Ways To Improve Professional Development Using Asynchronous Learning
Professional development (PD) is critical for educators. In a fast-changing field, best practices are constantly evolving, and teachers must keep up in so many areas, which is why educators and schools are always looking for ways to improve professional development. There's subject matter, pedagogy, technology, and more—not to mention constraints on time. With many states requiring proof of professional learning plans for annual evaluations in addition to relicensure, asynchronous professional development helps educators develop their skills while fitting into their busy lives.
What Is Asynchronous Professional Development?
Every school administrator and instructor knows what professional development is: learning designed to enhance your teaching practice and build skills necessary to improve learning outcomes.
It's the asynchronous part that's new to many. But, one of the great ways to improve professional development is by incorporating asynchronous learning. Asynchronous learning means that learners—in this case, educators themselves—don't have to be together in the same room at the same time to learn the material. Instead, they can study course materials and post their work on their own schedule, regardless of when their instructor and classmates do their share.
For example, an online course in which students get information from PDFs or filmed lectures and post their comments online is asynchronous, because it doesn't require the students and teacher to be online chatting or Skyping at the same time. It's a highly flexible way to learn, which makes it great for professional development work for educators of all ages and experience levels.
The Benefits of Asynchronous Professional Development
Choosing asynchronous professional development over a traditional guest lecture or university course has several advantages, including the following:
- Lower Cost: For institutions and districts facing budget restrictions, distance learning and asynchronous courses offer a cost-effective option. Having quality coursework available online is often far less expensive than hiring consultants to come teach a course in person.
- Equal Quality: Studies have found that asynchronous professional development is just as effective as traditional, face-to-face classes. In fact, many teachers are more enthusiastic about continuing their PD online than they are about taking courses in person.
- Work-Life Balance: With ever-increasing demands on educators' time, asynchronous programming offers plenty of flexibility for learners to fit PD into their schedules. Whether that's at night or on the weekends, being able to choose your own learning time makes it easier to fulfill family duties—and even enjoy some downtime.
- Flexible Collaboration: By taking time constraints and set schedules off the table, asynchronous PD fosters collaboration via message boards, email and social media instead. It allows for deep connections with other educators around the world—or in the same school—without forcing another meeting onto the calendar.
Types of Asynchronous Professional Development
There are several ways to offer asynchronous PD to your staff to modernize your professional development program:
- Online Courses: Many online courses offered through universities are either partially or totally asynchronous. Staff members who are working towards a master's degree or advanced certificates may need to complete substantial coursework while still teaching full time; asynchronous options can help them strike a balance between their work, education, and personal lives.
- MOOCs for Educators: Not all professional development has to be tied to a university degree. MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) allow learners to read texts and work at their own pace to complete course requirements. Outlets like EdX, Coursera, and others offer valuable courses for educators that cost less and can be completed at the learner's own pace.
- Professional Learning Communities (PLCs): Professional learning communities provide an ongoing process for collaboration among educators. It's a way to present problems, ask questions, conduct research, and work towards answers—but it can just as easily happen via a message board, Slack, or your school's LMS instead of at yet another meeting after school.
- Personal Learning Networks (PLNs): Educators can also design their own learning by reaching out to others online. PLNs can happen spontaneously over social media, via blogs, or on a dedicated website for educators. PLNs by nature are unstructured, but they are a valuable supplement to professional learning.
Implementing Asynchronous Professional Development
Like any professional development program, it's important to choose asynchronous options that address issues central to your community's needs. Great professional development is relevant, timely and useful, regardless of how it's delivered. The best PD will allow your staff to put what they learn into use immediately.
Whenever possible, offer your staff a range of choices that are interesting, affordable, and flexible. In addition to established online coursework, you may wish to consider a DIY asynchronous offering that you build for your staff. Try creating learning groups on your LMS that encourages members to share ideas and tips by posting them to a central location. These will grow and change over time to accommodate new needs, so they can be a very valuable addition to your school's professional culture for years to come.
This article discussed many ways to improve professional development using asynchronous learning. What did you learn about asynchronous PD? Let us know on Twitter @Schoology