THE BLOG

MOOC-Eds Bring Professional Development Into the 21st Century

09/26/2013 12:01 pm ET | Updated Nov 25, 2013

In a time of financial cutbacks, schools and districts have slashed professional development budgets at an alarming rate despite new education standards and assessments and increased demands on teachers and students. Instead of waiting with crossed fingers for a full economic recovery that will restore budgets, innovators in the education field are exploring new ways to meet the professional development needs of teachers in an economical way. Enter the Massive Open Online Course for Educators, or MOOC-Ed. The MOOC-Ed is an online course for educators that provides personalized, scalable, and flexible learning to improve teaching and student outcomes.

The buzzword "MOOC" is already loaded. Students, educators, and education pundits hold different views on the extremely popular new approach to digital learning that, in the cases of many colleges and universities, provides course credits to students. Many of these views are negative, citing a lack of definitive research on the effectiveness of MOOCs improving student learning and outcomes. This is true; MOOCs are relatively new inventions for student courses, and while I strongly believe they have the potential to help bridge achievement gaps and income disparities for students, conclusive research to support this doesn't yet exist. While the debate continues around the effectiveness of MOOCs for student learning, I want to focus on a different kind of MOOC -- one designed for educators as a cost-effective way to deliver quality professional development and help educators continue their education.

My organization, the Alliance for Excellent Education (the Alliance), paired up with the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation at North Carolina State University (the Friday Institute) earlier this year, to offer the first-ever MOOC-Ed -- Digital Learning Transition -- geared toward school, district, and teacher leaders. In creating, monitoring, and engaging with participants in the course, we learned a few things about what makes MOOC-Eds successful and necessary for professional development in the twenty-first century. Based on those lessons learned, we've improved the MOOC-Ed and are running it again this fall. Registration is open here. The MOOC-Ed is free and open to the public.

MOOC-Eds offer self-directed learning with content that can be tailored and personalized to an educator's specific goals. Think of a MOOC-Ed like a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book. The MOOC-Ed creators aggregate resources and tailor them for any type of participant, e.g., a school administrator may choose to watch videos and read articles on districts that have been successful with digital learning, while a teacher leader may focus on using data to more effectively personalize instruction. In this way, the courses are self-directed, and participants choose among a rich array of resources, and decide when and how to engage in projects and discussions that will further their own goals.

MOOC-Eds are peer supported, meaning that participants learn from each other through engagement in online discussions, peer reviews of projects, ratings of posted ideas, and sharing of recommended resources. Educators in the Alliance and Friday Institute's MOOC-Ed reported that a significant portion of what they took away from the course came from support and ideas from other educators.

In a MOOC-Ed, educators engage in project-based learning that guides them through creating plans for their own district, school, or classroom. This helps ensure that unlike the traditional lecture model of professional development that rarely leads to significant change in teaching or learning, educators leave the MOOC-Ed with plans in place, many of which are implemented throughout the course.

The Alliance and Friday Institute's MOOC-Ed uses a case-study approach to introduce educators to real-world examples of best practices. Profiled schools and districts join the conversation to answer questions from participants and elaborate on the lessons they learned.

Finally, MOOC-Eds offer anytime, anywhere learning. Educators engage in the course as their time allows and from anywhere they have access to the web via a computer, tablet, or smartphone.

The MOOC-Ed offered by the Alliance and the Friday Institute drew 2,665 participants who represented all fifty states, the District of Columbia, and sixty-eight countries. Participants ranged from district administrators to instructional technology professionals, classroom teachers, education consultants, school administrators, library and media specialists, and educators in special education. If you were unable to participate in the first MOOC-Ed, I highly encourage you to register for the one running this fall.

Educators are seeking ways to continue learning and improve teaching techniques and administrative leadership. MOOC-Eds provide professional development opportunities at a fraction of the cost of traditional methods, while allowing for personalized and flexible paths to learning.

The next Alliance for Excellent Education MOOC-Ed, conducted in conjunction with the Friday Institute, begins on Sept. 30. Registration is open at https://courses.mooc-ed.org/dlt2. The MOOC-Ed is free and open to the public.