Professional Development and Hot Fudge for Educators

Oct 24, 2023
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With all that has been asked of educators this year (and every year), adding in poorly designed professional development feels a bit like putting hot fudge on your ballpark hotdog—maybe not be the most efficient use of resources…on so many levels.

Adults are unique in how they learn. There is a specific finesse that is required from people wanting to instruct adults. When done right, professional development can be more than just “valuable;” it can spark real growth and change. What really drives adult learning? How can understanding the process behind how adults learn drive professional development? How can we get the hot fudge on the sundae and keep the hotdogs out of the conversation?

Adults have a higher sense of self-direction and motivation

Adults tend to learn because they want to or they see the direct benefit of learning, rather than because they are told to or are expected to. To use self-direction to your benefit when teaching adults, consider creating learning outcomes before diving too deep into content. Identify the value and benefits of the learning material. Curate learning paths that are tailored to your audience. If you have science teachers in the room, your examples should include science concepts, not Roman history. Make accessing knowledge simple and immediately applicable to help teachers get started.

Adults use their life experience to facilitate learning

Adult learners rely heavily on their experiences when they engage in learning, and they benefit from instruction that understands this. Use content that draws from real-world examples and relatable scenarios and that builds on direct experience. The challenge can be that some in the room might have experiences that are outdated, incorrect, biased, or incomplete. Be aware of this common point of contention. Start with a baseline of creating an understanding how to search for resources, expert opinions, proven data, and relevant publications. This is a skill that all learners will find valuable.

Adults are focused on achieving goals

Adults enter the learning process focused on solutions. They need to know how the information will help them achieve their goals, whether personal or professional. In giving a group of adult learners the space to create a recognizable, achievable goal in the form of a problem that they must solve, you will be able to encourage the development of knowledge, skills, and teamwork.

Adults need to know how the information is relevant

The immediate, short-term relevancy and the long-term benefits of engaging with the content should be underscored. It needs to demonstrate that there will be value in the time spent learning—that the information is practical. This goes back to understanding that the information, while it might be new or different, has purpose for the adult learners.

Adults are practical

Learning materials should be constructed with practical examples using real-world scenarios and problem-solving activities that require learners to access their experience and knowledge. Focus on delivering knowledge that can quickly be called upon in the learners’ day-to-day roles and applied immediately.

Adults are looking for help and mentorship

Create opportunities for watching the action unfold before the eyes. Provide a demonstration. Give learners the time to absorb processes and procedures. Use scenario-driven activities and case studies that are founded in research to demonstrate the content. Identify mentors who have exercised these new skills successfully, and let them share. Education is a unique passion, and every teacher has a different set of challenges. When learning new skills, hearing from someone who shares these experiences builds trust and credible insight.

Adults are open for modern ways of learning

Provide a flexible way to access the information. Adult learners understand that learning can be gained in a variety of ways, and they are willing to try new formats. By offering a variety of sources and options, a school can ensure that learners have access to the processes that engage them. Learning doesn’t only happen in a sanctioned time and room.

Consider your resources at hand—students. Giving students a platform to lead and speak in traditionally educator-only spaces provides authentic instruction from the ones who will be benefitting from said instruction. A well-organized and facilitated panel of students might accomplish this.

Adults want to choose how they learn

As mentioned previously, adult learners respond positively to self-directed learning. Build training programs that give learners many options for engaging with information. Allow adult learners to set their own pace and goals and provide opportunities for them to give feedback about their experience.

To create great lessons for adults, consider including some of these experiences:

  • Teach learners the SMART method of goal setting.
  • Ensure that the information provided is relevant to each individual role that is participating.
  • Clearly show the value of the information.
  • Provide many types of content, allowing learners to engage with the types they feel most relevant for them.
  • Relate materials to each role by tailoring the learning path.
  • Make the information shared applicable to everyday undertakings. If you are talking theory, create a space that allows for perceived application and use.
  • Set aside some time after knowledge acquisition for learners to practice their new skills.
  • Develop ways to connect learners with mentors within the school.
  • Set up seminars in unique modalities both online and in person, and provide learners with a choice of how to access this information.
  • Provide learning opportunities across departments.
  • Create a culture of mentoring, learning, and knowledge sharing throughout the school.
  • Look for new ways to share information.

Clearly, there are significant differences between young learners and learners with more time under their belts. Children have less life experience, are directed by others on what to study, and are open to new information and adaptable. They learn quickly, and they are typically placed in a room with other students their own age. This is not always true with a class of adult learners.

Adults have a well-developed belief system and may reject information that contradicts those beliefs. They have life experience and expectations of what and how they are learning based on those past experiences. They are largely self-directed, and if care is given on how to approach new material, it can change or challenge these preconceived conceptions. Adults are unique in how they learn, and bad professional development is the opposite of learning. Adults have instructional keystones that can be used to leapfrog learning.

By keeping these points in mind, change and growth can be accomplished. With consideration on the ways to approach adult learning, you will find that you are putting popular condiments on frankfurters and saving hot fudge for ice cream.

Interested in other ways you can support educators as an administrator? Edmentum asked 500 educators how they want to be supported by admins during the school year. Check out this article to see what they had to say and to find resources to help meet educator needs.

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