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How online learning can help teachers’ professional development

Ask any teacher and they will tell you that ‘teaching’ is just part of it. There is the responsibility to safeguard children in their care, create an atmosphere conducive to learning, the need to adequately prepare students for examinations… There’s marking, teacher-parent meetings, lesson planning… the list goes on. And on… With so many responsibilities, professional development can seem more like a ‘nice-to-have’ than a feasible commitment. But if Headteachers want to commit their staff to a philosophy of professional development; one that is adaptive and flexible and very much grounded in the practical needs of the classroom, online learning can be a useful, affordable, and measurable way of training staff. It can be standardised across the board for universally important subjects or adopted for more specialist matters. 

FutureLearn, the social learning platform owned by The Open University, has long allied itself with teachers. Partnered with leading universities and industry bodies, it offers a host of courses that teachers may find useful in helping meet their professional development needs.

To see all the courses available, look at the Professional Development for Teachers page on FutureLearn. There you will find courses like the University of East Anglia’s ‘Professional Development for Early Career Teachers’, which helps junior teachers navigate the early stages of their career. The course offers advice and support on improving teaching skills and juggling workloads, and invites newly qualified teachers to reflect on and identify professional development needs. Subjects like behaviour management strategies, pedagogical approaches to teaching and learning, and ways to prioritise workload are all explored. The course can serve as a useful adjunct to physical in-school training, or the very basis of such training. 

Managing Behaviour for Learning is also accounted for. On FutureLearn, the National Stem Learning Centre has a course dedicated to the subject as part of its STEM teaching programme. The course is applicable to all teachers and explores how individual behaviour influences students, how to control emotional responses and how to interact with students. There are techniques for developing consistency in managing behaviour, recognising positive behaviour and building trust in the classroom. Through the experienced teachers delivering the course, learners will be encouraged to actively reflect on their practice and share experiences as part of the course discussions. 

Also available are more specialised courses, like the University of Bath’s Good Practice in Autism Education course which looks at the many modalities of schooling for students with autism, including How online learning can help teachers’ professional developmentgeneral special schools, autism-specific special schools, autism units within mainstream schools and being in a mainstream classroom.It asks what are the benefits and challenges of these different types of education? What are the implications for inclusion? And what constitutes good practice within autism education? 

It is easy to sound preachy and somewhat out of touch with the realities of the classroom when talking about professional development — and certainly nobody wishes to undermine the demands already being placed on teachers.  But so long as Headteachers and key decision makers in schools have a multitude of competing priorities, it will often be challenging to be fully across everything. Nobody can be the eyes and ears of every classroom, much as they may like to be. Empowering teachers to invest in their own career development is possible however, and online learning offers teachers the means to do this in a way that does not conflict with their many and varied competing priorities.

Article by: Nigel Smith, Managing Director, Courses and Learning, FutureLearn

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