Online-Learning Communities: The Next Generation of Professional Development

Article excerpt

Many librarians and technology specialists enroll in online courses to provide teachers with fresh ideas for classroom learning, to learn new instructional strategies to use in their work with students, and to collaborate with other educators to improve technology integration.

Educators have an unwavering passion for their work, but they need ongoing support in order to thrive in today's demanding school environment. Every day they must adapt their teaching to the diverse needs of students, while at the same time adopting new technologies, changing education policies, and handling reform efforts. To meet rising expectations, educators actively seek professional development to deepen their content knowledge and improve their instructional skills. Yet, every educator has different skill sets, goals, and challenges at various times in their professional lives, so their desire for information, knowledge, expertise, and technical competence varies accordingly. No one professional development offering is appropriate for all.

Online professional development provides educators with an effective, efficient way to reach their professional and personal goals as well as pursue lifelong learning opportunities.

With the growth of Web technologies, the availability of high-quality professional development for educators has increased significantly. Now educators have access to a greater depth and breadth of graduate-level coursework than they may have had in other professional development settings.

Moreover, online courses expose educators to the same technologies that they must incorporate into their teaching. The online learning format lends itself well to blending subject-area content with technology integration strategies. Educators learn how to incorporate technology into the curriculum in ways that enhance student learning.

Educators also need more time to collaborate with colleagues in their area and across the country. Building an online professional-learning community helps educators to sharpen their skills, identify new strategies, and lessen the feeling of isolation often inherent to education.

There are numerous benefits to professional development for educators, including increased job satisfaction, career advancement, better pay, and improved student learning. However, there are significant challenges that often impede them from pursuing opportunities that will contribute to their growth, such as convenience and affordability. Professional development delivered in an online-learning environment removes many of the constraints associated with traditional forms of professional development.

ACCESSIBLE AND AFFORDABLE

More and more teachers, librarians, technology specialists, and others are turning to the Internet for highquality instruction. Through online professional development, educators can select courses that interest them, that match their particular needs, and that are aligned with their state curriculum standards. Asynchronous online courses allow educators to pursue professional development on their own timetable.

Travel expenses, workshop or course fees, and the costs to hire a substitute add up to an expensive onetime professional development experience. Online offerings are often more affordable. Educators don't have to take time away from the classroom, which is an additional benefit for their students. There are no textbooks or software to purchase either, because online courses are typically self-contained. Using available technology is a cost-effective way for schools and districts to help more teachers achieve their goals. Online courses are especially advantageous for educators in rural areas who may have limited access to high-quality offerings.

The flexible online learning environment enables a school district to provide sustained professional development that has a greater effect on student learning than one-time workshops and seminars. …