How to get staff to develop a learning plan

Another question from ISTE – “How do I get teachers to recognise what they need to do”. The stems from the issue that no one knows exactly what ‘it’ is that they are supposed to be doing with technology if they’ve never really used ‘it’ in a strategic or even tactical way. I keep saying to people – don’t start at the implementation level, it results in marginal gains but consumes vast amounts of mana.

According to Knowles (1975), learning does not take place in isolation but in association with others such as teachers, tutors, and peers. Therefore, learning can be placed on a continuum, ranging from teacher or other oriented at one end to self-directed at the other end. When shifting from one end the other, the amount of control over learning changes as well as the amount of freedom to evaluate learning needs, to decide on the content of one’s learning issues, and to implement learning strategies to unravel one’s learning issues (Fisher et al. 2001).

In trying to develop professional development strategies, consider firstly if you are likely to see the person/group on a continued basis.

If it is a one off, I suggest that you start with talking about knowledge, and take a look at Knowles ideas on the development of a ‘personal learning plan’. You can’t really do much more than decorate the store window otherwise – and there’s a place for that too, if you’ve got no other option initially.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking adults learn in the same way kids do! Don’t mistake bums on seats as an indicator of engagement either – all too often we try to make learning into an ‘event’ by making it sound exciting. This ain’t Disneyland.

If you are going to see them again … work on their development plan and form some online support system around their needs – and then go and lobby whoever can make the decision to make further release time available to do so. One-off workshops really should be limited to providing a basic, persuasive argument for them to think about developing their learning plan around xyz – unless you’re just ‘training’ in some didactic fashion.

You might need to give them some idea-primers – the best ones are called ‘in your job description you need to’ … and outline the kinds of skills and understanding you’ll find in ISTE NETs for Teachers.

If you are able, and this is the best approach – use a project based learning approach with them. Help them find their own essential questions and then help them map their learning time and materials to their own goals – in the real classroom. Don’t for example put on a show about mobile phones if they won’t be using mobile phones in the immediate future.

Project Based Learning is not just for kids … its highly effective in adults, but it’s not some bandwagon to jump on. Without a high level strategy, it’s just another tactic and in the hands of a novice, and won’t do much of anything.

But – the first step is to try very hard to understand how to develop a personal learning contract, and then to work at the individual level – perhaps over several months.


Knowles, M. S. (1975). Self-directed learning: A guide for learners and teachers. New York: Association Press.

Fisher, M., King, J., & Tague, G. (2001). Development of a self-directed learning readiness scale for nursing education. Nurse Education Today, 21, 516–525