Online development- a double whammy?

Do you find it difficult to make time for your own professional development? Have you thought about continuing your development online? Let me share a bit of my story of how I got into online learning-and how it fed into my professional development.

Internet cafés of the world

I did my MA in Education at the Institute of Education, University of London.  Well, in fact I did it in Cambridge, UK, Argentina, Serbia, Morocco, Spain, Georgia, Moldova…. Only very rarely did I actually make it to London to see tutors and the group I was working with. With my laptop and a rare gift for hunting out an internet café in the most unlikely places, I was set to go.

My MA was my first experience of e- learning, and I have to say it was a really good one. At the time I was based in Cambridge, UK, running my own consultancy and travelling extensively. I simply didn’t have time, or the financial means, to take two years off work and sit in a classroom every day. The ‘e’ option, whereby I could study from anywhere I chose by using email, was just what I was looking for.

During the course we had to read articles and books and watch video lectures. We also had email groups in which we would discuss the topics of the day and then be moderated by our tutors. My experience was that writing about the issues actually improved the level of the discourse, as people usually think more carefully before they write something for public consumption. Anyway, I learnt a lot on my MA course, but what I hadn’t bargained for was that I learnt a lot about online collaboration and learning, and had time to reflect on the mode and not only the content. It was a very powerful learning experience.

Blended Learning

I became more and more excited as I started to use blended learning in my own work and began to realise what a great tool e-learning is for dealing with situations when there are distances between learners and tutor. Blended learning simply means using a combination of face-to-face learning and e-learning. My first major experience of this blended learning  as a tutor was in a 2.5 year project I ran in Serbia & Montenegro in which we trained 4 groups of teachers to become teacher trainers: ‘trainer training.’  For each group we went to the country four separate times, for a total of 20 days, to work with the teachers. In between visits they had tasks-they were developing their own training materials- and we tutored them to improve on their session plans by email.

This was a very simple blended learning model, but it really capitalised on the tools we and the trainers had available, which was basically email, and the fact that we couldn’t be ‘in-country’ all of the time. It meant effectively that when we did visit, we could do some very useful work with the trainers-in-training, since all the writing and editing had been done beforehand. We could really take advantage of the fact that we were all in the same place. Since then, I’ve built e-learning into a large number of my programmes, and also developed fully online courses.

Of course, it’s not just about email these days-though for many places it is still an important tool. In fact, we are currently helping one country develop a teacher training course by email. Nowadays, though, there are a whole range of VLEs, or virtual learning environments that we can use for online learning.  Moodle and Blackboard are two of the more popular ones.


So why might an online course be a good direction for your professional development as a teacher or trainer? Here are a few possible reasons I thought of. Perhaps you’d like to add a few of your own.

 Why might it be good professional development for you?

  • Following an online training course means you’ll have a large degree of flexibility about how, when and where you study. In that way it’s idea for busy people like teachers!
  • You can instantly be in a virtual classroom with teachers from all over the world- a very enriching experience.
  • Not only will you learn new content in your course, but online learning gives you a new way of looking at teaching and learning. In other words, the mode of learning itself is very enriching for us as educators.  Now that’s what you might call a ‘double whammy’ …

8 thoughts on “Online development- a double whammy?

  1. Plus, you keep online track of innovations on these VLEs, which would take a few years to reach the other side of the world in the past…. It’s learning about the most recent developments in no time…

    • Indeed! A very good point, Nada. thanks. Online learning is definitely a way of bringing high quality training from all over the world within your reach, isn’t it?

  2. Hi Sue-

    First time I’ve stopped by your blog and I enjoyed the post. Thanks. Enjoyed the distinction of mode and content and the double whammy effect !

    I wonder to what extent participating in an organized TD course would be more beneficial than participating in what is currently available on twitter, ning, linkedin, and certain facebook groups. Of course, it’s the same old question of whether an individual is willing and self-motivated to take control of their own “course”, but these have been great resources for me personally.

    What do you think, seeing as you seem to have a bit more diverse experience in this arena.

    Cheers, Brad

    • Hi Brad- Thanks for dropping by and commenting.

      Good question. I think I probably have less experience of twitter and ning than you do, and I don`t have a complete grasp of what there is out there- except that there`s a lot of it!:) And perhaps that in itself can be an issue. I don`t know about you, but I find lots of things interesting, bookmark them, think I`ll come back to them, and only sometimes do. It`s a kind of `jungle path`of professional development, which is good for getting a sense of what people are talking about, perhaps, and I certainly use social media for that. As you say, they can be great resources, but do they constitute a `course`I wonder? I think if I`ve decided I want to learn something specific, and perhaps need it for my job, I`m more likely to do a course with a beginning, a middle and an end. Given that time is limited, I like the discipline of that. Focus is also an issue. There seems to be a lot of sharing of ideas on social media- and I think some blogs are very thought-provoking. But again, if I want to learn something very specific and specialist, and I need it for my work, I think a course might be more efficient. Having been on both ends of it, as participant and trainer, I think the focus of a group of people doing a whole course together can be very rewarding.

      For me, there`s also an issue of quality. There is so much out there` and it`s unregulated-as well as mainly generalist. `Free` doesn`t necessarily equate with good. Some of it is of very high quality, and some of it isn`t.. You have to do a lot of research to find out where the gems are. Perhaps that`s the way with courses too, though I hope that poor quality will get weeded out eventually, as people tend to be more critical of things they have to pay for.

      Anyway, a thought-provoking question! I`d love to hear how you see it.

      • Hey Sue-

        Nice to read your well-sculpted response. I agree that something of structure can be beneficial for many out there. It IS a jungle and I’ve only come to understand it better through quite a bit of bushwhacking and then developing a very helful PLN. I too have been able to dedicate a large amount of time as it’s become part of my profession— social media management.

        That being said, I didn’t take a course for it, even as a professional. I think it really comes down to the ways we learn. I often wanna just get out there and jump in. While I was patient in some learning environments as a younger student, in others, especially language-learning, I often felt understimulated. So, for about 10 years I’ve approached languages and other arts in a fairly auto-didactic way. That being said, your remark about quality is a very important point, and as it is a jungle and many folks don’t have the time or drive to bushwhack, a good course can be a wonderful solution.

        So, in the end it really depends and I fear I might be projecting my own style onto the question/answer. Either way, nice discussion and I’ve subscribed to the blog so as not to miss the next ! Cheers, Brad

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