My thanks goes to Rodney Turner (web site http://techyturner.blogspot.com.au/, twitter @techyturner) for prompting me to write this post. He mentioned the word “firehosing” in connection with professional development sessions, and brought into sharp focus something that had been at the back of my mind for some years. I then tweeted which provoked two retweets and some jaundiced exchanges about professional development.
Rodney’s comment made me re-evaluate both the professional development (PD) sessions that have been to, as well as those where I had been an observer. What, I wondered, would people remember of being talked at for eight hours in a PD session? A little bit of Internet research came up with a study which can be summarised as learners remember
- 10 percent of what they read;
- 20 percent of what they hear;
- 30 percent of what they see;
- 50 percent of what they see and hear;
- 70 percent of what they say; and
- 90 percent of what they do and say
(Metcalf, T. (1997) Listening to your clients, Life Association News, 92(7) p16 – 18). Adult learning principles indicate that activities in a PD session should as varied as possible. See, for example this article by the Journal of Extension. There is one sentence in that article which is particularly telling: “Their motivation can be blocked by training and education that ignores adult learning principles (Knowles et al., 2005)”.
There is also the question of the amount of information that is presented in any one day of PD. If the PD is properly planned and executed, this would be the same amount of information that you would expect your own adult learners to learn in the same amount of time. From what I have seen for myself, and what the jaundiced exchanges would also indicate, is that this does not happen!
Why do we, who are educators and who should know better, allow this sort of disjunction between when we know to be good practice and what we allow to be done to ourselves? Why are we wasting our time, our presenters’ time, and our administrators’ budgets on this sort of thing? How many people can remember all the relevant details of the first session in a day’s PD by the end of the day?
My gut feeling is that less than 20% of all the relevant information is retained at the end of such a day. To put it into the perspective of personal finances, would you be happy for your garage to charge you five times as much as normal for an ordinary service for your car? No, I though not.
A WAY FORWARD
Enough of this bellyaching on my part.
Rodney described a situation where PD is built into the method of work. There is no “once a year formal PD session”. There is, however, a culture of continuous learning. (As I write, it occurs to me that this mirrors a culture of continuous [self-]improvement.) Just-in-time learning comes to mind here. As an aside, when I have seen Information Technology (IT) specialist come across a novel problem (and given the nature of information technology today, there are plenty of those), the first thing they do is use the Internet to see if somebody has already found a solution. Rodney’s comments made it plain that this just-in-time IT solution can be morphed effectively to suit educators.
A FINAL THOUGHT
What would it take to sell this idea to the relevant decision makers?