Online learning could enhance and facilitate professional development in your school. CPD Week offers tips to CPD leaders, for making online learning work

Any fool can know. The point is to understand.
Albert Einstein


It isn’t always easy to find practical and workable solutions to the frustrations of professional development delivery. Competing demands and personal learning preferences make it virtually impossible to satisfy everyone, but could the virtual world hold the key?

Practical tips: Online learning for teachers
It’s no surprise that some teachers express dissatisfaction with the types of professional learning opportunities they are offered. For some, delivery and access can be patchy at best (and this is by no means entirely down to the professional development leader – other factors are often far more influential!). The ironic twist to this is that you don’t know how good things can be when your personal experience is so limited.  

One way of helping to alleviate some of the frustrations of limited access to and scope of training and development is to extend the range on offer in your school. As you begin to plan professional development for your staff for the coming academic year, what part will online learning play? As a development tool it has immense potential, particularly when blended with other forms of development such as face-to-face, so what are the need-to-know top tips for making it work?

  • Online learning courses are flexible methods of learning which typically cater for all learning styles. They can, however, be tough to ‘sell’ to staff. How might you promote interest in them? It will help that they can be done anytime, anywhere, at a pace that is suitable for the learner as well as being anchored in their experience of work.
  • Online learning doesn’t have to take place solely between the screen and the learner. Many courses involve tasks and activities which are performed away from the screen. A blended approach helps to maximise the benefits of online learning too.
  • Online learning is a great way of connecting with communities of learners beyond your school’s walls. This can help to generate new perspectives and instil freshness in the learning.       
  • Think about how video-conferencing can help facilitate a better quality of CPD in your school. This may form the bridge between face-to-face and online learning and, once all the technology is in place, it can be incredibly cost effective.
  • Online training can support ICT ‘literacy’ as well, with learners naturally enhancing their skills as they navigate their journey through online courses.
  • Be open about the challenges that online training can present. Staff may have questions over privacy, access to computers and so on. There are also concerns that if this style of training and development is not treated as seriously by staff as other forms its true value will be lost. The way in which online learning is integrated into the full package of training and development available at your school is important here.
  • Be sure to source flexible packages that will meet your school’s needs. Once such a package is in place, think about using incentives for staff involvement.       

Used thoughtfully, online training can be a rich accessory to learning. As Theodore Zeldin says, it cannot automatically improve ‘conversation, communication or behaviour’, but it can provide access to development at times and in places where perhaps no access existed before.   

Issues and information: Therapeutic story-writing – free training!
Therapeutic story-writing is creative way for SEN teachers to support children whose emotional difficulties are getting in the way of their academic learning. The theory is that by working with the metaphor in stories – written together by the child and the teacher – emotional issues are addressed in a way that is not overwhelming for the child. Research has shown that this approach not only develops the child’s emotional literacy but also supports the development of pupils’ writing skills.

Thanks to support from the Training and Development Agency for Schools and the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, teachers are invited to attend free 3-day Story Links courses (working with parents of pupils at risk of exclusion). Story Links is a 10-week intervention that uses therapeutic story-writing to support parents and individual pupils (aged 6-10 years) at risk of exclusion because of behaviour related to attachment difficulties. It supports the development of reading skills, emotional well-being and the home-school relationship and is suitable for SENCOs, SEN support teachers, school counsellors, educational psychologists and inclusion managers supporting pupils with behavioural, emotional and social difficulties at key stages 1 and 2. The courses will be run as follows:

  • Story Links at Greenwich Professional Development Centre: 25 September, 9 October and 23 October 2008. Course code 2955 (open to professionals from all LAs). To book: contact Jackie Jones on 0208 859 9104
  • Story Links at Brighton & Hove Learning Development Centre: 2 October, 16 October and 7 November 2008 (for Brighton & Hove teachers only) To book: contact LDC Team on 01273 293699
  • Story Links at Sussex Central College, Horsham: 22 January, 5 February and 26 March. To book: download the electronic booking form, or phone 01273 235666

Find out more…

This project is delivered by the University of Chichester in collaboration with the Centre for Therapeutic Storywriting. See more details of the all the training courses and the Story Links Project .

This e-bulletin issue was first published in June 2008

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.