Learning Forward: Professional Development in Higher Education

by Dr. Rebecca M. Reese

pg-picEveryone in education recognizes the importance of staying current in content, pedagogy, course delivery methods, and tools. Communities want the best instructors possible in every classroom. Higher education institutions often provide training opportunities for instructors to increase their awareness of the relationship between technology, pedagogy and the cognitive knowledge of their disciplines.

An important development in higher education has been the increased incorporation of digital tools to enhance the virtual environment. Information Communication Technology (ICT) tools e.g., discussion forums, blogs, or multimedia software provide a rich learning experience for learners as well as support knowledge acquisition and transferable skills. When instructors are well verse in best practices and principles of ICT, it helps them to identify how to redesign learning opportunities for the virtual environment. Research indicates that stand-alone workshops are less than 5% successful in changing/improving teaching and learning practices. On the other hand, when you add on-going professional development (PD) paired with active participation in professional learning communities there is a 90% increase in teaching and learning practices.

Key benefits of professional development:

  • Taking a planned approach to skills development may aid your career progression
  • A record of continuous professional development can provide evidence of skills and knowledge – which may be drawn upon for reviews and, when necessary, regulatory requirements
  • Improved student performance as a result of improved instructor skills
  • Bolsters institutional and departmental experience
  • PD not only increases knowledge and skills, but also attitudes and values

Professional development ideas other than training:

  • Reading professional journals, books, research papers, articles etc.
  • Coaching, mentoring, training courses, academic study, conferences and webinars
  • Voluntary work, fundraising and event management
  • Research activities, blogging and publishing articles
  • Training others, giving presentations or speaking at a conference
  • Spending time with other departments, customers, suppliers, trade bodies or stakeholders
  • Joining committees, professional associations, campaign groups and participating in industry forums
  • Apprenticeships, internships, work shadowing
  • Applying for industry awards or scholarships

The most effective PD engages teams of instructors focused on learner needs, supported by the institutional systems. The success of PD programs depends heavily on the dynamics of the institution, e.g. climate, support, communication, and resources. Many associations and organizations offer virtual or physical opportunities for both members or non-members. We have compiled a short list of some PD opportunities that are held outside of LCCC here.



Giesbers, B., Rienties, B., Tempelaar, D. T., & Gijselaers, W. H. (2013). Investigating the Relations between Motivation, Tool Use, Participation, and Performance in an E-learning Course Using Web-videoconferencing. Computers in Human Behavior, 29(1), 285-292. doi: 10.1016/j.chb.2012.09.005

Joyce, B., & Showers, B. (2002). Designing training and peer coaching: Our needs for learning. VA: ASCD.

Resta, P., & Laferrière, T. (2007). Technology in Support of Collaborative Learning. Educational Psychology Review, 19(1), 65-83. doi: 10.1007/s10648-007-9042-7

Rienties, B., Brouwer, N., & Lygo-Baker, S. (2013). The effects of online professional development on higher education teachers’ beliefs and intentions towards learning facilitation and technology. Teaching and Teacher Education29, 122-131.

Stes, A., Min-Leliveld, M., Gijbels, D., & Van Petegem, P. (2010). The impact of instructional development in higher education: The state-of-the-art of the research. Educational Research Review, 5(1), 25-49. doi: 10.1016/j.edurev.2009.07.001

Struyven, K., Dochy, F., & Janssens, S. (2011). Explaining students’ appraisal of lectures and student-activating teaching: perceived context and student characteristics. Interactive Learning Environments, 20(5), 391-422. doi: 10.1080/10494820.2010.500084

Ziegenfuss, D. H., & Lawler, P. (2008). Collaborative course design: changing the process, acknowledging the context, and implications for academic development. International Journal for Academic Development, 13(3), 151-160. doi: 10.1080/13601440802242309


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