What the Future Holds for Professional Development


A large part of what ASCD does is provide high-quality professional development options for educators so that they can be empowered to support the success of each learner. We sat down to chat with our Director of Content Development, David Hargis, to find out more about the challenges educators are facing and where PD is headed in the future. Feel free to add your PD insights, challenges or questions in the comments section after this post.

What do you find to be the most common PD challenge is amongst educators?
In many ways, the sorts of challenges teachers face today seem pretty similar to what I faced in the classroom 10 years ago or my mother, who taught for almost 40 years, faced throughout her career. How do we engage kids? How do we compete for their attention? How do help them understand the content in a way that prepares them to apply it in real-life situations? Of course you might ask, “If the challenges are the same, why haven’t we figured it out the solution yet?” The answer, for me anyhow, is that teaching is a pretty unique profession in that educators are constantly facing the new—new kids, new technologies, new standards and assessments. Plus it’s a profession where we are constantly bringing in brand new people and standing them side-by-side with veterans with more than 30 years in the classroom. It creates this very interesting dynamic that’s both very rewarding (new energy mixed with assured practice) and very challenging.

Give us an example of a story where PD Online® courses have provided a solution for a group of educators.
That’s a great question because while the challenges are similar, our options for working through those challenges as teachers have never been greater. For example, in the past, professional development basically came down to sitting in a large room and listening to an expert. You might have watched a film or broken out into groups. But more or less, everyone in the school (or even the whole district) received the same message. The positive here was consistency. The negative was that much of what the expert was saying didn’t apply to everyone equally. What the new teacher needs to hear isn’t necessarily the same as what the master teacher needs.

Today with digital PD options, such as PD Online courses, we have totally changed that equation. You can still ramp up the whole school or district but you can now do so in more targeted ways. You can ensure that everyone has the same basic understanding of a concept, but that they also have more specific training.

For example, one partner bought a few thousand seats in our differentiated instruction (DI) suite to use in their schools worldwide. They were able to train thousands of teachers in DI across the globe nearly simultaneously. And because we offer a suite of six courses, they were able to let those teachers or schools focus on specific areas of DI that were relevant to their needs. It’s amazing when you think about how much digital PD is helping educators.

A lot of PD is moving to an online format to make it easier for educators to complete anytime and anywhere. What do you see in store for the future of online PD?
We are constantly talking with our PD Online users and surveying their experiences to make the courses better. What emerges consistently is that people love that they can take these courses at home, on their own schedule, and on topics relevant to their specific situation. And of course, they are getting really great, high-quality materials. So convenience and flexibility goes through the roof without diminishing quality. In fact, because we work with the top people in the field on our courses—people like Carol Ann Tomlinson and Robert Marzano—the quality is in some ways better than what you might traditionally get. People tell us the courses are like getting personal instruction directly from these master educators. So one of the trends is a continuation along this path to provide greater adoption, more titles, and even better quality and flexibility.

The other trend, and the one that I think will become the norm in a few more years, is towards blended learning. For a long time, the debate was around whether you needed a person leading the experience. Often it came down to, “you can only get quality if it’s live” versus “digital only PD without a human facilitator is just as good.” And the studies showed that you could have the same level of rigor and quality with digital as with face-to-face. Fortunately, that debate is on its way out. Today, the evidence is clearly pointing to the middle path; blending the virtual and the face-to-face learning gives you the best results. So, you get that individual instruction from the expert, but you also get great face-to-face facilitation where you work together with peers. That’s where we are heading with digital, and it’s where ASCD is focusing its long-term vision.

Tell us a bit about the ASCD Master Class series. How can it help educators?
ASCD Master Class is a new, digital-only series we just launched in October. Every month, we are putting out a new episode of the show through PD In Focus® online application. We have an amazing host, Claudio Sanchez, who is not only an award-winning journalist for NPR, but he’s also a former classroom teacher. He understands the issues and knows how to ask his guests interesting, thought-provoking questions. For example, we just did a really fun episode with Mike Schmoker, who wrote Focus, that I think will spark a lot of conversations with the viewers. And that’s the idea. Unlike a video that features classroom practice, this series is about letting educators think and talk about their profession, where they see it going, and how they can take it to where they need it to be. And, getting back to the hybrid question, by delivering it through the PD In Focus application, viewers can watch it on their own time and then use the discussion boards to talk about it with colleagues, or they can bring those conversations to their face-to-face PD session, or they can do both. Learning becomes a 24/7 experience.

What is the most popular PD Online course ASCD offers? Why is it the most popular?
The Common Core courses are very popular. We have 12 out as of right now, with five more in development. Obviously, they’re popular because the Common Core is front and center on a lot of educators’ minds. What’s great about digital, again, is that not only can we do deep dives on specific topics, we can deliver the courses to teachers really quickly. For example, we have three different Common Core and Math courses, one for each of the major grade ranges (elementary, middle, and high school). We were originally going to focus only on grades 9–12, but we received valuable feedback from customers saying that they wanted us to cover more grades. So we did without changing the amount of time it took to get the courses to the schools. There was an immediate need for training on the topic, customers asked for a different level of specificity than we had planned, and we were able to adjust to meet that need and request almost on the fly.