Online or face-to-face Continuing Professional Development?
Most of our professional development takes place online and face-to-face, but how do they differ and what are the specific advantages of each? Can a teacher develop professionally without being part of an online community of practice or is it now essential to interact in both physical and online spaces?
I will attempt to answer each question in turn…
How do they differ?
I think as well as considering how they are differ, it is important to recognise the ways in which they are are similar. CPD-UK defines CPD as “the holistic commitment of professionals towards the enhancement of personal skills and proficiency throughout their careers.” In other words, any activities we carry out with the goal of enhancing our practice in some way count as CPD. Perhaps traditionally, people may associate CPD with sessions run by management to ensure continuous upgrading of skills. However, there are any number of things that we can do, both online and offline, which will have a beneficial effect on our practice. So, how DO they differ?
My view is that there is increasingly little difference, as technology continues to improve, and events like conferences, which used to be something you could only do in a face to face scenario, are able to held equally effectively online. I suppose perhaps the main difference between online CPD sessions (webinars, conferences) vs. offline CPD sessions (development days, conferences) is that the face to face versions offer not only content but also the opportunity to network and socialise, which may be of particular value to freelance workers but also enriching for everybody involved. That’s not to say, however, that online CPD is devoid of such opportunities – more about that later.
What are the specific advantages of each?
I have already touched on this within the previous question – a definite advantage of face to face CPD is the networking and socialising with fellow professionals that it enables. In addition to this, the buzz of attending a face to face conference is something rather special. Arguably there are also the exhibitions that allow you to walk around seeing all the latest books, coursebooks, innovations etc that publishers and others are keen for you to see (and buy!). Conferences aside, for some people talking face to face with people is simply preferable to online communication. (Note, “some”…) They might prefer developmental discussion to take place in the staffroom or in staff-run TD sessions e.g. scholarship circles rather than on Twitter.
A big advantage of online CPD, on the other hand, is that you can fit it in around a busy schedule much more easily. There is no travel time, and, because of that, there are no travel and accommodation costs. Consider an hour spent watching a webinar on a Saturday afternoon compared to the amount of time, effort and money required to attend a face to face event (which for many, if not most, people just never happen to take place somewhere convenient!) In addition, for some people, communicating and networking online (through Twitter, through LinkedIn, through blogging etc) comes more naturally than doing the equivalent face to face. Further, if you are busy, Twitter and Facebook offer the opportunity to participate in asynchronous discussion, meaning you can dip in and out when it suits you. Of course, if you can commit then synchronous chats takes place on both sites too.
Can a teacher develop professionally without being part of an online community of practice or is it now essential to interact in both physical and online spaces?
I think as far as the answer to this is concerned, it depends on the individual. They may want to access online CPD without much emphasis on interaction e.g. attend a webinar, read blogs, etc. Quite often, of course, these activities may well lead to interaction but not necessarily, perhaps not every single time, and I don’t think this means development won’t take place. I think we need to be careful of making sweeping generalisations about what people need to do in order to develop, as all people are different. Some people love using Facebook groups, and swear by their online professional network, others wouldn’t touch Facebook with a barge pole and prefer other ways of developing. And that’s fine! I think what I really would recommend, where possible, is experimentation and being open to trying new things (and always there are more new things!), each a few times, to get more of a feel of what works best for you and your CPD: there is nothing to lose!
All in all, we are lucky there is so much choice: some people are super lucky and can attend lots of face to face conferences and training days, or work somewhere in which there are lots of face to face development opportunities and funding to go further afield too, and they may feel they can take or leave the online side of things, or use it infrequently. However, where before those who didn’t have access to such opportunities would have a poorer chance to develop, regardless of their level of motivation, the increasing abundance of opportunities that exist online are definitely a Godsend. Happy days!