Let’s Get Personal: Personalizing Professional Development in Remote, Blended, & In-person Learning Environments

Inquiry Question:

How can coaches personalize professional development for educators in remote, blended, and in-person learning environments, to support them in the effective use of technology? 

With many districts and schools announcing that they will be moving to full remote learning or a hybrid model for the fall, I am thinking about how educators will experience ongoing professional development, and how learning coaches can personalize professional development to effectively meet educators’ needs no matter the learning environment. I also began reflecting on my own experiences with professional development. Flashbacks to sitting in a room with my colleagues, feeling disengaged and disconnected to the learning that was happening due to its lack of relevance and/or interactiveness. Reflecting on these feelings motivated me to want to learn more about ways learning coaches are personalizing the professional development experience for their educators. For the inquiry question, I am exploring in my research for module 2, I have focused on investigating the fifth indicator from ISTE Coaching Standard 3:

3e. Personalize support for educators by planning and modeling the effective use of technology to improve student learning.

In addition to the inquiry question for this module I was investigating, there were a few other questions that formed during my research:

  • How can coaches effectively collect and utilize feedback on ways to improve professional development for educators? 
  • How can coaches make this professional development accessible, meaningful, and engaging for educators, no matter the learning environment?

I began my research by reviewing ideas of personalized learning and thinking about this educational approach towards instructing our students. I then explored how this practice applies to the professional development of educators, as well as ways learning coaches are actively working to integrate personalization into PD to address problems educators have outlined. 

What is Personalized Learning?

Figure 1. Core Four Elements of Personalized Learning, Retrieved July 22nd, 202 from https://www.edelements.com/hubfs/Core_Four/Education_Elements_Core_Four_White_Paper.pdf

In a personalized learning environment, the student is at the center of the learning and is an active participant in the learning creation and process. The learning starts with the learner and they are given the responsibility to own and drive their learning. Dale Basye (2018) adds, “Instead of education being something that happens to the learner, it is something that occurs as a result of what the student is doing, with the intent of creating engaged students who have truly learned how to learn” (n.p.). A personalized learning environment requires an educator to partner with the student to identify their interests and curiosities, encouraging them to explore these avenues, and recognizing and supporting their learning needs. In addition to needing to provide flexibility in the learning environment, there is also amplified voice and choice provided in personalized learning to allow for ownership in the selection of learning tools and demonstration of understanding. In Figure 1 above, Education Elements (Johns & Wolking, 2018, n.p.) developed the Core Four Elements of Personalized Learning as a guide for educators integrating personalized learning into their classrooms. With a focus on these four elements, educators can begin to effectively transform their classroom learning environment and personalize learning for their students. In my research to reinvestigate personalized learning (In a previous module I explored personalized learning through app smashing), I began to realize how essential it is that learning coaches apply this same personalized learning approach to educator professional development. This led me to investigate further how this approach could be applied. 

How Does Personalized Learning Apply to the Professional Development of Educators?

In the transition to remote learning, there have been many inequities that have been highlighted, and some schools have found that by personalizing learning they are able to more effectively utilize student data, meet student needs, and empower students in their learning. Zach Varnell (2020), Co-Director of IDEA High School in Tacoma, WA explains that, “For this next phase to work, we have to let students tell us what they want to achieve and then help them craft a path towards that goal and hold them accountable to achieving it along the way. We have to guide them towards their goals while scaffolding what the world will expect from them into manageable steps” (n.p.). In thinking about this statement regarding student learning, I couldn’t help but also think about this approach to educator professional development and why most of my experiences with PD have not looked this way. This is where learning coaches can work to enhance the professional development experience for their educators. Through this approach, learning coaches can work with educators to identify their areas of desired growth and support them in goal-setting. As mentioned above, this starts with the learner. Teri Preisler (2016), emphasizes that, “Just as personalized learning is important for our students, so is it imperative for our adult learners; and this includes truly knowing and building relationships with adult learners in order to be able to personalize learning opportunities” (n.p.). While some districts and schools are just beginning to explore personalized learning in professional development, there are many learning coaches who are already effectively implementing this approach. So, in what ways can coaches personalize professional development for educators?

Ways Coaches Can Personalize Professional Development

Collecting Feedback


Figure 2. Gathering user Feedback, Retrieved July 22, 2020, from https://www.suttle-straus.com/blog/discover-ways-to-gather-user-feedback-and-take-action

One way that learning coaches can personalize professional development is by collecting feedback from educators on their goals and needs. I think two important things for coaches to consider when collecting feedback are how the feedback is being collected and then how they are utilizing this feedback effectively and meaningfully. I am currently in the process of creating professional development for my school about using SeeSaw as a learning hub. In working to personalize this PD, I want to survey my colleagues and collect feedback and data prior to the training sessions. Through the data provided from this assessment, I hope to develop a personalized, meaningful PD experience for my staff. As Lisa Johnson (2015) mentions, “…I begin crafting pre-needs assessments for particular courses. Even within a workshop focused on a specific tool or technology, you will find both novice and advanced users, so that’s where the pre-needs assessments really pack a punch.” I believe what is also helpful about collecting feedback, and what amplifies a personalized approach, is that it provides learner-driven opportunities. Instead of assuming what might be useful for staff in this professional learning, educators can have ownership over the content and structure of their learning. This information can also be helpful in identifying staff with similar goals or areas of growth, as well as understanding what type of collaborative learning styles work for each individual. When it comes to the utilization of feedback, Heidi Zollman (2017) advocates for developing professional development content that is flexible and then modifying it to educator needs. “I created a draft agenda and a flexible slide deck with different sections that could be presented in any order. I planned to use participant input to inform how we spent the remaining three days” (Zollman, 2017 n.p.). Applying this flexible approach to professional development highlights intentional, purposeful professional learning that is modified to each educator’s learning needs. Additionally, by utilizing feedback to inform future learning, we are reaffirming to educators that their voices have been heard, something as educators we actively work to do with our own students.

Offering Choice Boards


Figure 3. Paths to Personalized Learning, Retrieved July 21, 2020, from https://www.gettingsmart.com/2017/09/three-schools-on-three-paths-to-personalized-learning-success/

In researching personalized professional development models, choice boards really appealed to me as a purposeful, interactive way to engage in professional learning. SeeSaw Learning offers educators the opportunity to develop creative learning activities like choice boards, to provide students with autonomy over the ways they are demonstrating their learning. What an awesome way to increase student engagement, and what a wonderful opportunity it would be to offer the same engagement and autonomy to educators in their professional learning. Within the model of educator choice boards, teachers choose from a variety of menu activities and modes of learning focused on their professional development. As I have looked further into this PD model, I have come across districts and schools using this model in several different ways, varying from educators selecting one option to use throughout the year or changing their choices regularly. In thinking about the uncertainty in the school year ahead and a necessity for ongoing professional learning, this professional development model could provide much-needed flexibility for school districts and schools. By offering educators autonomy in selecting personalized professional development options through choice boards, they can access this learning in any learning environment and at any time. Offering professional learning options like podcasts, Twitter Edchats, Facebook Live Sessions, webinars, flipped PD, virtual coaching, etc. through choice boards, might also encourage educators to explore new avenues of PD from home while remote teaching. If you’re interested in learning more about choice boards for professional learning, in Jennifer Gonzalez’s blog post OMG Becky. PD is Getting So Much Better!!, she discusses using choice boards (as well as several other PD models) and also provides a few examples of how they’re being used.

Promoting Collaboration


Figure 4. Where Strong Collaboration Does Exist, the Benefits are Substantial, Retrieved July 22, 2020, from http://k12education.gatesfoundation.org/download/?Num=2336&filename=Gates-PDMarketResearch-Dec5.pdf

Another way in which coaches can personalize professional learning for educators is by promoting collaboration and giving teachers time to connect. While strong collaboration can be extremely beneficial, it is vital that personalization is partnered with collaboration, so as to not fall into the often familiar cycle of PD that feels like a time waste. Karen Johnson (2016) states that, “While teachers value collaboration with their peers, they say that current efforts like PLCs often lack engagement and are poorly planned or executed” (n.p.). As figure 4 from the Gates Foundation (2014) highlights below, strong collaboration benefits personalized professional learning when ample time is provided, it is relevant, and when there are several opportunities throughout the year to meet back together to discuss the learning. One way learning coaches can offer opportunities for educators to collaborate and connect about professional development in remote learning is through video conferences. By intentionally building in time for formal collaboration time into a remote learning schedule, districts and schools can show their educators that they recognize the value in this collaboration and the connection to personalized learning. These video conferences are a wonderful opportunity for colleagues to share out learning they have gained from professional development experience, or to participate in a professional learning session together. Additionally, strong collaboration can be promoted through the partnership of digital tools. For example, learning coaches could app smash digital tools like Flipgrid and Wakelet to collaborate about professional learning. Learning coaches could assign professional learning materials (i.e. blogs, articles, podcasts, webinars, etc.) for educators to engage in and access through a Wakelet collection and they could use Flipgrid to collaborate and share out takeaways or how they plan to use that learning in their classroom. This collaborative approach allows educators the personalization to select learning that feels relevant and engaging, and then gives them opportunities to connect in a digital space.df

Implementing Micro-credentials


Figure 5. Personalized Learning, Retrieved July 21, 2020, from https://home.edweb.net/webinar/personalizedlearning20180924/

In this blog post back in January of 2020, I wrote about how learners can be empowered through the use of digital badges. In researching micro-credentialing, I am finding the same empowerment possibility exists for educators in a personalized professional learning model. Through micro-credentials, educators can have a personalized professional learning experience, submit evidence on their own schedules, and identify skills and areas of learning they are proficient in. As Kristoffer Kohl, Barnett Berry, and Jon Eckert (2018) explain, “Educators select micro-credentials to pursue based on their own needs, their students’ challenges and strengths, school goals, district priorities, and/or instructional shifts” (n.p.). This unique approach to professional development is offering educators a whole new experience in feeling like their learning is personalized and relevant. One example of micro-credentials in action is EPIC Academy, designed by teacher leaders in Surry County Schools, North Carolina. Through their micro-credentialing program, educators participate in “EPIC Academy,” which is a game-inspired professional development program. These digital leaders put together a variety of quests connected to the district used digital tools for their educators to earn micro-credentials in. Additionally, the platform explains that while it’s awesome for educators to collect digital badges, the completion of these badges also transfers over to “XP points” or continuing education units, for educators to apply to their teacher license (Epic Academy, 2018, n.p.). Another example of a micro-credential learning platform is Alludo. Alludo partners gamification with micro-credentials to enhance and personalize professional development for educators. In exploring their website, this seems like a really unique way to engage educators in their professional learning. As Alludo (2020) explains on their about page, “By providing a fun, competitive, self-paced environment, players are empowered to own their learning, choose topics aligned with their goals while collaborating with peers, earning badges, and gaining knowledge” (n.p.). Several conferences and events for professional development have utilized Alludo’s micro-learning platform to engage educators in their learning, including NCCE 2020 and ISTE 2019. Through micro-credentialing, both of these examples are providing educators with purposeful PD that is focused on working towards growth goals and is personalized.

Virtual Edcamp


Figure 6. Edcamp, Retrieved July 21, 2020, from https://blog.flipgrid.com/news/edcamp

Edcamps are free professional development events hosted by organizations or school districts, that provide educators with personalized learning, participant-driven experience. As Edcamp (2020) adds, “Edcamps allow educators to collaboratively determine session topics the day of the event” (n.p.). The purpose behind this professional learning model is to meet the learning needs of all educators attending and to encourage conversation through sharing experiences. Additionally, Edcamps are intentionally focused on providing meaningful, relevant learning for educators. At my first Edcamp I felt nervous to leave a session that I did not find useful to my professional learning, for fear of disrupting the session. At Edcamps, leaving sessions you aren’t finding relevant to find a more purposeful learning experience is encouraged. Kristen Swanson (2016) confirms that “Edcampers should leave sessions that do not meet their needs. This provides a uniquely effective way of ‘weeding out’ sessions that are not based on appropriate research or not delivered in an engaging format” (n.p.). While the shift to remote learning has caused many professional learning events to be canceled or rescheduled, Edcamp has moved all of their future events virtually for educators to access. This could be a wonderful professional development opportunity for learning coaches to offer their educators, that still offers them the personalized benefits of an Edcamp just through digital access. I am really interested in participating in a virtual Edcamp to experience an unconference in a digital format and experience firsthand how personalized professional learning is in that setting.

With a realization of many schools and districts moving to full remote learning or blended learning in the fall, there is an opportune time for them to explore personalizing professional development. What are some ways you personalize professional development for educators, especially in remote learning or blended learning environments? How have you had PD personalized for you? Please share your experiences as well as any feedback or questions you have in the comment section below!


Barnett, B., Eckert, J., & Kristoffer, K. (2018, April). Micro-credentials & the transformation of professional learning in California schools [PDF]. Carrobo: The Center for Teaching Quality.

Basye, D. (2018, January 24). Personalized vs. differentiated vs. individualized learning. Retrieved July 23, 2020, from https://www.iste.org/explore/Education-leadership/Personalized-vs.-differentiated-vs.-individualized-learning

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (2014, December). Teachers Know Best: Teachers’ Views on Professional Development [PDF]. Boston: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

ISTE Standards for Coaches. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.iste.org/standards/for-coaches

Johns, S., & Wolking, M. (2018, September 12). The Core Four of Personalized Learning: The Elements You Need to Succeed [PDF]. San Carlos: Education Elements.

Johnson, K. (2018, December 27). 5 Things Teachers Want from PD, and How Coaching and Collaboration Can Deliver Them-If Implementation Improves – EdSurge News. Retrieved July 23, 2020, from https://www.edsurge.com/news/2016-06-28-5-things-teachers-want-from-pd-and-how-coaching-and-collaboration-can-deliver-them-if-implementation-improves?utm_content=bufferfa66c

Johnson, L. (2015, January 22). Using Pre-Needs Assessment for Effective PD. Retrieved July 23, 2020, from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/pre-needs-assessment-effective-pd-lisa-johnson

Preisler, T. (2018, December 27). Not Just About Students: The Importance of Personalizing Learning for Teachers – EdSurge News. Retrieved July 23, 2020, from https://www.edsurge.com/news/2016-11-28-not-just-about-students-the-importance-of-personalizing-learning-for-teachers

Sampson, R. (2019, January 28). How to combine Wakelet and Flipgrid to promote teacher growth. Retrieved July 23, 2020, from https://blog.wakelet.com/2019/01/18/how-to-combine-wakelet-and-flipgrid-to-promote-teacher-growth/

Stegman, B. (2020, July 16). Personalized Professional Development at Home. Retrieved July 23, 2020, from https://www.edutopia.org/article/personalized-professional-development-home

Varnell, Z. (2020, June 19). One School’s Experience with Distance Learning: Why Personalized Learning Is The Way Forward. Retrieved July 23, 2020, from https://www.gettingsmart.com/2020/06/one-schools-experience-with-distance-learning-why-personalized-learning-is-the-way-forward/

Zollman, H. (2017, October 10). How to Personalize Professional Development: One District’s Story. Retrieved July 23, 2020, from https://www.edelements.com/blog/how-to-personalize-professional-development-one-districts-story

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