Relevancy Oriented Learners

This quarter’s focus in the DEL program is on program evaluation and professional development practices. Currently I am exploring the different characteristics of adult learning, or andragogy, and how that should impact planning for professional development around educational technology. Andragogy as a study of adult learning originated in Europe in 1950’s and was then pioneered as a theory and model of adult learning from the 1970s by Malcolm Knowles, an American practitioner and theorist of adult education, who defined andragogy as “the art and science of helping adults learn.” 

As an adult learner myself, I need to know how to apply this new learning. Practical application requires me to reflect on my current position as tech leader in an elementary school and evaluate the needs and goals of my staff. For future planning of PD in my own building, I have to ask myself:

Which of Knowles’ six principles of adult learning should I focus on when presenting to a staff that is open-minded, but feels they already have too much on their plate?

When I initially posed this question, my instinct was to focus on the adult learning principle of being relevancy oriented. As a teacher attending staff meetings with professional development, I am always seeking relevance in the content. I think the same is often true of our young students. They want to know WHY are we learning this and HOW is it going to help me? In other words, WHAT’S THE POINT? In my research I discovered a great amount of overlap between the principles of adult learning. Some elements of addressing goal-oriented learners addressed relevance very well. Additionally, the adult learner seeking practicality also lends itself to being relevance-oriented. The principles became more and more blurred until I came across a clever graphic that effectively illustrates the meaning of relevance.

This graphic, in addition to conversations with my fellow DEL students via Google Hangout, got me thinking of one of the most relevant PD experiences I’ve ever had: EdCamp! EdCamps are a relatively new model of an unconference-style professional development. The nature of EdCamp is that it’s Made up of sessions that are determined on the day of the event, based on the individual needs and interests of the participants. Edcamps should not have pre-scheduled presentations. During the morning of the event, the schedule should be created in conjunction with everyone there. Sessions should be spontaneous, interactive and responsive to participants’ needs. Another major characteristic of EdCamp is they are events where anyone who attends can be a presenter. Anyone who attends an Edcamp should be eligible to present. All teachers and educational stakeholders are professionals worthy of sharing their expertise in a collaborative setting.

EdCamp embodies many elements of Knowles; principles of adult learning. Those who have previously attended EdCamp understand the emphasis on relevance and honoring the knowledge and interests of professional adult learners. I have been working to find a way to modify this model and apply it to my building’s professional development. Of course, I would love to provide a half or full day to explore the needs of my peers regarding all things related to technology, but of course that is not a reality. I am seeking techniques that can be applied to a 45-minute staff meeting.

First I would invite people to pose questions and/or individual needs regarding educational technology using a flipped format, ahead of time. This can be done using a quick and simple Google Form.

Modified EdCamp Survey

With this information, I would be able cater the face-to-face time to the needs of individuals or small groups. I can arrange the tables based on the number of topics and attendees. To help establish a safe learning environment, I would delegate another member of my tech team to each group as an acting facilitator, but still leave the session open to other experts at the table to contribute. Participants would also be encouraged to utilize EdCamp’s “law of two feet,” which encourages participants to find a session that meets their needs. As anyone can host a session, it is critical that participants are encouraged to actively self-select the best content and sessions. My modified EdCamp would utilize every moment of face-to-face time with collaboration and provide an exit-ticket style of reflection on the day. This could be done with a pencil and paper format that teachers take with them and return to me or with another digital tool like Google Forms, Survey Monkey, or Padlet. The exit-ticket responses would simply ask for the participants’ takeaways from their session, which can be used to determine the effectiveness of the experience and assist in future professional development planning.

I believe EdCamp addresses many characteristics of adult learners and this is a great resource to find strategies to support those characteristics. The Edcamp model provides educators with a sustainable model for learning, growing, connecting, and sharing. Everyone’s expertise is honored, and specific, concrete strategies are exchanged. When professional development is created “for teachers by teachers,” everyone wins. (source)

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