Today I want to take a closer look at the mode of instruction in traditional professional development and compare it to effective online learning and blended formats. Elearning was all too often seen as a cheap alternative to classroom instruction. The in-person seminar is supposedly the gold standard of teaching and learning. However, there is little evidence to justify this view. Given all the innovation we are seeing in information and communication technology as well as the many advantages flexible online learning has to offer, I would like to argue that it is simply implausible to assume that this age old format cannot be eclipsed. We are only beginning to glimpse the power of flexible online learning that makes use of new opportunities, blending them with established formats where appropriate.
The most common mode of instruction in traditional professional development was the block seminar. Ten to twenty people in a room with one or two instructors for a day or two. While there may be some preparatory reading, almost all of the learning had to take place in this short period of time. Learners had little time to digest the input, reflect on it, or discuss it with each other. Learning was synchronous. Everyone had to come at the same time to the same place: the classroom.
The Case for Flexible Online Learning
Flexible online learning, on the other hand, allows for a much more effective professional development experience. Learners work through online material at their own pace. Whenever there is room in their calendar and no matter where they are. Courses consist of a great variety of different learning formats in the form of assignments and multimedia content (video, text, etc). This form of learning follows that recommendations of neuroscientific research on learning. Because it gives learners plenty of time to digest, engage with each other, practice, or do their own research. This is not to say that coming together in a group cannot serve as a powerful tool for learning. But we should see it as just that: a tool in the toolbox rather than the be all and end all of teaching and learning.
Given all the advantages of flexible online learning and the logical implausibility of the assumption that there is no room for improvement, I strongly believe that the burden of proof lies with those who seek to maintain the status quo. For everyone else, experimenting with new formats is the order of the day. Life punishes those who delay. Make sure you and your organisation do not find yourselves on the wrong side of history.