A new World of Learning

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What we have learned from schools and their incredible transition to online learning, is now manifesting itself in a new online learning model – our own continuing professional development. Is the online professional learning community about to take off?

How are we learning in this new world of education? We have spent a lot of time focussing on how to get our children to access online learning, making sure that our technology is up to scratch and developing our online access skills. But how has this translated into how our professional development has changed? How are we learning now, and how easy is it to develop yourself in a modern, professional context?

This article explores the rising use of professional learning communities and how online technology can increase the capacity for these to take hold as a major conduit for skills development.

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Two years ago schools operated much like they have for more than 100 years. The way we, as parents, experienced school was similar to how our parents did, and now, how our children experience school life. The understanding of learning has, of course, developed over time and we know now how better to appeal to the way people learn in order to make learning more enjoyable, but nevertheless the model of 30 – 40 children sitting in front of a teacher whilst knowledge is passed from one person to the rest, is pretty similar to what it has always been. 

The Covid-19 pandemic has changed this though – overnight! Two years ago many schools were floundering in the face of immediate and unforeseen change. It became a pertinent topic for almost every family in the world as they faced the prospect of having to accommodate their children at home, full time. But we learned. Fast. Before long, it became evident that schools had rallied and adapted their curricula and learning materials to meet these challenges and tech companies had jumped at the chance to bolster their previously rather clunky online collaboration platforms, to accommodate rapidly developing online learning demands. Very soon the level of provision provided by the best schools was better than anyone could have imagined it could have been in such a short space of time. 

But what has this meant for us adults? If we have made it possible for our children to learn effectively online, can this be achieved for our own professional learning too? The key consideration is how best we learn as human beings. One important factor in effective learning is community. Simply put, we learn best if we are with others in a community. This was evident with our children, and the best online learning platforms provided social opportunities for collaboration and communication. 

Another important aspect that the best platforms did was to ensure good accessibility. They moved beyond the clunky, ‘difficult to navigate’ and expensive platforms, into easy to access, cheap (sometimes free) and creatively designed platforms. Just take collaboration platforms like Google Workspace as an example. By making platforms accessible they removed the layer of resistance that many of us would normally have when it comes to engaging with online content. 

And then of course, throw into the mix, smart content creators, making content that is bite-sized, modern and engaging, and you have  the confluence of three important factors that sets the stage for a whole new paradigm in professional development – the growth of the Online Professional Learning Community. 

As these are yet early days in this new developing phenomenon, it is not clear how the growth trajectory will continue, especially now as we emerge from the pandemic, but the signs are positive so far. This seems to be the new way that people are accessing their professional development. It gives flexibility where previously this was not possible. It provides affordable solutions to learning about almost anything. Most of all, it provides a community that you can engage with whenever you have a moment where you feel you need to touch base with those who are undertaking the same journey as you. 

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