You know the feeling, you’ve sat through this professional learning before. Huh, no, the title is different.

I think we had M&Ms for a snack the last time I was trained on this-same-thing, but the feeling is the same.

We have all been there. I swore that when I had the opportunity to facilitate I would be different. Yesterday, almost six years into an instructional technologists job I organized this file drawer and walked through the awkward past of the evolution of my professional learning pitch.

PL Provided It is a pitch too; no one reports to us, we invite or entice attendees. I can report that the type of “honey” used to draw participants attracts differing attendees. Also there is a difference between participants which a principal assigns and those who volunteer. A necessary hurdle is also the requirements for professional recertification participant, but in fairness that is often a layer of the complexity of trainers.

 From writing content in pilot learning management system (LMS) groups, to interviewing subject matter experts Subject Matter Experts (SME) for New Teacher Orientation courses, to my first pitch of a blended offering – wow have I grown in my idea of what I can offer via professional learning.

So what is the commonality between the blasé feeling the participant and the facilitator both experience? The Professional. Who is the professional? Great question, it is supposed to be each of us, both participant and facilitator.

One of the first professional learnings I offered on my own was in 2010 and was written to be a blended learning experience. I did not account for the reality that many participants had not yet experienced blended learning in the same way I had. My professional learning plan called for four meetings and used a precursor to a full LMS. The first meeting was required as a face-to-face meeting and I billed the next three as optional face-to-face meetings. My expectation was that people would meet once and then do the work on their own with only a few coming back to the optional meetings. My assumption was that if not required to show up they would prefer to do the work on their own, not at a physical meeting at a place other than their school or work. My assumption was also wrong; almost everyone continued to show up to the optional face-to-face meetings. This was stressful for me because I had hoped to personally help the few who did attend, but I was not able to attend to the many who did show up very well. I am sure they wondered why I was not prepared and were frustrated themselves.

…so, stepping off the treadmill

Do not just expect the participants to do better, but structure the experience so people completing your required steps are more professional for following those steps.

A recent comparable professional learning experience I am offering has two required online sessions and one choice of online/face-to-face, one required face-to-face meeting. My thinking here is to allow the participant to select themselves out if the online is not the right fit for them. What I did at my early training was make the participant passive and actually train them to show up and then I would think for them. In my newest offering they have to work through the beginning portion to get to a more teacher-centered, interactive facilitation of the learning.

Two years ago I was asked to work with a department undergoing leadership changes. I was asked to create a series of modules about the department for the audience of new employees. I interviewed workers in that department to gather information found nowhere else, I digitized it, and wrote five course modules. These modules had a timeframe of usefulness of less than one week; new employees care about an induction process until they get to their real work. The bureaucracy of gathering and entering names into the information system  was greater than the time frame this course was useful. I watched over 100 hours of work wither and die one the vine in a matter of days.

…so, stepping off the treadmill

Do not do the work for people.
Do not invest inordinate amounts of resources until you test the delivery methods.

While I still have that course saved somewhere I would ask that department to prepare digital formats of their procedures, policies, and paperwork for me in advance of any work I put into a course. I learned a great deal about their department and asked some clarifying questions of them which they had to find answers to, but am I the one who needed to learn about their procedures and policies or did I steal a learning opportunity from them? No good teacher would do that. Also some of the time I spent formatting their documents for them could have been done within their own group. I paid with my time learning that lesson.

The bureaucracy of getting the names of those hired was unexpected past the technical entering of a name in the information system which fed the LMS overnight that by the time a new employee showed up in the LMS the week where they would have cared about the induction process had elapsed. I now plan for the human process in addition to the technical process.

One of the larger projects I handled was a yearlong LMS pilot at the middle school where I had previously taught. I knew the people well and we were learning the LMS together.

An opportunity presented itself, it presented itself to the Principal and the teachers before me actually, for the teachers to make money from what they were creating. Select teachers had been offered a contract to complete a course. Aside from the unrealistic notion that people teaching in the classroom could write an entire course, no other guidelines were given with this offer. Halfway through the contract time frame, me and another instructional technologist were asked to evaluate the ‘courses’ and recommend who receives payment. This was an awkward situation. Awkward. We identified a rubric we could judge against, asked the principal to provide us with a staff member to help us complete the scoring since the number of courses to score was so great. And we basically agreed to handle this the way any teacher would handle a botched assignment in your classroom – no one fails, we only give guidance for a better result next time. Teachers did not finish the work, teachers complained to us about not seeing the rubric ahead of time (oh why did they sign a contract before asking for that?), the staff member we worked with did not complete his evaluations in a timely manner. And the funding source was now asking us what the problem was….

…so, stepping off the treadmill

Define success before you begin.
Do not enable poor planning, speak up early and often.

Of course, there are enough meaty lessons in this scenario to feed an African village for a month.
Teachers will always take an extra contract. But teachers, please do not agree to the handout without knowing the details.
We probably should not have agreed to evaluate such a nebulous product once the project had already started. But in fairness, somebody/anybody’s boss should have spoken up for us. And when they did not we should’ve protested a little more efficiently.
You cannot evaluate anything without having already provided your criteria.


We are all the professionals. We all need to do what we can to make our professional learning experiences count more. Participants can exercise great strength by intelligently demanding better opportunities and providers have to continue to learn lessons from situations and always do better once they know better.