Michael Petrilli has a good article in the Fall 2008 Education Next titled “Arrested Development: Online training is the norm in other professions. Why not in K-12 education?”

He points out how online training has swept through professional development in other industries—almost 40 percent of professional development was online in 2006, according to the American Society for Training and Development—and asks why that percentage is considerably lower in preK-12 education.

Why indeed given that it seems like it might suit teachers far better and make for better training? (Take a look at the training that PBS’s TeacherLine or CaseNEX, a seemingly disruptive spin-off from the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education, offers, Petrilli says.)

Petrilli gives some reasons for why this might be: Institutional resistance because district professional development staff might see their jobs disappear. Traditional professional development providers (including colleges of education) have a vested interest in stopping it. Many teachers receive a stipend in over half of the largest school districts for participating in professional development outside of the regular school day. And in the traditional model, teachers receive credit for merely showing up, whereas online they might have to demonstrate mastery to get credit.

How fast this is adopted, Petrilli suggests, will be a proxy for showing how calcified the education system is.

That makes sense, and therefore it seems the best way to implement online professional development is disruptively—allowing it to compete where the alternative, and therefore the resistance to change, is nothing at all. For example, implement it in rural districts perhaps that cannot afford traditional professional development. Or offer it for subjects the traditional professional development doesn’t cover.

Another line of thinking might say online training will gain currency as online learning for students grows, since much of the professional development for teachers there is offered online—and seems far more systematized and meaningful than the typical school district’s.

The other side of the argument is that online learning may only gain currency when more teachers themselves have been trained online—and therefore are comfortable with the medium and its ability to deliver meaningful results. This is an interesting question for future study—and something on which to keep a close eye. Disruptions in higher education from online universities for adult learners that offer more education training and certification may move this forward, too.

– Michael B. Horn


  • Michael B. Horn
    Michael B. Horn

    Michael B. Horn is Co-Founder, Distinguished Fellow, and Chairman at the Christensen Institute.