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’ …