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Professional learning in the digital age | Opportunities and challenges

Welcome to an Enabling e-Learning kōrero. Our focus? Connected, networked professional learning.

I’m going to start with a deliberately provocative statement: that PD models in schools are increasingly looking ‘broken’.

If I can...

  • access information anytime, anywhere, 
  • connect to educators across the country, 
  • engage in deep conversations with others,
  • process information in ways that suit my strengths and needs,
  • and reflect on my practice in spaces of my choosing, 

....what might this mean for the leadership of professional learning in schools?

We know that activities don’t make as much difference as content - we know that deep, theory-driven conversations matter - but how far do we offer inclusive, connected pathways into those conversations?

Check out this TEDxNYED talk from Will Richardson on the power of networked, socially connected learning...

So, what do you think? Has professional learning begun to evolve in your school? Does it look different to a few years ago? Should it?


  • Janet McFadden (View all users posts) 21 Aug 2013 9:27am ()

    This is a really interesting thread - and I thought this link to Steve Hargadon's Future of Education


    might be of interest. (You may already know this site) Although I won't be able to join his live interview today with Ann Mikkelson of Norway, who with a group of 27 high school students wrote Connected Learners: A Step-by-Step Guide to Creating a Global Classroom, you'll see that there are a number of free international online conferences and events scheduled between now and the end of the year.

    In terms of our own PLD programmes offered to teachers and school librarians, we're also looking at issues around levels of ongoing support, timeframes, sustainability, and evidence of the impact on student learning, and effectiveness data is being collected. Our online courses (5 or 6 weeks) are delivered using the VLN Moodle, and we've been looking at where to set up related Online Communities for ongoing support - thinking that people are unlikely to want to join a community on a different website (we have our Services to Schools site where Online Communities are set up for face-to-face courses). I'd be interested in any feedback and your thoughts on this.


  • Justine Hughes (View all users posts) 13 Aug 2013 10:38pm ()

    Hi Karen

    I'm really going to enjoy this forum!  Complete advocate for online professional learning being more valuable and sustainable than the model of the past - the one or two day 'course'.

    The whole of my Masters has been built around professional learning in the 21st Century - with a strong online and social media focus -  and how we can develop models that will sustain, share and increase learning over time.

    I think a great part of this also comes down to us as professionals being aware of the need to take responsiblity for our own learning based on our individual needs.  The traditional model of professional learning is often not able to do this and nor should it be expected to, given that there may be 140 individuals in an organisation.  How could one professional development course hope to meet the individual needs of everyone involved?  In my opinion, and experience, it can't.  I've added a couple of links to posts I've written on this in the past and will also add a personal reflection which was part of a Masters' paper.  

    At the present time, I'm not convinced that professional learning in our schools has shifted to the extent we think it may have - at least not for everyone.  I'd be really interested in reading others' thoughts on this.  Great debate!!

    My current research and reading is around the development and sustainability of Online Communities of Practice in teacher professional learning and the more I read, the more passionate I become about this being the possible way forward.  It's a question of how we manage to get the reluctant participants involved, however.  

    Professional Learning - Whose responsibility is it?


    Blog Link to an older blog that was based on Professional Learning and Online Communities of Practice - may or may not have resources that interest in relation to professional learning and where we're headed / need to head. 





  • Tessa Gray (View all users posts) 16 Aug 2013 11:59am ()

    Learn whatever, whenever we want to! This challenges the ownership and relevance of PLD as you’ve shared Justine. It also challenges who is perceived to have the knowledge and power of learning networks.

    I have been part of traditional PLD models…where the teacher in charge of XXX leads the staff meeting, when someone attends external PD shares back with the staff or invited quest speakers/mentors deliver. Often these were one-off events, some may call a ‘spray and pray’ approach. Not very sustainable as Justine has mentioned.

    It has long been recognised that strong professional learning communities within a school, can have significant impact on student learning achievement. This is deemed effective because, “…it is located where teaching and learning occurs, and can be more readily contextualized. It also allows more easily for the implementation of a teaching as inquiry approach.” (Professional Learning Groups in Secondary Schools: What makes them effective? Roger Baldwin)

    Virtual networkHowever, this model can become complicated, for example in secondary schools - with larger staff and different faculty needs. More recent key findings show, “…schools…simply do not have the resources to provide “in house” all of the very different kinds of expertise needed to develop 21st century learning experiences for their students.“ (Supporting future-oriented learning & teaching — a New Zealand perspective, P49, R Bolstad & J Gilbert with S McDowall, A Bull, S Boyd & R Hipkins)

    So, can we challenge the traditional school model by using different social structures, mentors and virtual spaces?  I think we can. We’re already doing it….here’s two scenarios from the VLN.

    Guest blogger, Linda Ojala was invited to share her journey online, @ Where I am heading? Day One - where she reflected on her practice as she delved into Universal Design for Learning. As well as relfecting on her own practice, Linda invited others to do the same in Supporting Imaging in Maths with year 3s.

    Anjela Webster actively engagses in deeper learning conversations in the thread, Growing leadership of e-learning | NAPP Kōrero 6 - Resourcing and has gone one step further, to contemplate the value and worth of sharing expertise in this way. Definitely worth a read.

    Anjela Webster reflects  

    My wondering is…

    • How did this happen?
    • Why has this way of engaging in PLD worked for these teachers? 
    • Did they go through phases/stages of PLC adoption
    • What traits, characteristics, understandings and skills do these educators have - to be able to engage in deep conversations so visibly online?

    What does everyone else think? Could we share one possible reason for this success?

    Plugged in books Also, Anjela wants to know, "How we could link more teachers in to view, and in time, share and participate, because it is a tremendous source of professional development?" Maybe we collect some ideas - that could help support/lead new ways of PLD in our schools?

  • Anne Kenneally  (View all users posts) 19 Aug 2013 5:47pm ()

    Karen, as I read this I cast my mind back to when I heard you (at Ulearn 2011 in Rotorua I think) talk about the MAGIC of online, but the real value of face to face connections.  I use this analogy with online PD and face to face PD.  Recently I wanted to share the power of my twitter PLN to co-construct a shared resource.  I was asked to share how to make the writing programme fun in a school.  I knew I had limited ways and thought about the power of crowd sourcing... I was incredibly comfortable asking for contributions from those I have met face to face and have a rapport.  I was probably cheeky enough to share with those I only know online, but it is so much easier to connect online with those we have met face to face!


    Back to your original question - Professional learning in the digital age - Opportunities and challenges!

    I think the opportunities are inumerable, instant, tried and true.  There is an incredible open-ness and willingness to share and grow opportunities for our learners.

    I think the challenges are info-whelm.... there is simply so much 'out there' it is hard to focus and sample what best meets our needs!

  • Janet McCarroll (View all users posts) 19 Aug 2013 6:45pm ()

    Anne you raise the comparison between online and face to face Professional learning and the values shared by both and offered seperately. I agree it is incalcuable the benefit of establishing a relationship with somone face to face as to only meeting them in the online environment. 

    How could I have understood the whirlwind of passion, energy, love of learning and breath of fresh air you are until I met you face to face on your after study study tour?

    Establishing relationships is critical in fact baselin, as we know if real learning is to occur ( students or adults alike). The value and benefit of the online environemt is that it allows us to make the connections with people you have identified as possibly able to help you to meet your learning needs, as no other forum ever as! You talked of 'cheeky connections' and how you felt incredibly comfortble asking for help and how successful this approach was. Doesn't everyone feel flattered to be asked? You want my expertise and knowledge? Can I share with you? Yesterday, Charles Leadbetter's quote was posted, "You are what you share". How real for today's digital learning environments and how increasingly important this will become for our students. Their 'digital presence' will become enormously important to their future pathways, learning and success. How do we currently teach our students to project their best possible 'face' to the on line world? Shouldn't this be fundamental eLearning in all schools? What does this look like in most NZ schools today?

    Opportunites for online PLD are literally immeasurable. Imagine a place where its possible to find and meet on line the 'best' in any field, create the connection, share who you are, your thoughts, writing, ideas, vision for learning and seek Professional help? Wow! Using the on line environmet for PLD in our schools has not even been tapped! Do we need facilitators? Maybe. I believe that if you have the intrinsic motivation, you can lead your self and others to Educational environments you dream of. Others who share your same questions. others who are opening doors towards ideas that perhaps you yourself are tossing around?

    Anne, you are correct about the info whelm, but perhaps that requires clear where to next steps for teachers, which requires first class mentor ship?

  • Anne Kenneally  (View all users posts) 19 Aug 2013 7:32pm ()

    Oh Janet, what MAGIC to hear from you on here. Only this weekend I was talking about you when I had my blog/book of my twitter tour out!  I was talking about how sometimes when you meet someone it is like you have known each other for a very long time.  I so clearly remember our conversations and the wonderful walk around the Mount! Twitter Tour 2011 North Island I was very interested to re-read the blog post to find it was the wonderful Paul Seiler who was responsible for us connecting!  And how can I ever thank you enough for the wonderful introduction to Chris Bradbeer and the MAGIC of Stonefields!  

    The more I think about this forum the more I think of Derek's words of Ubiquity, Agency and Conectedness.  I think we all learn best when we have choice of when, where, how we connect, with who and most importantly WHY!  I know how much I value this freedom and ability to focus on my needs.  

    I love the quote you posted!  I always try to live this quote: If you learn, teach; if you get, give!  For me, the value of giving is far greater than that of receiving and I think it is a very important attribute to model for our learners.  

    I love your thoughts on mentorship!  I also believe fundamentally in the value of reflection.  I have always been a very reflective practitioner but until recently probably in a more private arena, my blog or my docs.  I am now seeing the power of shared discussion on these forums.  And indeed the MAGIC of reconnecting with you!  THANK YOU

  • Merryn Dunmill (View all users posts) 20 Aug 2013 10:24am ()

    This is a great discussion! People may be interested in what is happening in the Virtual Professional Learning and Development (VPLD) programme and online community.  Information about VPLD is also available on its VLN group space.  This programme offers ongoing, online mentoring to suit individuals and schools. The VPLD programme evolves over 3 years with participants developing their own mentoring skills, thereby impacting on others. A highlight of the programme is an annual shared face-to-face hui where participants and mentors join forces to share professional ideas and reinforce connections made virtually through the online community of practice, online mentor meetings,  newsletters and webinars. 

  • Madeline Campbell (View all users posts) 25 Aug 2013 10:09am ()

    The VPLD group has been pivotal to my own professional growth, and, I believe, is a super successful model for professional learning for teachers (I'm in my second year this year). In support of Vicki, I too find myself thinking how to use the VPLD model to rethink professional development connected to different initiatives I'm involved with or on the fringe of. I often wonder - as we move towards (hopefully) authentic learning experiences and environments for student, as we move to transformational rather than transactional teaching models to engage learners, as we prioritise knowledge building and working creatively and critically with knowledge in our learning spaces, then surely, it follows that teachers too might be more engaged, inspired and motivated to grow professionally, when learning this way too. I find myself 'ruined' for anything that involves a single person lecturing at me as I sit amongst my colleagues, on a topic that has been chosen for me! 

  • Vicki Hagenaars (View all users posts) 20 Aug 2013 1:01pm ()

    I have been wracking my brains the last few days for a specific research topic I could choose should I apply for an e-fellowship.  This morning - on the treadmill - it came to me in my eureka moment that we needed to change our PD format at school and move the staff into the kids world somewhat surreptitiously by changing their own practice when learning. As a member of the VPLD I have found the online community generated there invaluable.  Why not recreate something similar within our staff?  We all need help at different times of the day.  Traditional meetings do not always assist in the same way when you know something was said that could help you now, two weeks later, but you didn't make a note of it. Being able to go back to online discussions, assist someone with your own experiences in a just-in-time fashion and reflect on the practices working (or not!) elsewhere through the community's blogs has been invaluable PD.

    I got home to check my emails only to discover one relating to this discussion.  Thank you Merryn, as it was your contribution above that alerted me.  Confirmation!  Am looking forward to following and adding to this discussion as time goes on and processing my application.

  • Tim Gander (View all users posts) 21 Aug 2013 4:26pm ()

    I have just finished reading the article in the PPTA news (August 2013) which confirms many of the points which that have been made in this discussion.  

    The headline reads "The government is spending $200 million a year on woefully inadequate teacher professional learning and development (PLD) that doesn't help student achievement-and the Ministry of Education is starting to take notice"

    The article continues to highlight that local provision is not often supported and if you are in Taranaki, Gisborne or Wainuiomata your PLD opportunities would be far worse than people in Auckland or Hamilton.  This resonated with me as I am teaching in Gisborne and have found it extremely difficult to attend professional learning to stay inspired and up to date with effective practices due to lack of financial support and the costs associated with teachers leaving school for a day or two to travel through 'the gorge'!

    Earlier this year I jumped at the chance to attend a ULearn conference which thankfully came to Gisborne and was pointed in the direction of the VLN - this has been an amazing resource for inspiration and a catalyst for many ideas and experiences I have implemented through teaching.  The opportunity to take part in webinars has really helped me connect with other educators who are working towards positive outcomes with a great amount of passion.  I feel it has challenged myself professionally and pushed the boundaries of what I previously thought was possible, as well as enhanced the learning and engagement for students in my classes.  The opportunity to take part broke down the geographical boundaries but there are still time constraints that I had to compromise and had to arrange alternate nights for sport coaching etc when considering attendance at webinars - It is possible to view the recording of the webinar, but always better to be present in real time as you can ask questions and develop a greater feel to the topic - and as Anne and Janet write it is still not comparable to the 'face to face' connection that you make when talking and learning with another person - but financially more realistic for remote schools and an amazing way to learn from people proficient in the fields you are interested in.

    I have found by expanding through twitter and the PLN that I have created through initiatives like #edchatNZ and #PEgeeks and using groups on google+ there are never ending opportunities (definitely 'info-whelm' Anne!) to develop personal knowledge but I think the main challenge is how do we encourage others who may not be as intrinsically motivated as ourselves who choose to do this off our own backs and make the effort to take part in events in our own time, or even look into the possibilities of connecting with other educators who are in the same situations as them?

    As an additional question….I have also been a bit confused about the N4L, how will that fit in with the VLN and potential PLD opportunities?

    Great thread, keep up the good work!!!

  • Anjela Webster (View all users posts) 21 Aug 2013 5:27pm ()

    Some very strong rationales are showing through in the threads already as I read about the value our contributors on this group get from the VLN. Tim, like me, comes from a province in which there are numerous obstacles to participation in f2f (face to face) PD, so opportunities are few.  Anne shared about the value of f2f, and obviously there is a great connection between Janet and Anne who met at a conference and value eachothers' philosophies and passion for education. I agree, that meeting and making an ongoing connection with someone is fantastic. 

    I'd like to throw in another perspective - that of the nature of anonymity online to a degree within such a network as the VLN. Particiipants can remain quite private if they choose, and share only what is pertinent to the topic at hand if they like.  Their contributions are accepted and encouraged.

    The converse is that I believe there are practitioners who can feel overwhelmed by the 'expertise' of presenters at conferences and workshops, and alienated by the comraderie that can exist when reunions or collectives of educators meet up at these forums.

    Online on the VLN it is evident that it is an even playing field as such with the degrees of anonymity, with no judgements placed on age, gender, level of teaching, association with a particular school unless freely divulged, no clustering in 'familiar' groups, knowledge is shared, ideas are mooted, resources are offered, encouragement is at the ready - this has been an online culture that has been fostered by the facilitators, and those actively participating.

    I believe that it serves a great role to educators across sectors, regions, and backgrounds for some of the reasons listed, and possibly offers stronger associations than f2f forums for some practitioners. f2f conferences are sometimes such an intense experience with many connections made, but how many remain connected in a casual ongoing basis threaded around a shared conversation such as this?  

    We are ourselves worthy of research, in the same reflective way we ask why some of our students thrive in certain learning environments and situations - and yes, how can we encourage our colleagues to dip their toe in the tide? 

    Cut and paste a link is a start ... they can only ignore it, but if you send some brilliant links.. and tie it in with an area of leadership or friendship on staff... they could be tempted. Smile

  • Anne Kenneally  (View all users posts) 21 Aug 2013 5:52pm ()

    I am just loving the development of this conversation.  I could not agree more that in an online environment we can share as much or as little of ourselves as we choose whereas face to face you pretty get the whole package. I have met a HUGE number of my twitter PLN over the years after connecting virtually for some time.  Having an established virtual relationship makes the face to face connection so much stronger and this leads to great online connectivity generally.  For our professional development, time online, lurking or following or contributing allows us to personalise and focus our own devlopment.  As you mentioned Anjela,, I am incredibly aware that when tweechers meet up at conferences the reunions can be like a secret club meeting to those yet to discover the MAGIC of Twitter or an online forum that develops these connections.  I am on a mission to introduce anyone and everyone to Twitter so they are part of this family!  ;) Key to my success with my online environments is the flexibility and agency.  I love the asychronous and synchronous opportunities and I love PD as and when I am ready for it!  The vln is slowly and surely becoming as much a part of my PD as my twitter PLN and I am loving these discussions!

  • Karen Spencer (View all users posts) 22 Aug 2013 11:38am ()

    What riches, my friends! :)

    Thank you so much so far for the wealth of resources and the 'long form' reflections on your own learning and the design of your school's provision - a topic after my own heart:) 

    We are really getting into the benefits of being blended/online that we perceive in terms of being connected to colleagues within and beyond our regions, overcoming geographical/time barriers, learning in ways that give us greater agency...there's no doubt that new pathways are opening up to extend what's possible.

    Today, I thought I'd throw two things into the mix to unpack what 'good PD' might look like in our schools if we are to take advantage of the technology to extend what research suggests is effective learning for student achievement:

    • What makes good PD?: An interesting blog post from Eric Sheninger (A Principal's Reflections). It has a US-focus but it offers an interesting perspective.
    • Helen Timperley's EdTalk where she describes what kinds of learning make a difference for students:

    Professional Learning that makes a difference to students from EDtalks on Vimeo.


    If we then assume that our own learning arises from our students' needs, driven by sound information, and could (should?) also link to the schools' goals, to our own inquiry, to a team focus...

    ...how might this fluid, connected, often socially-driven learning blend into that?

    This has been the focus for my thesis and work with schools, exploring the way that online, socially networked activities (like this thread!) can be part of an effective PL model...so, what do you think?

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