Adult learning principles in computer science professional development

In the Digital Education Leadership program at Seattle Pacific University (SPU), I am working on professional development and program evaluation defined in the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) standards for educational coaches.  In particular, part 4 of the ISTE coaching standard asks for professional learning programs that promote digital age best practices in teaching, learning, and assessment.  I want to focus on how adult learning principles are used in computer science professional development.

Knowles et. al. define six core adult learning principles:

  1. Learner’s need to know – why, what, how 
  2. Self-concept of the learner – autonomous, self-directing 
  3. Prior experience of the learner – resource, mental models 
  4. Readiness to learn – life related, developmental task 
  5. Orientation to learning – problem centered, contextual 
  6. Motivation to learn – intrinsic value, personal payoff 

All of these principles resonate with me in terms of my experience with professional development in computer science.  While some professional development may hit one or two of this principles, it is rare that I have professional development that touches a majority of these principles.  In particular, the sixth principle on motivation to learn is rarely hit in any of my professional development.  All of my professional development seem targeted to other faculty at my school and rarely provide intrinsic value to the issues and challenges I am facing in building better learning experiences for my computer science students.

Educators and school administrators have recognized the value of technology in improving the student learning experience.  This has pushed schools to be aggressive adopters of technology that has a proven track record.  However, in looking at educator professional development, the same aggressive stance of adopting proven technology that improves the learning experience is missing.  One big improvement for my professional development in computer science would be to use the same tools and technology used in student teaching.

All of us are learning together and the leaders are in the trenches learning with us and taking the learning to each building. We lead by example just like we do for our kids. It is a very powerful message.  (Bishop et. al., 2016)

Professional development that has the highest intrinsic value and personal payoff for me is specific to computer science instruction.  I have found several digital resources that provide professional development for computer science educators.  For example, the Exploring Computer Science web site provides multiple professional development sessions for more effective computer science teacher learning.

Web site for Exploring Computer Science

These sessions go beyond my current professional development because they focus on computer science concepts and learning experience.  I am able to pick the sessions that apply best to me, recognizing that other computer science educators may have very different experience and needs.

The same imperatives for teacher preparation apply to ongoing professional learning. Professional learning and development programs should transition to support and develop educators’ identities as fluent users of technology; creative and collaborative problem solvers; and adaptive, socially aware experts throughout their careers.  (NETP, 2017)

The good news here is that there lots of digital tools available to the computer science educator to better tailor their professional development.  This allows educators to create a professional development curriculum that provides higher intrinsic value and greater personal payoff than a cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all professional development program.  The next step is getting educators to demand this kind of customizability in their professional development and getting administrators to give educators the time, money, and support for better professional development.


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