MV. She has been in the field of K-12 online education for nearly a decade and joined Michigan Virtual in 2012. During that time she conducted research on preparing K-12 online teachers and supporting K-12 students. Some of that work focused specifically on K-12 online teacher preparation, K-12 online learner demographics and success at several state virtual schools, and learning trajectories in K-12 online mathematics courses. Dr. DeBruler received her doctorate in Educational Psychology and Educational Technology from Michigan State University and has experience teaching at the Master’s level, both face-to-face and online. 

Christa Green

Christa received her master’s in Curriculum and Instruction from Kent State University, as well as a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration. She taught middle school language arts and social studies for seven years before coming to work for Michigan Virtual in 2018. As a Research Specialist with the Michigan Virtual Learning Research Institute, Christa enjoys using her passion for education, curriculum, research, and writing to share and shape best practices in online and blended learning with other educators not only in Michigan, but nationwide. 

Picture of Michigan Virtual Learning Research Institute

Michigan Virtual Learning Research Institute

The Michigan Virtual Learning Research Institute (MVLRI) is a non-biased organization that exists to expand Michigan’s ability to support new learning models, engage in active research to inform new policies in online and blended learning, and strengthen the state’s infrastructures for sharing best practices. MVLRI works with all online learning environments to develop the best practices for the industry as a whole.

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