‘Doing’ learning is only one stage of the process. In order to know how useful it might be for us, we need to evaluate it. This ebulletin explores how to start thinking about the evaluation of professional learningpdf-1811950

CPD Week Info Sheet – Revisiting Bloom’s Taxonomy.pdf

I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestioning ability of man to evaluate his life by a conscious endeavour.
Henry David Thoreau

Starting to think about evaluating professional learning
As we know from classroom practice, creating the space in which learning can happen is only a part of the story. In order to maximise its potential, there’s a need to evaluate learning to enable us to determine the effectiveness and efficiency of the routes taken to achieve it.

It’s a good theory, but there are some inherent problems. For a start, few schools operate with a clear working definition of what learning actually is. In addition, even if we are absolutely crystal clear about what we mean by the term ‘learning’, how might we best evaluate it? These ideas will help.

  • A shift in position – The first step is to identify what it is that you will be evaluating. What are your school’s definitions of professional learning? What will be deemed appropriate for evaluation? Professional learning has now shifted very much towards being far more embedded in the job as a continuing feature of school life. Perhaps the approaches your school has traditionally taken to the evaluation of professional learning now have to change to take account of that shift.
  • Outcomes are central – What are the goals of your evaluations? What is it that you want to show? A useful approach is to explore the process of professional learning against the results achieved. Outcomes should ideally be at the heart of evaluations of professional learning. Ironically, this is typically the least evaluated aspect of professional learning in schools!
  • Identifying impact – Evaluating professional learning helps to identify its impact on practice in the school. It is therefore important to have reliable strategies for achieving this.
  • Use a continuum – One way of viewing the progress of staff is to use a continuum of professional learning. Evaluations are a way of determining whether there’s been progress on the continuum.
  • Different approaches for collaborative CPD – We know that effective professional learning usually involves a collaborative approach between two or more members of staff. It is worth considering the need for different approaches to evaluating collaborative CPD and individual CPD.
  • School goals and individual needs – Does your school acknowledge the inherent tension between professional learning that meets the needs and goals of the individual and the learning that meets the needs and goals of the school? That tension might need to be explored in your approaches to evaluation.
  • Communicating to the whole school – It is useful to consider the effectiveness of feedback to the whole school in your evaluations of professional learning.

Evaluation cannot be about how much a participant enjoyed their professional learning. Yes, enjoyment is important, but there are many reasons behind our experience of enjoyment and unless we can pinpoint the development ones, this kind of evaluation will be useless to us. If you’re simply looking at how happy a participant was with the development, you’re missing the point! Likewise, if your method of evaluation allows, either explicitly or implicitly, for judgements to be made based on how much participants agree with the learning on offer, or invites them to assess the content of what was on offer, opportunities for progress will be missed. Evaluation is complex, but the potential outcomes can be incredibly effective at progressing the professional learning in your school.

Find out more…
This information sheet takes a concise look at Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, which can be a useful tool to help you explore meaningful and developmental ways of evaluating professional learning.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in February 2009

About the author: Elizabeth Holmes qualified as a teacher at the Institute of Education, London and is the author of several books specialising in the areas of professional development and teacher well-being.