There are multiple options for the virtual or online professional development of teachers. Today, we discuss the merits and demerits of two of the popular options - webinars and live courses.
A webinar is a "seminar" conducted online by one or more experts. It can be simultaneously attended by thousands of people, either on virtual conferencing platforms such as Zoom or on social media platforms such as Facebook or YouTube.
Merits of Webinars
Every teacher would have attended at least 20 webinars over the last 7 months during which the schools have been shut down. Webinars became popular because they have certain obvious advantages. Here are a few of these.
Most webinars are free. You or the school management does not have to pay to attend a webinar. Since it does not cost anything to register for a webinar or attend it, most teachers end up registering for it even if they are not sure whether they will attend it or not. On an average, our analysis shows that 40%-50% of teachers do not attend a webinar evern after registering.
Webinars require a small time committment. The duration of most webinars is less than 2 hours. This time committment is convenient for most people.
Webinars do not require your 100% attention. In fact, I have seen people attend webinars while walking around in the school or even driving their cars. You are really not required to sit on your desk with a notepad and a pen to take notes.
Demerits of Webinars
Webinars have lost their sheen within a few months of gaining peak popularity. In October-November, you would have recieved far less invites to attend webinars than you did in April, May, or June. This is largely because of ineffectiveness of webinars to deliver meaningful learning gains for teachers. Here are some reasons why webinars are ineffective.
Webinars lack depth: Most webinars try to cover a wide range of issues in a short time interval. This prevents the attendees to develop an in-depth understanding of the issues that is required for successful in-class implementation.
Webinars are speaker-centric: Majority of webinars are conducted by practitioners interested in sharing their opinions and glorifying their accomplishments. They do not present scientific, research-based, practical solutions to the attendees.
Webinars are informational: Most webinars aim to share unstructured information with attendees. A lot of times, this information seems like a preacher's session. At the end of the webinar, we may have some attendees who may be "well-informed" on the topic. But due to lack of practice and implementation support, this information is hardly ever applied to real classroom settings.
Live Online Courses
A "course" is a structured program with well-defined learning outcomes that need to be achieved by all participants. It is delivered by mentors who have the knowledge, experience, and skills to deliver well structured content based on research and best practices.
An online course can be delivered in asynchrounous mode using a learning management system (LMS) such as Coursera or EdX. A live online course is delivered in a synchronous manner using video conference tools. Let us look at the merits and demerits of such a course.
Merits of Live Online Courses
For teachers who are seriously about acquiring deeper knowledge or sharpening their skills, live online courses offer several benefits.
Focus on Learning Outcomes: When you enrol in a course you work towards attaining certain learning outcomes. The course is designed and delivered in a manner to enable you to achieve these learning outcomes. After the course, you can easily evaluate if the learning outcomes have been met.
Depth of Knowledge: Courses deliver focused content at appropriate depths of knowledge levels. They go beyond delivering factual information and allow you to indulge in conceptual understanding and strategic thinking. This ensures that you develop sufficient knowledge and skills for classroom implementation.
Learning Activities/Tasks: Courses offer you opportunities to learn from specially designed activities and tasks that boost your understanding of concepts or practice the new skills.
Assignments: Most courses are accompanied by assignments that make you reflect on the concepts learned and how you can apply them in your classrooms with your students. These assignments help you convert best practices and theory into practical applications.
Interactions and Engagements: Since courses are delivered over an extended time period, they provide ample opportunities of interaction with experts and peers. Such interactions result in higher engagement levels with every element of the course.
Demerits of Live Online Courses
Why do most people avoid live online courses dispite the many benefits they offer? Maybe this is because of certain demerits of these courses.
Course Fees: Most live online courses are not free. Educators who do not wish to invest money or who are facing financial difficulties are reluctant to register. Schools may not wish to pay the course fees for their teachers and expect teachers to opt for free alternatives.
Time Committment: Live online courses require longer time committment running over several days or weeks. Also, since these courses are live participants have to make sure to be available during the live sessions.
Focused attention and participation: Online courses cannot be attended casually. The participant has to take full ownership of learning by concentrating through live sessions, participating in learning activities, and engaging in various interactions.
For teachers who are serious about their professional development, live online courses offer much better value than occassional webinars. Though these courses are not free they allow teachers to acquire the required depth of knowledge and skills which can be implemented in the classrooms. And, that is the real purpose of professional development. Isn't it?
About the Author
Dr. Atul Nischal is the Founder of the International Council for School Leadership (ICSL) and serves as the Program Director of ReSET, the 3-week online certificate program for educators.
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