Since the start of the year, we’ve been working busily in the background on one big problem – how can we make professional learning for teachers more effective? And specifically, how can we help teachers learn tech?
In the coming weeks we’ll be unveiling some of our work on a solution – bitesized professional learning videos for teachers – ahead of formally launching our new subscription platform on October 1st.
For now I thought we’d kickstart the conversation with a look at the challenge itself.

Background: Things Aren’t Working

 
Back in 2015, the Gate’s Foundation published a report called “Teacher’s Know Best”. It’s definitely worth a read as a primer on the current state of play in teacher PD. From that report, a few things stand out about where we are right now.
First, teacher professional development in the US costs $18B a year. Yes, $18 billion. That’s more than $4,500 for every one of 4M+ teachers.
Second, teachers don’t think it’s working. Just 29 percent are “highly satisfied” with current professional development offerings and only 34 percent think professional development has improved.
And finally, the kicker when it comes to technology in particular:

Large majorities of teachers do not believe that professional development is helping them prepare for the changing nature of their jobs, including using technology and digital learning tools, analyzing student data to differentiate instruction …

In short, professional development is expensive, isn’t serving teachers and isn’t keeping pace with the changing job spec.
There are, of course, plenty of exceptions and examples of schools and 3rd party providers getting this very right. But for the vast majority of teachers in this survey at least, things are very wrong.

But This is Important

 
It’s not just education that has a professional development challenge. I’d wager that many professionals in law, finance, manufacturing, retail, government and pretty much every other sector might say similar things about poor access to training, particularly in tech.
But education is different.
Educators help prepare our young people for the future; and about the only thing we can say with certainty about that future is that it will increasingly be dominated by technology.
If teachers don’t feel confident using the technology that we have today, how can they adequately prepare our kids for tomorrow’s tech-driven future?
This is an issue for the education system, yes. But it’s also a pretty big deal for industry (who might want to employ those kids), parents (who want their kids to succeed), teachers (who are under increasing pressure to use new technologies) and, of course, the kids themselves.
And it’s not only a problem in the US. Are things really any better in the UK? Asia? South America? India? Africa?

What’s the Problem?

 
We think there are a few, intertwined, issues that make professional learning particularly challenging:

  1. It’s Expensive – $18 billion is a lot of money. A good chunk of the cost can be attributed to the way that most professional learning is delivered – in workshops, conferences and inset / in service days. Consider the staff costs of taking teachers out of class, arranging sub cover, workshop facilitators to pay for, travel to conferences etc…. And of course, training is one of the first things to get hit when budgets are tight.
  2. It’s Time Consuming – Teachers are busy. Finding time to attend training is difficult.
  3. Technology Moves Too Fast – The pace of change in technology has always outpaced the pace of change in education. This is to be expected, but we can do better.
  4. Scale – As noted above, there are great examples of teacher PD done well. But how do we scale up these solutions when we’re dealing with millions of teachers spread across countries and continents? To achieve the UN Development Goals in education, we’re going to need another 69 million teachers by 2030 – all of whom will need to be trained.

And what about equality of access? If good tech-focused CPD is something that is expensive and in limited supply, it stands to reason that schools, regions and countries with fewer resources will also be at a disadvantage when it comes to providing adequate training.

A Call to Simple Logic

 
None of this will be news to anyone in education. And it’s certainly not to say that there aren’t super smart people and organisations tackling this problem head on.
But for all the great work being done to emphasise technology skills for our students; we need to start taking teacher professional learning equally as seriously. 
MakeMatic want to have a go at helping.