Essential Elements of Online Professional Development

I’m writing this from my cabin on a two week cruise to the Panama Canal. It’s given me a new appreciation for the ubiquitous nature of wifi and cellular data in the United States and how expensive it is if you want to stay connected to your online world. I’m considering it a technology cleanse!

My topic for this week was to look at the essential elements of online professional development. The ISTE 4b standard for Coaches asks them to “Design, develop, and implement technology rich professional learning programs that model principals of adult learning and promote digital age best practices in teaching, learning, and assessment.” I believe that teachers need to adjust their mindsets to always be learners themselves. Even teachers in content areas that don’t change much, like social studies or math, can learn new ways of teaching and thinking about their topic in order to make it more relevant for their students.

The first step is knowing what makes good Professional Development in the first place. The Learning Policy Institute (Hyler & Gardner 2017) suggests that these characteristics are essential:

  • Content Focused
  • Incorporates Active Learning
  • Supports collaboration
  • Uses models of effective practice
  • Provides coaching and expert support
  • Offers feedback and reflection
  • Is of sustained duration

I’d argue that that would be true of learning for students as well but it meshes well with my own personal views of PD. We’ve done too much ‘one and done’ technology training for staff that doesn’t meet their needs or doesn’t happen when they are ready for it. Readiness is a difficult thing to overcome, especially with technology training. If you aren’t ready to hear a message or learn a skill, sitting through a two hour technology training is pretty much a waste of time. I’m still trying to figure out how to increase readiness but that might be a post for another time.

Online learning may be one way to provide staff with the learning they need when they are ready for it but there does need to be some motivation for that learning to take place. I really loved the idea of blended PD (Piehler 2017) that I came across from the Learning Counsel. The idea was to use online learning as part of a larger professional development plan that included coming together in PLCs to talk about what staff were learning from their online experiences and give them a chance to get support or to teach others what they’ve learned. I’d really like to find some ways to create that kind of culture in our district to make online learning more meaningful and useful.

As to what is essential for online PD, most articles I read agreed that clear content, easy navigation, interactive content and regular feedback are key. I really liked this article Essential Elements of an Effective Online Learning Experience” (Hathcock 2012) that talked about the importance of the instructor in the process of learning. I don’t think we can forget the value of a real teacher as a part of the learning process.

Losing internet connection again! Posting while I can. I’ll come back and add resources when I get a better signal!


Darling-Hammond, L., Hyler, M., & Gardner, M. (2017). Effective Teacher Professional DevelopmentLearning Policy Institute. Retrieved 21 January 2018, from

Hathcock, D. (2012). Essential Elements of an Effective Online Learning ExperienceFaculty Focus | Higher Ed Teaching & Learning. Retrieved 21 January 2018, from

Piehler, C. (2017). A Blended Approach to Teacher PDthe Learning Counsel. Retrieved 21 January 2018, from

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