This morning, I was updating some district professional development data, including assessing online coursework and giving teachers the credits they had earned. I started offering a few online technology courses to our teachers in November of 2013. To this point, we have offered courses in Google Apps for Education, iMovie, digital storytelling, and flipped classrooms. Our teachers are required to complete at least 6 hours of instructional technology focused PD yearly. We offer a variety of forms, including traditional, in-person sessions after school and during the summer, a summer technology conference, etc. Since the beginning, I have been admittedly skeptical about online professional development, at least in the voluntary context present here. I am all too familiar with studies of online learning and low completion rates, and I know from my own online studies how busy we can get, and how deadlines simply pass by our good intentions. I want our teachers to have opportunities to learn in ways that meet their needs, however, so I created the courses using Moodle, recruited instructors, and put them into the district PD catalog. I decided to make the typical course last roughly 6 weeks, although a few have been shorter due to school scheduling constraints.  After a little more than a year, I did a little data gathering, and I was actually pleasantly surprised at the results.

  • online completionNumber of courses created: 4

  • Total course sessions: 13

  • Total teacher participants: 215

  • Number of participants completing courses: 98

  • Percent completion: 45.6%


Now, there is a sneaky little trend that can’t be ignored buried in those figures. January completion rates are, well, a wee bit higher:

online course januaryI am sure, of course, that is simply due to the fact that the winter break has teachers energized and ready to learn, and it has nothing to do with the fact that teachers who have completed their training receive a February comp day. After all, the experts say the best motivation is purely intrinsic, right? 🙂

There is a plethora of studies of completion rates of online courses, and they are pretty pretty dismal as a rule. However, I’m coming around on this type of PD, and I will be putting together more courses. Here are some observations that I think will help us be successful in our online PD program moving forward:

  • Do what it takes to get participants participating in the first week. Set a “post or be dropped” deadline and enforce it. Most folks who don’t get involved right away never do at all.

  • Expect regular (at least weekly) communication on the part of the instructor. This can be as simple as a group email or post to the course forum. Just a word of encouragement or a helpful tip reminds folks to get going. I’m not completely sold on purchasing subscriptions to online PD, by the way, because I haven’t seen the level of instructor participation I think is critical.

  • Respond to participants’ posts and submissions. I freely admit that I am not as good about this as I should be, but I know from my own experiences how reassuring it is to read something from my instructor about my own posts.

  • Encourage participants to interact. I say encourage instead of require, because I think it is even more powerful when we get a comment or question from someone who is not being coerced into doing so.