The importance of effective delivery of professional learning

The impact and reach of quality professional learning is largely dependent on its delivery. Both the presenter and the mode of delivery are important factors in its effectiveness.

Through actively engaging the attendees of the learning you are more likely to elicit an interest in the content than if you were to deliver it passively, e.g. workshop versus lecture. Engaged attendees are more likely to retain the content of your professional learning offering, actively implement it in their own practice, and share their learnings with their colleagues.

It is also important to remember that your audience may already have expertise in the subject themselves, and you should be prepared to engage in robust conversations and respond to detailed questions.

Planning the delivery of professional learning

When planning the delivery of professional learning, some key elements to consider are:

  • audience: ensure the activities and content you have planned are suitable to the attendees e.g. tailored for Highly Accomplished or Lead teachers
  • timing and length: with many teachers being time poor, ensuring accurate timing for activities and cutting unnecessary time off the length of the professional learning will heighten engagement. Allow enough time for discussion and sharing by all participants
  • types and proportions of activities: activities are important, but you do not want to fatigue the participants. A smaller number of well-planned and varied activities to embed and build upon the content is preferable for maintaining engagement levels
  • materials: ensure that attendees have access to all materials required for your session as well as making sure that resources like a steady internet connection or whiteboards are in place for your delivery.

There are different modes through which you can deliver your professional learning, so consider which is right for you, your content and your audience.

  • Face-to-face

o Advantages: increased motivation for the learner to stay engaged, instant feedback for facilitators, and networking opportunities for the attendees.

o Disadvantages: potential travel and time costs, and attendance can be restrictive when limited to set times and dates.

  • Virtual and synchronously (at an agreed time), e.g., video conferences or live streamed lectures

o Advantages: no need to travel to access, often multiple opportunities for active discussion, a larger catchment area may lead to the airing of more diverse views.

o Disadvantages: potentially inflexible schedules and possible technical difficulties.

  • Asynchronously (can be accessed by participants at any time), e.g. self-guided lessons, streaming videos, readings, or discussion boards

o Advantages: working through materials at a time and pace that suits you, can revisit whenever a refresher is needed, often more cost-effective.

o Disadvantages: limited opportunities to discuss, debate, and network; enthusiasm can wane when completing work in isolation.

Adults learn differently to children, so when planning to deliver professional learning, it is helpful to also consider:

  • using active learning methods. For example, where possible, avoid attendees listening to only one person. Conversation, sharing and use of multi media for example can be used to break up learning into bite sized pieces
  • scheduling learning across an extended time period (potentially over weeks or months) rather than a one-off session. This gives participants a chance to trial and implement learning in their context and bring back reflections on how it went to the next learning session
  • working with other teachers and encouraging them to undertake collective learning or research.[1]

Principles of Adult Learning 

There are six principles that guide adult learning and differentiate it from teaching children.

  • Experience: Consider the prior knowledge of learners when developing new material
  • Self-directedness:  Adults can work autonomously and direct their own fields of enquiry
  • Need to know: Adults are often already aware of potential gaps in their knowledge
  • Readiness: As they are choosing to participate, adults are in control of their learning
  • Orientation to learning: Acknowledging that adult learners have agency in their learning
  • Intrinsic motivation: Adults (especially teachers) understand the value of education and therefore are more motivated to learn. 

Determining the content of your professional learning offering

It is important not to overwhelm your participants with large amounts of content. Content should be tailored to your audience, the intended outcomes of the professional learning and the chosen mode of delivery. Content may be related to pedagogy, professional knowledge and practice, or it may be subject-area specific. Critically examine what content is relevant to include and what is not – the temptation can be to try and cover everything – however engagement will be higher when participants can deep dive into the learning focus area and when examples are given that allows them to contextualise it for their practice.

Some thoughts to consider in relation to content are:

  • the expected outcomes for you and the participants
  • whether the content stretches those in attendance who may already have a foundation in the area
  • whether the content aligns with the planned activities and discussion opportunities 
  • whether the content is up to date and evidence based
  • whether it is targeted and specific to the purpose and context of the professional learning.

Delivering professional learning effectively

When delivering professional learning, engagement and interaction with your attendees is of the utmost importance. Below are some tips to assist you in the delivery of your professional learning. 

  • Define the purpose and goal of the professional learning
  • Share the agenda and break arrangements 
  • Set expectations and protocols for the session
  • Use icebreaker activities help to make the participants more comfortable
  • Speak clearly and slowly – remember to breathe if public speaking isn’t your thing!
  • Ensure the instructions for each activity are clear
  • Allow time for whole group discussion, but ensure conversations relate directly to the content
  • Use multimedia and other interactive activities to break up talking
  • Encourage participation from all attendees
  • Be enthusiastic and passionate about your topic.

If delivering your professional learning online, some other considerations should be:

  • ensuring you have appropriate knowledge of the platform you have chosen to use, e.g. Zoom, Webex, etc.
  • choosing platforms and hosting services that are intuitive and easy to use for the attendees
  • sending instructions to attendees before the session, to ensure that they are comfortable with the mode of delivery and have time to prepare if needed
  • putting in place housekeeping rules to ensure the professional learning runs smoothly, e.g., encouraging attendees to mute themselves when not speaking and to add salient points or questions to the meeting chat
  • using file types that are easily usable on any computer and do not require specific software downloads, e.g. PDF, PowerPoint, Word documents.

Face to face delivery of professional learning will require different considerations to ensure the comfort and engagement of your attendees. Some tips for in-person professional learning include:

  • setting up the room ahead of time to ensure transitions between activities happen as seamlessly as possible
  • ensuring that there is a supply of pens, paper, and any other required materials in the room or setting you are using
  • providing learners with adequate breaks to allow them to absorb the learning and network with each other – this is particularly important in longer professional learning sessions, e.g. a day-long workshop
  • ensuring that water, snacks, and accessible bathrooms are available for the attendees
  • creating a comfortable environment for the professional learning, i.e., appropriate furniture, comfortable temperature, etc. 
  • sending out an agenda and any pre-reading to attendees ahead of time means that they will be prepared for the content and activities that you will be covering in the session.

Ensuring these items are covered in the delivery of your professional learning will encourage teachers to select your offering from the many available to them. Clarity around the learning goals and how the learning can be applied in classrooms are important signals as to the value of your professional learning offering, and how it will achieve the ultimate benefits of improving teaching practice and student outcomes. In this way, your professional learning delivery is a vehicle for aligning the learning to the High Quality Professional Learning cycle.