Updated: May 22, 2022
This blog is designed to support leaders in considering how they can increase the effectiveness of teacher professional development through the use of melded learning. There is a mixture of theory and practical tools that can be used by senior leaders to consider current CPD practice.
Blended learning is usually considered to be online learning + face-to-face learning.
Melded learning is the use of multiple ways of improving knowledge, understanding and skill to achieve a learning goal with the aid of others.
Melded learning can be achieved at different levels of intensity and breadth - from a small start-up approach (e.g.one small group of colleagues working on a specific objective) to becoming the beating heart of the CPD policy. You can take the principles and apply it to designing year-long approaches to school improvement support. If you would like training for your senior leadership team on melded learning or support for designing a year-long plan, why not get in touch and start a conversation.
The blog considers the human factors which contribute to successful CPD including the need for senior leaders to be actively involved and highly strategic in their approach.
What is the goal?
'I am the SENCO and I also lead on interventions. My goal is to learn about the most effective ways of providing reading fluency intervention so that we can ensure our interventions are as strong as possible. I am in a team with colleagues who have the same goals. The team consists of the headteacher, the English leader, the KS1 leader.'
'I am a Year 4 teacher. My goal is to enhance my practice in teaching nonfiction writing so that the as a school we can secure better progression and achieve higher standards. The key stage are focusing on information texts and instruction texts. We aim to develop a shared understanding of pitch, set out the sentence level work we expect each year group to focus on, develop our perspective on teaching children about audience and purpose, and increase our understanding of how to address common problems.'
Always start with the goal. The more precise the goal is the better. Then consider how different forms of learning will help to achieve that goal.
New opportunities; new ways of learning.
Are you taking advantage of both online and offline adult learning? Are you taking advantage of different types of online content, e.g. online courses, remote meetings, cloud storage to share and access documents, collaboration between schools, podcas
You can learn almost anything online. If you want to.
Confidence in using technology has in the past often been a barrier to using online learning for staff development in school. Due to the coronavirus lockdown restrictions many school colleagues who were previously nervous and reluctant to use online systems have faced their fears and found that technology has been surprisingly easy to use, such as zoom, a popular virtual meeting software, or online learning environments, such as google classroom. There has been an increase in the number of teachers engaging in educational conversations on twitter, watching video clips via platforms such as YouTube and engaging in live sessions online. We should capitalise on recent gains, particularly when seeking to deepen understanding of complex educational matters, by offering multiple sources of information and different ways to learn.
Technology offers teachers the opportunities to study at a depth and breadth that previous was unaffordable. Online sources provide schools with different CPD options - colleagues can work together or colleagues can work self-paced; colleagues can all study the same content or content can be matched to individual need; colleagues can learn from one source or multiple; they can access CPD locally or internationally.
However, success with online learning requires many of the same components as offline learning, e.g. a sense of direction, a clear goal, time and energy to commit to the training, like minded people to work alongside, deadlines for completion, quality materials, structure for conversations. And online external sources work best when they are combined with in-school sources of learning - circles of colleagues in school to discuss and debate with, people to plan lessons with, colleagues who bring different perspectives and experience to the offline conversations, 1:1 support, monitoring and feedback on changes to classroom practice, books to dig deeper into aspects of study, research documents to unpick the theory and practice. And who co-ordinates this? Who sets the direction? Who sets out the time frame? Who maintains momentum? Who motivates the team? So much more can be achieved if leaders invest in the strategy.
Success with melded learning does not happen by magic; it requires -
a positive learning culture,
a clear focus on goals to be achieved,
a big picture plan,
high-quality ongoing dialogue,
careful monitoring and evaluation.
Leaders need to approach melded learning strategically and have a genuine commitment to professional development. The rewards can be amazing - but to unlock potential takes skilful leadership.
This blog considers :
1) how to create a melded professional development programme;
2) factors leaders should consider to ensure CPD yields excellent returns;
3) how participants can get the most from a melded learning programme;
4) the types of thinking that maximise the impact of professional development.
When designing adult learning:
Let's start with considering the components that should be part of any adult learning programme. Consider how each of these is timetabled, supported, planned in advance.
Look at the 7 items in the model above : ask yourselves as a senior leadership team how are you ensuring that all of the elements are strong when trying to achieve an objective through CPD? Use it as a checklist for planning. Use the model in discussions with colleagues. Ask colleagues to regularly look at the model and reflect on how they are engaging in different types of thinking towards a learning goal.
Stages of adult learning and preparing the way
Due to its significance, I highlight the words of this section.
How might you be able to use the 4 circles to develop a structured approach to CPD - see diagram and explanation below.
How might training and discourse on being an effective adult learner lead to better outcomes?
Moving from the inner to the outer layers of the circle - and moving between the layers. This four layer model can be useful in planning a way forward.
Also see the work of Diep, Anh Nguyet. Adult learners' needs in online and blended learning, Australian Journal of Adult Learning, Vol 59, No 2, July 2019. You can download the above diagram as a PDF.
Each layer builds on from the last, but can also be returned to.
Circle 1 Readiness: It is important that participants are informed about what is expected of them as learners and are provided with optimal physical conditions to learn, e.g. space, time, equipment. At the lower end of the framework, we deal with physiology and safety aspects of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. For example, clarity of goals, success criteria, transparency of how progress / impact will be measured and assessed, time lines, programme structures all help to relieve uncertainty and enable colleagues to feel safe. In this circle, schools should address issues related to resources and equipment, technical support and confidence, e.g. how to use the online platform, confidence in using zoom technology for virtual meetings, ability to use brainstorming software; and confidence for actual learning, e.g. study buddy, allocation to a team/group, a lead facilitator or coach, dedicated time to talk about themselves as a learner and their progress towards the goal.
Adult learners should continue to advance their learning skills - we should not make assumptions that all teachers/TAs are effective at continued professional development. We should talk and discuss how to get the most from professional learning. For example, in university courses and A levels learning tends to focus on individual performance, whereas school improvement relies on collective performance. Teachers should consider not just how to improve their individual performance but ask, 'How do we work together effectively to ensure the whole team are competent and skilled? How do we achieve consistency? What does progress look like in different phases and what part do we each each play in securing progress?' Prior to entering the teaching profession colleagues may have engaged in courses that had a very well defined curriculum to follow and an examination to work towards, whereas in schools it may be up to colleagues to set out the content to be covered and the skills to be learned, and consider how performance will be measured! This is quite different from previous learning experiences.
Investing time in readiness will reap rewards later.
The readiness circle also includes understanding WHY professional development is necessary. How does the training and learning link to school improvement? "it provides a raison d’etre for the investment of effort in both individual and collaborative learning activities, given the limited time adults can reserve for learning. This is significant because while the learning itself normally intrinsically motivates adult learners, they are also goal-oriented, viewing time as ‘left’ rather than ‘passed by’ (Knowles, 1984;)." Diep 2019.
Colleagues completing motivational questionnaires often cite 'new learning' as being highly rewarding - but the conditions need to be right and 'getting ready to learn' is often overlooked. Use the prompts above to make a plan as to how to achieve readiness.
Circle 2 Foundation stage: The second element of the framework provides opportunities for participants to build knowledge, understanding and skills, e.g. through online learning modules, video clips, instructor led sessions, lesson demonstrations, direct instruction. Switching between circles 2 and 3 allows participants to engage in a 'knowledge community'. In order for circle 3 to be successful, participants need knowledge to share. The programme should set out very clearly how knowledge levels will be raised. How will knowledge be gained?
Circle 3 Relatedness: People working together / discussion. The third element acknowledges the importance of relationships and interactions in the knowledge building and learning process. Social inclusion and teamwork are essential ingredients in the participants having sustained motivation for learning. This dimension, therefore, embraces literature in knowledge construction and socio-constructivism. Metacognition and the critical unpicking of materials should be ingredients in this circle. Usually, there needs to be a facilitator (internal or external) to help get the most from the activities, e.g. keeping discussion on topic, raising perceptive questions, scaffolding discussion, supporting colleagues to express their thinking, capturing group conclusions, documenting ideas, aiding synthesis. Ideally group sizes varies, starting small and building up to whole team meetings or starting with larger groups and breaking off into smaller and smaller teams.
Sharing knowledge is a reciprocal exchange and there is perceived enjoyment for supporting others in this way. Blended learning research has shown that social exchanges are extremely important to the motivation levels of participants and for increasing the pleasure of study. Reciprocal knowledge sharing among team members can enhance their problem-solving abilities and therefore team effectiveness.
Sharing knowledge with others requires participants to: express their own understanding (and as a result they may gain a better grasp of concept through the articulation of their thoughts), receive feedback from others, listen and respond to questions raised by others and think about other's contributions. Sharing knowledge also helps participants to consider gaps in their own understanding or raise questions - these can then perhaps be pursued through independent study with a view to returning to the group with answers. Ensuring circle 2 is strong before moving onto circle 3 is critical for deep learning to occur. Colleagues may move backwards and forwards between circle 2 and circle 3. It also reinforces the idea that no single person is there to provide 'the answer'.
It is particularly important to emphasise 'critical thinking' in adult learning programmes and require participants to draw conclusions, synthesise information and share knowledge with each other. Reflective discourse is important in enabling adults to assimilate new information and in helping them to make accommodations to their existing schema (e.g. changing their perceptions, addressing a misconception, correcting an error, changing a viewpoint, altering habits, changing procedures, engaging in new ways of working). It is harder to make accommodations than it is to acquire new information! As adults bring with them a great deal of existing knowledge, it is important to engage with any new material with an analytical and reflective lens. An open mind and a questioning approach also help to move adult learning forward.
Reflection and critical thinking are more likely to occur when group sessions are facilitated, i.e. by an senior leader, expert in the field, coach. It should not simply be assumed that putting colleagues together in groups will automatically result in transformational discourse. Who will your key facilitators be? It is useful for facilitators to work together on becoming skilled facilitators, e.g. ways of ensuring everyone engages, opened ended question stems that are likely to promote discussion, ways of keeping the conversations on track, methods of agreeing and recording outcomes, settling disputes, knowledge of activities that promote discussion.
Circle 4 Growth and confidence: Once colleagues have achieved 'core knowledge and understanding' they are able to consider specialising in a particular aspect of the CPD or broadening the CPD beyond that which has been covered by the group. They may wish to do this because they have a particular interest or passion for the topic, because it aligns to their current role or for career development. The other circles provide a firm foundation on which participants can then successfully engage in self-directed autonomous learning, becoming experts themselves. Having built a firm foundation, participants are better able to make more sense of wider contributions to the field of study, e.g. appreciating twitter comments, placing blog posts in contexts, linking theories together, engaging with the research community. Intrinsic motivation plays a part in achieving high-level knowledge and understanding. This circle allows participants more freedom to pursue study along their own motivational lines of enquiry. "The researchers insist that adult learners should be afforded the opportunities to take ownership of their studies, namely respect for learner autonomy or diverse talents and ways of learning (Bangert, 2004; Ross-Gordon, 2003; Walker, & Fraser, 2005)." Diep 2019. This circle also works towards competence and skill - for competence to be enhanced, learners need to have access to feedback that helps them improve their learning, experience a feeling of efficacy (Bandura, 1988). "Additionally, learners need to be cognitively challenged by learning activities that help them to test and go beyond their academic capacities. Thus, feedback and learning activities that have a formative nature are necessary to support learners’ competence." Diep, 2019.
An A3 audit can be downloaded at the end of this blog to help you plan for all four circles.
How to attain circles 2,3,4 by combining sources of learning
One of the most common definitions of the term 'blended Learning' is "combine face-to-face instruction with computer mediated instruction" (Graham, 2006, p.41). We can unpick this further to consider what elements might be included when we use blended learning in the workplace. In 2002, Margaret Driscoll writing for IBM said blended learning was:
1. To combine or mix modes of web-based technology (e.g., live virtual classroom, self-paced instruction, collaborative learning, streaming video, audio, and text) to accomplish an educational goal.
2. To combine various pedagogical approaches (e.g., constructivism, behaviourism, cognitivism) to produce an optimal learning outcome with or with out instructional technology.
3. To combine any form of instructional technology (e.g., videotape, CD-ROM, web-based training, film) with face-to-face instructor-led training.
4. To mix or combine instructional technology with actual job tasks in order to create a harmonious effect of learning and working.
Melded learning is the combination of learning methods to achieve one or more goals. Blended learning is usually considered to be online learning + face-to-face learning. Melded learning is the use of multiple ways of improving knowledge, understanding and skill to achieve a learning goal. For example, in seeking to improve the quality of reading comprehension teaching, colleagues may undertake the following:
complete an online learning course in order to build knowledge;
digest a range of research papers to challenge their thinking;
work with colleagues on collaborative planning of lessons to aid implementation of ideas;
watch live or recorded lessons to analyse impact of teaching methods;
participate in small group debate and discussion (face-to-face or virtually via videoconferencing) to tease out ideas and improve clarity of thinking ;
read professional texts on the subject or participate in jigsaw reading activities to gain more breadth and depth of learning;
attend instructor led sessions (live) / links with experts in the field to ensure understanding is deep enough, ask questions and seek clarity;
share findings with each other to promote good practice and ensure there is collective responsibility;
test out their ideas in the classroom;
action plan together;
access twitter, blogs, chat groups to gather a wider perspective and ask the wider education community questions;
communicate with each other key findings and conclusions;
To build a programme of development that includes multiple sources requires leadership time and leadership commitment. You have to believe that the investment will reap the reward. Yes, it is easy to book a twilight training with an external provider. And whilst I would encourage this, unless you are tackling something very small and very specific, it ALONE can not be the answer. If you are tackling a hard to crack issue - you need to commit to one year or more, commit to different types of external support (e.g. 1:1 sessions with leaders, phase meetings, twilights) and a range of other learning sources, develop the in-house side of the programme - including careful consideration of how the role of leader(s) makes a difference to outcomes.
In the past, very few teachers have been able to study using more than one approach. Too often, complex educational matters are boiled down to a 1-hour twilight or bullet points on an A4 sheet. In reality, a quick fix or over simplistic approach or an 'out of the box' solution where all you have to do is 'add water' rarely leads to deep development, exciting new thinking or true school improvement. Worse, it often leads to disappointment (for both leaders and teachers) when, after participating in a 1-hour training session, leaders find that classroom practice has not changed or changed by very much or changed in all classrooms. Education is complex and multi-faceted with often multiple ways of solving the same problem. We should embrace this, and commit to helping colleagues manage the complexity. We should empower colleagues and provide lots of opportunities for them to engage in professional learning. Online learning certainly opens many more doors to learning than was possible 20 years ago both in terms of content, cost and availability. Added together with other forms of learning can provide us with a winning strategy.
Even if training and support is being provided externally, be that live or recorded, it is rarely effective unless leaders are engaged, involved and 'leading' developments, e.g. setting milestones, organising time tables, re-iterating messages, removing barriers, funnelling finance in the right direction, monitoring progress, asking colleagues about developments, providing both challenge and support, ensuring key points are returned to, facilitating discussion, providing opportunities for teamwork.
To achieve melded learning, schools should consider how to put together a full programme of different activities in a structured and systematic way so that it yields high CPD results. Ask : How will CPD linked to the objective start? What will take place in term 1? What will CPD look like in terms 2 and 3? What about in the following year? Too often, new initiatives are introduced because the previous initiative was never fully developed and therefore never consistent, never achieved fidelity of implementation. Switching to something new doesn't always mean better - it can sometimes just be different. If the old system / the new system never achieve quality implementation neither will lead to substantial differences in outcomes.
Melded learning plots a route towards a professional learning goal and links this very closely to the desired school improvement goal. If the CPD relates to a whole school priority, then it is likely that it would have some core elements that everyone would complete and some elements that would be allocated/chosen by individuals based on their needs, role, interest and career progression. If it was a personal goal: it would be a custom programme. Which elements of CPD are core and which are personal? Which are quick fix CDP and which should form a fully structured programme?
Melded learning focuses on deep learning that is connected and integrated with existing knowledge to build comprehensive schema on important issues. It should aim to build expertise and increase knowledge leading to empowerment of colleagues. A central principle is a commitment to creating a knowledgeable workforce that has the agility to respond to future demands in the profession.
It is tracked and monitored. A critical element is ongoing professional dialogue about how the learning is moving the person(s) closer towards the goal. It has a 'director' that is guiding colleagues towards desired outcomes. There are regular reviews and elements of coaching/mentoring that helps colleagues to take ownership of their learning and individual and collective responsibility for shifts in practice and processes.