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 From Now On
The Educational Technology Journal

 Vol 9|No 1|September|1999




Why Choice Matters for Professional Development


by Jamie McKenzie

(About the Author)

For nearly two decades now we have been trapped in an outmoded approach to professional development for teachers, especially when it comes to learning how to use new technologies in classrooms.

"The Software Trap" has dominated school planning and thinking for too long and we have spent too little time providing the rich choices that would maximize adult learning.




After 20 years of working with this strategy, most reports indicate that the majority of teachers have still not integrated new technologies into their classrooms.

The approach, while popular, is flawed because it ignores the most important needs of teachers. It fails to address the teaching and learning issues which are central to the challenge of blending these tools into daily classroom activities.

(The full text of this article first appeared in eSchool News and is now available in How Teachers Learn Technology Best)

The Software Trap

Blue Sky High School had fallen into the trap of confusing software programs with purpose. The high school operated on the premise that teachers would integrate technologies into the regular classroom if they just had enough time to learn basic software programs such as ClarisWorks or Microsoft Excel.

In making this assumption, the school effectively placed the cart before the horse and ignored the most important learning issue of all, which is how to use these technologies to enhance student thinking and performance.

Sadly, when asked to produce their technology professional development program, many schools display a list of classes in assorted software programs:

1. Introduction to Word
2. Intermediate Word
3. Advanced Word
4. Introduction to the Internet
5. Advanced Internet
6. Introduction to PowerPoint
7. Advanced PowerPoint
8. Introduction to Web Publishing
9. Advanced Web Publishing

Adult learning concepts steer us away from the "software trap" to more customized approaches that emphasize informal groupings, support networks and choice. Each teacher selects a path or personal learning journey likely to match individual preferences for learning style as well as developmental readiness.

We offer experiences tailored to meet the needs, passions, interests and desires of the teachers. Recognizing the "chasm" between early and late adopters (see article), we develop something for everybody. No more "one size fits all." Recognizing profound differences between "traditional" and "constructivist" teachers, we invent programs for each.

The clearest way to contrast adult learning (often called "andragogy") with pedagogy (instructor directed learing) is to note that adult learning usually involves the learner in activities that match the individual’s interests, needs, style and developmental readiness.

Fundamental beliefs:

1) The learner may make choices from a rich and varied menu of learning experiences and possibilities.

2) Learners must take responsibility for planning. acting and growing.

If we shift school cultures to support adult learning, professional development is experienced as a personal journey of growth and discovery that engages the learner on a daily and perhaps hourly basis. In the best cases, andragogy includes an emphasis upon self-direction, transformation and experience. One learns by doing and exploring . . . by trying, by failing, by changing and adapting strategies and by overcoming obstacles after many trials.

Online Resources
Adult Technology Learning Creating Learning Cultures with Just-in-Time

Research You Can Use. Close-Up #12. Staff Development. J.S. Chick

A Survey to Support Choice

Before a district can hope to customize professional development offerings to match the preferences and styles of its staff, some kind of data collection is essential. Toward that end, From Now On makes available for free with this issue a 1999 version of the Technology in My Life survey.

Go to the survey . . .


Back to September Contents

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