Toward a New Typology of Professional Learning

When we think of geography, our mental touchstones are things such as tectonic plates, mountains, maps, and the like. We tend to rely on the concept of 'distance,' i.e. spaces between geographies that are to be traversed, to help us make sense of geography. Though we may not be aware of it, this worldview informs how we go about our lives, from how we think about 'school' to how we think about 'work,' not to mention things such as countries' national defence policies. Perhaps the sine qua non of how we deal with what we call reality.

However, we've spent over 150 years layering a newer 'geography' atop that one by means of trains, cars (highways), and airplanes. We might call each one of these a typology, rather than a geography. They too constitute maps (rail maps, highway maps, flight maps), but these typologies can change as a result of connection (a concept that employs two companions, velocity and time). Allow me to provide an example. How far apart are London and Mumbai? In geographic terms, that would be 4,466 miles [7,187 km], but in typological terms, we'd have to say "that depends." For instance, it could be 10 hours by plane, or it could be 0.6 milliseconds by fibre-optic cable.

What might we say about professional learning? Over the past 50 years, we have invested a good deal of time in creating an encrusted layer of professional learning. It looks like this: keynote, 60-minute session, coffee break, 60-minute session, lunch, more 60-minute sessions, maybe a drinks reception. There are variations on this theme, but the theme remains prevalent. These conferences are our equivalent of railways and highway systems; they are our operative typology. And yes, this typology is being challenged as a result of 'connection,' as mentioned above.

I propose that we turn the challenge on its head, and utilise the strengths that 'connection' brings us.

Why? Consider what the evidence on effective professional learning shows us -- that the most impactful professional learning is designed with the following areas in mind: duration (length of learning time), rhythm (not a one-off, but continual involvement, with multiple opportunities for reflection), needs-based (based on input from the 'users' themselves, teachers, as well as leaders), shared sense of purpose (explicit about how learning connects to the everyday classroom experience), and alignment (adult learning is aligned to student learning needs, i.e., tied into outcomes). Investing (time, energy, resource) in the notion of 'connection' could help us to re-imagine professional learning that engages all these areas intentionally, with the resultant impact/outcomes we're seeking.

In other words, if we know that an intersection of these elements produces high-quality professional learning, why aren't we doing it?

Think about the last several years of your professional learning experiences. How many of these five elements were present in those experiences, and in what capacity? How explicitly in evidence were they? How did you know?

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