Firehosed by Professional Development


My thanks goes to Rodney Turner (web site, 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 firehosingPDwhich 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.


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.


What would it take to sell this idea to the relevant decision makers?

7 thoughts on “Firehosed by Professional Development

  1. Thank you for putting together a great post on what we are missing in PD sessions. We should be ashamed of teaching/training/developing our teachers in a way that we know is not conducive to effective and efficient adult learning. Now is the time to move our Constructive classroom strategies to the Constructive staff room.
    I’m going to answer your question with a two questions, Do we HAVE to sell it before we move on the idea? What should be our first steps in making this happen in the background?

  2. It depends, I think, on the culture. I am aware of cases where the people undertaking PD have been told that they will do it in the unproductive manner I described. That organisation is not open to discussion on that point.

    I can only change that over which I have influence. For example, I may be presenting a 55 minute workshop as part of a conference on adult literacy and numeracy in two weeks’ time. That workshop will work at the “do and say” level. My aim is to communicate a single idea, that there are resources that you can draw on to help you with your own teaching of numeracy and maths to others.

    Thanks for adding to this debate. 🙂

  3. It is sad to think that teachers can’t enjoy PD. I don’t know anyone who wants to sit and “listen” to someone lecture all day. Thanks to our intuitive principal our teachers get a fresh look at teacher centered PD throughout the year in small chunks. The model we are creating is detailed on
    Thanks again for finding the importance of keeping this topic in the light. I hope that more relevant decision makers see the importance of making Professional Development count!

  4. Hello Laura,

    Thanks for your comment and the link to flipped PD. I think that the approach of recognising that teachers have a much better understanding of their own PD needs than does somebody in a remote office is a much more effective way of promoting continuous improvement in our profession.

  5. If I may join in on this conversation, I will add another perspective. Let me start by saying, I enjoy finding older posts like this one (4mo old) because they add to my learning in a continual asynchronous – and when I need it – sense.
    Last week another teacher and I were sharing a PD session with other teachers at our school. I did not have to do the actual instruction but served more as tech support and early years teacher perspective. Our session was to teach iMovie to a wide range of adult at varying skill levels. Many of the staff loathe tech and never seem to get the hang of it. For this session, my peer created a couple of teasers that pointed to the relaxed plan for the afternoon, that calmed jittery nerves, that made the upcoming PD seem doable in a collegial atmosphere. Even still, there were plenty of folks who expected the worst. What worked best for us was
    1. a short 2 hr time frame of instruction
    2. a hard copy outline including lots of links for reviewing later if they got stuck
    3. a website dedicated to the PD session itself.
    4. a small step-by-step approach to creating their own video
    5. a short list of materials to bring (Macbook and a file of images)
    6. a 10 to 1 ratio of staff to learners
    7. more folks with some experience using iMovie at a number of the tables
    8. a slow steady progress where learners could see their own progress – “do and say”
    9. a product worth sharing with others.
    I realize that more often than not a PD session runs much longer but as educators we know the value of small chunks as opposed to a flood of info.

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