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Do blended PLD opportunities offer the same benefits as traditional PLD?

Part 2:

In part 1, Teachers are doing it for themselves - PLD that is! we explored the upsurgence of emerging communities of practice and increased opportunities for online professional learning - in organised online communities as well as personal learning networks, using social networking tools such as Twitter, Facebook, Ning, VLN and Pond. It is fast becoming recognised we are in an emerging paradigm where learning isn’t confined to time and space, rather with the access to social learning tools, we can blend and ‘flip’ our learning to access PLD whenever, wherever we want. In this post, we ask, Are these forms of online PLD superficial or can they lead to transformative practice for teachers and leaders?

In What makes for effective PLD (12 July), Derek Wenmoth blogged about shared issues faced by teachers in regards to authentic and effective PLD.

“...teachers are time poor, the overloaded curriculum, lack of expertise, reluctance to change etc.” 

Derek goes to to discuss his thoughts around what constitutes effective professional learning and development for teachers and by drawing on influences from key research offers:

  1. It is in-depth

  2. It is provided over time

  3. It is related to practice

  4. It is contextually relevant

and 5. it involves collaboration. Derek also indicates for PLD to be effective, it needs to be ‘targeted and relevant to teacher needs, [and] teacher-owned or initiated’. Questions remain; does this still mean localised PLD, delivered in real time, or all - at once? Surely the influence of new technologies and growing professional learning networks challenges these traditional notions?

Karen Melhuish’s in-depth research on, Online social networking and its impact on New Zealand educators’ p... has a rigorous focus on how the Virtual Learning Network groups can, “enable user-generated, effective professional learning.” (p 7) Her thesis outlines the significance of blended online professional learning, the literature that sits behind effective professional learning and the affordances social learning networks can offer to support sustainable, life-long learning. Outcomes from this research, show that there is a growing number of educators who recognise the need to connect socially and are enthusiastically engaging in informal, self-driven PLD which has resulted in their goals being realised.

Melhuish also reflects, “In addition, it would have been interesting to track the development of knowledge through the system in relationship to specific activities and their outcomes.” (P 180, Online social networking and its impact on New Zealand educators’ p...) Collecting cumulative data to show a causal effect between engaging online and actual ‘Realised value’ - where new knowledge construction, effective practice, critical analysis and reflection are evident, might be a good place to start.

Over the past four years, we have seen the number of members and their interactions grow in the Enabling e-Learning groups in the Virtual Learning Network. Conversations have varied from responsive to reflective. Over the next coming months, we’d like to explore how online communities and personal learning networks are relevant to both teachers’ and students’ learning and will endeavor to visibly highlight stories (such as Leading learning and responsive PLD at Ngatea Primary School | A le...) that reflect future-focused trends in a cycle of inquiry. We hope these will demonstrate specific instances where effective, blended PLD has brought or is bringing about transformative change to teaching and/or leadership practice.

If these formal and informal learning opportunities can bypass traditional constraints of time, accessibility, budgets and relevance while also adding value for educators, then the challenge remains to encourage learning organisations to provide flexible, personalised, sustainable learning opportunities for teachers – who also have diverse, individualised learning needs. Leaders of future-focused schools need to be responsive about how they meet those needs. As Melhuish writes,

Educators need to understand how to strategically integrate networks such as the VLN Groups into their professional inquiries, and schools need to explore more deeply what potential exists for teachers to be both strategic and self-driven, in an era when information and colleagues beyond school are easier to reach.” (p 181, Online social networking and its impact on New Zealand educators’ p...)

How have you or your organisation encouraged teacher-initiated PLD using non-traditional methodologies? We’d love to hear more.

Images sources: 1, 23


About me:

I currently work for CORE Education in the Te Toi Tupu consortium as the online facilitator for Enabling e-Learning. A big part of my role, is to help build a sense of community identity in the VLN/EEL community groups space. I'm there to help support partnerships within our professional network - which includes brokering relationships within and beyond the VLN/EEL groups.

I'm also there to support community members mentor others online, as we share opinions, ideas, resource and teacher reflections - that will enhance learning opportunities for all our learners. Conversations and live events have a priority focus on the effective role of e-learning in education. These will happen largely within the Enabling e-Learning community groups. Come join me there!

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Comment by Tessa Gray on November 24, 2015 at 9:59

Thanks Hazel for your comments. I've been part of some of the online opportunities you've mentioned - uChoose for one, and I also did a course for online design a few years ago. I wanted to do the course as it helps me in my online role as facilitator, but I also found the content static and a bit mundane. There was no external mentor, so while I was doing the paper (at the same time as some of my colleagues), I managed to 'borrow' notes and fast-track myself to finishing. There was some valuable content (eye tracking, online content and hyperlinks etc), but it wasn't enough to change some of my habits I've formed...I wonder why? 

Then there's uChoose, where I really do get to choose - for me and of course the profession I'm working in. Has that form of virtual mentoring made a difference? YES, in bold letters! Why? Well for me, it starts with a learning goal I'm interested in, but also a professional 'push' in the right direction. Relationships are formed, timely interactions made and momentum is maintained by gentle external coaching. Could I have achieved these goals by myself? Maybe - over time. But I had already set the same goals some time back, and hadn't worked towards achieving them. So, for me having a clear goal, having the resources and time available, as well as an external mentor helps make the SMART goals achievable - in a more timely fashion. Was there any professional learning on the way? YES, again all timely, relevant and self-directed. 

Lastly, we try and encourage self-initiated interactions throughout all of the Enabling e-Learning groups in the VLN, one group in particular is focused on teacher PLD and there's also a group dedicated to discussions related to tertiary study too. Come join us?

Comment by Hazel Owen on November 18, 2015 at 20:17

P.S. You might enjoy the site that John Oliver has shared in his post about equitable, social, and participatory connected learning. While the focus isn't PLD, I wonder if, when early childhood practitioners, teachers and education leaders are immersed in such a learning experience as part of their own professional learning, it starts to impact their own practice with younger learners? What are your thoughts?

Comment by Hazel Owen on November 18, 2015 at 20:01

thoroughly enjoyed your post thanks, Tessa. I have been pondering your closing question "How have you or your organisation encouraged teacher-initiated PLD using non-traditional methodologies?"

I have been working on a couple of initiatives that use a virtual mentoring / coaching approach (Virtual Professional Learning and Development, and more recently, uChoose. Both use non-traditional methodologies (no formal course or assignments - the focus is decided / set by the education practitioner), the dovetail with the work the person is already doing, and is totally contextualised. Cycles of identifying focus (goals, actions, enablers, and ways of identifying progress are complemented by delving into questions of implications, identity, values and beliefs. Both also have online Communities of Practice that sit alongside. I've included links to two papers that give heaps more details, including a research study that illustrates the benefits of the approach.

The reason I have been pondering is - while I have been working within the two initiatives I describe above, I have also been studying via an online course. While it could (arguably) be called non-traditional (I don't have to sit in a specific place at a specific time), the course itself is 'O too familiar' and certainly not personalised. It's more a case of one size sort of fits all if you just happen to be the right size. I have completed 3 papers and haven't had a shred of feedback, have only been in passing contact with two other learners on the course, and the facilitator (twice, and both I initiated). The lively conversations are mainly in my head (LOL!), via blog posts, and with long-suffering colleagues. I am learning heaps but it's almost in spite of the course. 

The comparison between my two current experiences, I feel, is stark. The former intertwines the transactional and the transformative in a way that empowers the learner and complements all their other formal and informal PLD. The latter, while I am learning I hesitate to say it is proving transformative!

As such, I wonder what your thoughts are around how individuals and organisations can find out more about the non-traditional approaches that are "flexible, personalised, sustainable learning opportunities"? Online CoPs such as the Virtual Learning Network groups is probably a great place to start; do you know of a group that focuses specifically on PLD opportunities / evaluations of such opportunities, in the VLN or beyond?

Thanks again, Tessa - you're the best!!

Making the most of mobility: Virtual mentoring and education practi... (Owen, 2015)


Learning provision, including professional learning, needs to embrace mobility (of knowledge, cultures and contexts - physical and cerebral) to enable education practitioners to interact locally and globally, engage with new literacies, access rich contexts, and to question, co-construct and collaborate. Virtual mentoring, also known as distance, remote, tele-, cyber- and eMentoring, offers a level of flexibility that enables mentors and mentees to maximise these concepts of mobility. There are Professional Learning and Development (PLD) initiatives that offer contextualised, individualised learning experiences via mentoring partnerships and Communities of Practice (CoPs), but not so many that have focussed on virtual mentoring and online CoPs. This article describes a Virtual PLD programme that has been offered in Aotearoa New Zealand from 2009 to date and discusses findings from the 20 associated research study, including benefits that can be specifically equated to the virtual nature of the mentoring and access to the online CoP. Also reported are shifts in mentees’ self-efficacy and perceptions of changes in professional practice.

The long journey: Developing a model of PLD for the future (Owen, & Dunmill, 2014)


This paper presents the longitudinal learning journey of two educators who participated in the Virtual Professional Learning and Development programme (VPLD) between 2010 and 2013. Each participant’s story of change describes the process and outcomes of their involvement in a future-focused environment of virtual mentorship supported by a tailored online community of practice.

The paper discusses and conceptualises (via an inclusive framework for professional development) key findings. Evidence is shown of shifts in the educators’ beliefs about learning and teaching, corresponding changes in professional practice, and the impact on student learning experiences.

The three interconnecting dimensions of the Inclusive Framework for Professional Development - personal, professional and political - provided a tool to encapsulate the tensions, challenges, aspirations and inspirations of the two participants’ respective experiences. While the focus is not specifically novice educators, the authors highlight some of the implications for pre-service educator providers, as well as providing a framework that should prove useful for other practitioners involved in educator professional development.

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