Is face to face training for teachers dead?

Good staff development is a common factor amongst outstanding secondary schools (Tim Brighouse TES 04/10). John Hattie’s metastudies point to teacher quality as being the most important factor in raising achievement. Dylan William, Emeritus Professor of education at the IoE, regularly emphasises the importance of improving the teachers already in the profession as well as those entering it. CPD is clearly very, very important, and in an ideal world good staff development would be happening all the time.

We inhabit a far-from-ideal world, however. The budgetary pressures are hitting the face-to-face training hard; courses are often £250 and upwards. Add to this the cost of covering an absent teacher (at least £120 per day) and the pressures on other staff because of the ‘rarely cover’ directive and the sums start to look worrying. Teachers are also pretty reluctant to leave the GCSE or A-Level class they’ve been teaching in the hands of a ‘babysitter’ because, as anyone who has experienced this knows, there’ll be precious little progress in that classroom… unless you’re lucky enough to have extraordinary cover supervisors or subbing teachers.

There is a great tension in school CPD with teachers tugged each way in the middle. In my experience as a teacher, trainer and coach, teachers are very grateful for development opportunities and will endeavour to make the most of what they learn. Even with the greatest intentions, however, the impact in the rest of the school is limited to ‘cascade training’ or a mention in a departmental meeting. Cascade training is simply a false economy – no-one can train others on subject matter they themselves have only just been through with anything approaching the same level of knowledge, understanding or objectivity. If they try to do so it takes valuable directed time and, to a certain degree, wastes it.

So, what to do?

Growth in eLearning across the commercial sector has undoubtedly been driven by financial considerations. No travel, no room, hire, reduced impact on productivity because of absence and a tutor who can build a course then move on to the next, instead of getting tied up delivering the same one time and time again. Managers can track, at the very least, who has signed-in to the course (can anyone track whose eyes were facing the trainer at a F2F training event?), and with a little more forethought can collect assessment data that tells them what people have gained from in. Staff can fit the course in around their day, and even continue study on the bus / train / patio. There are numerous benefits.

So why isn’t everyone elearning?

Take your pick from the often quoted evaluations of elearning course enrollees:

  • it’s boring,
  • hard-to-follow,
  • lacks discourse,
  • requires a certain level of computer competency, even when the subject has nothing to do with technology,

the list goes on…

This isn’t all elearning, and it isn’t how online learning has to be. The world of elearning has paid much more attention to course design, visual and multimedia communication, smart assessment, the psychology of learning, and even learning theory such as constructivism than large swathes of the time-pressed (and under-developed) teaching profession get a chance to do.

Good elearning is social, focussed, flexible, personalised, and is more effective than classroom teaching.

The time is ripe for elearning to enter schools in a big way. There is an increased emphasis on teachers teaching teachers, and if their practice can be captured, built-upon using the findings of peer-reviewed research, and turned into effective and affordable elearning then the school system can be helped to improve itself.

Now, who could possibly know enough about elearning and education to pull this off…?

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