3 Essential Elements of Modern Professional Development

How educators benefit from personalized online PD.

GUEST COLUMN | by Amy Vitala

Adult Learning Theory (ALT) should serve as an anchor when it comes to designing effective learning opportunities for adults. Adults want professional development (PD) that is relevant and applicable. They want to know the why behind what they are learning, and their prior knowledge needs to be taken into account. Finally, adult learners prefer to take ownership of their learning and engage in self-directed, problem-centered experiences that yield immediate takeaways and direct application in their roles or lives. Effective K-12 leaders take the elements of ALT to heart and design teacher training accordingly.

The evolution of technology in education has transformed professional learning, enabling educational leaders to offer increasingly personalized and engaging experiences for teachers. There are now virtual learning platforms that allow for the creation of anytime, anywhere competency-based learning for teachers, and the research shows that incorporating such opportunities significantly enhances the PD experience for educators overall.

‘There are now virtual learning platforms that allow for the creation of anytime, anywhere competency-based learning for teachers…’

A recent study highlights key components of a more modern approach to professional learning in K-12 education, three of which are discussed below.


First, it’s worth mentioning that research suggests a strong dissatisfaction with PD that fails to consider educator needs or experience.² Studies have shown time and time again that teachers want relevant professional learning that takes into account their diverse needs as learners, as well as PD that allows for teacher choice.² Differentiating or personalizing PD to to meet adult learners’ unique needs is paramount, as is allowing them to guide their own learning.

Educators crave learning opportunities that can be customized to meet their individual needs and enjoy being self-directed in their learning.² Educators enjoy being in control of their own learning and enjoy working at their own pace, and they appreciate asynchronous training because there is no need to wait for others’ questions to be addressed (as they would in a traditional face-to-face PD environment.¹) Allowing educators some control over when, where, and how they engage with PD opportunities gives them agency over their growth, leading to greater buy-in.


Most of us carry a computer in our pockets each day. The ubiquitous nature of cloud-based learning allows teachers to engage in PD activities anytime, anywhere. Studies have demonstrated that educators want professional learning that is sustained over time.² With the day-to-day realities of being a K-12 teacher, it is essential that learning is convenient and on-demand if we are to achieve sustained PD opportunities for educators. While face-to-face PD can certainly still prove valuable, teachers in a recent study overwhelmingly prefer self-paced asynchronous micro-learning to traditional face-to-face instruction.¹

An asynchronous environment allows teachers to fit PD into their busy schedules and engage with PD as needed. True anytime, anywhere learning offers options for when and where teachers are able to engage with PD; it’s there for them when they have the time and feel inspired to learn.


Various online platforms are available to educational leaders in order to curate content, but not all solutions are created equal. Oftentimes teachers have access to static content repositories where they can passively consume instruction of some kind, yet are in no way asked to practice or apply their learning.

Educators report a preference for hands-on, asynchronous PD models due to the fact that they have the ability to actually apply what they are learning immediately in order to demonstrate competency or understanding.¹ Through immediate application of learning and the efficient feedback loop possible with virtual, competency-based PD, 94% of educators report deeper levels of understanding (as compared to more traditional face-to-face training.¹) It is essential that leaders leverage a virtual platform that enables them to design and share hands-on, competency-based training opportunities for educators.

In Conclusion

With all of its advantages, it is no surprise that a large majority of educators report a preference for asynchronous, virtual learning.¹ It is crucial that school and district leaders act based on what research tells us with regard to adult learning, educator motivation, and professional learning preferences. We must value the prior knowledge that educators bring to the table and acknowledge that their needs, experiences, and interests vary greatly. Learning opportunities should respect teachers’ time and best meet their individual needs. Autonomy in professional learning is essential, and technology offers an avenue to create meaningful PD experiences for our K-12 educators. When it comes to modernizing PD, it is our hope that K-12 education leaders will consider infusing elements of self-directed, competency-based, sustained PD that meets the needs of educators.


¹ Stagnaro, Wayne R., “Educators Benefit from Personalized Online Learning Via Competency-Based Asynchronous Platforms.” (2021).

² Vitala, Amy E., “From #edcamp to #edchat: A Case Study Exploring Innovative, Self-Directed Educator Professional Learning.” (2016). Doctor of Education in Teacher Leadership Dissertations.

Amy Vitala has been in the field of education for 17 years and holds an Ed.D. in Teacher Leadership. She is the Chief Learning Officer at MobileMind and is passionate about transforming professional learning for educators. Connect on LinkedIn.


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