Motivational Factors and Barriers Shape Teachers Perceptions of Professional Development

This week we are continuing to look at ISTE Coaching Standard 4b: Designing, developing, and implementing technology rich professional learning programs that model principles of adult learning and promote digital age best practices in teaching, learning, and assessment. What does that mean exactly?  

Reflecting on years of various forms of PD I’ve attended, I began to question what factors were involved that created either a positive, negative or even forgettable experience. What motivational factors and barriers shape teachers perceptions of professional development?

First, we must understand what Malcolm Knowles’ describes as “Andragogy”, or characteristics of adult learners. According to Knowles, there are 5 assumptions that set adult learners apart from children.

In conjunction with Knowles’ assumptions, facilitators must also consider what Abraham Maslow described as a hierarchy of needs. If our basic needs aren’t met, we are unable to to learn.  

Image from Simply Psychology

How do Knowles and Maslow’s findings shape planning professional development? Gregson and Sturko’s research has highlighted six guiding principles for developing adult learning opportunities:

  1. Create a climate of respect
  2. Encourage active participation
  3. Understand and build on participant’s learned experiences
  4. Create collaborative inquiry opportunities
  5. Connect learning to immediate application
  6. Empower participants with time for reflection and action steps

What do these principles look like in action? Respect of participant’s time, respect towards each other, and environment where participants feel valued, wanted, and able to speak freely. By encouraging active participation and holding people accountable, teacher’s are more likely to retain information and implement what they are learning in the classroom. Allowing teachers to share what they know with their peers and connect PD to their previous knowledge can foster a stronger sense of community amongst participants rather than assuming the facilitator’s are the only experts in the room.

This leads into collaborative inquiry opportunities, which are critical for teachers, who spend so much of their time in isolation with students.  Allowing participants to brainstorm and discuss topics with colleagues they might not normally socialise with, creates opportunities to share knowledge, skills, and ideas that can benefit a larger group. As previously stated, Knowles noted that adults are more engaged as learners when presented with immediate opportunities to connect learning to what is presently happening in their classroom. Regardless of backwards planning, this means facilitators need to guide teachers to understanding how this new information not only will be beneficial down the road, but how it applies right now. This is where accountability comes back to the participants to reflect on their understanding and course of action for future. If perhaps, a teacher feels they did not learn anything new, then this would be the opportunity for the facilitator to pair them up as a mentor for another staff member who may be feeling overwhelmed.


After considering characteristics of adult learners, what then motivates them to engage in PD?Like children who are motivated by various contributing factors, adults can be motivated through a number or ways.  Some teachers may choose to participate in a PD based on other attendees and look forward to the social aspect. Others may be simply complying with a district mandated PD to maintain their position. Similarly, people might choose to attend for monetary stipends or professional advancement. Additionally, you’ll have those who choose to participate out or curiosity, or looking for something to stimulate their brain.  The ideal participant though is there out of genuine interest.  They’re aware of the objective and are eager to learn.


With such a large array of participants and motivating factors, what barriers prevent teachers from finding PD effective?  The number one issue is usually time. Whether it’s time to learn, to plan, to implement, or continued learning.  Time deters a lot of teachers from taking what they learn in PD back to the classroom.  In conjunction with time comes lack of professional development (one off sessions without follow-up). If we know teachers want something they can implement now, then we need to provide a clear vision of where the building/district is headed and what their role is.  In addition, we need to give them adequate access to resources, whether it’s time, mentors, technology, planning.  Referring back to Maslow, if teachers basic needs aren’t met, then they’re unlikely to successfully implement new skills in the classroom. They need to believe in what they are being asked to do and feel supported from administration. They also need time to collaborate.  If PDs are being led by people from outside the building or district, then additional time needs to be built in for teachers to collaborate locally to ensure understanding, accountability, and implementation.  


What needs to happen in a PD to support learning? Teachers need to feel respected, understood, and involved with creating the vision and direction of the PD.  We’re reminded that teachers need be involved and actively engaged in their PD experiences for meaningful learning to occur.  “Adults resent learning situations in which they feel that they are being told what to learn” (Gregson & Sturko 2007, p.3). Bringing it back to PD for tech integration, if we want teachers to participate, engage, implement tech, then teamwork is required in the planning stages.  Facilitators need to understand their audience, which could be information shared from administration, obtained through a survey, or observation.  Facilitators need participants to be involved in the integration process which also means finding those willing or with more background knowledge who can offer additional support to their peers. Without planning, a clear vision, collaboration, and buy-in, the PD will become another session teachers put behind them as not a priority.  PD for tech integration needs multiple opportunities for teachers to apply what they are learning, reflect on how it impacts the learning in their classroom, and allow teachers to help drive the direction of classroom application based on their own needs.


Chao, R. Y., Jr. (2009). Understanding the Adult Learners’ Motivation and Barriers to Learning. European Society for Research on the Education of Adults,905-915.

Gregson, J. A., & Sturko, P. A. (2007). Teachers as Adult Learners: Re-conceptualizing Professional Development. MPAEA Journal of Adult Education,XXXVI(1), 1-18. doi:

Kopcha, T. J. (2012). Teachers perceptions of the barriers to technology integration and practices with technology under situated professional development. Computers & Education,59 (4), 1109-1121.

Smith, M. K. (2002) ‘Malcolm Knowles, informal adult education, self-direction and andragogy’, the encyclopedia of informal education,

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