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I’m sitting at a technology training learning about a new app. This is the kind of training I’ve seen people mock. I’ve heard folks say, “You should focus on pedagogy and not technology.” Or people say, “Professional development should be job-embedded.” Or even, “If you’re a technology expert, you don’t need this type of training.”

And yet . . .

I loved it. I learned about a new platform I had never tried before. I made lists of potential uses in both my online class and traditional class. In another session, I didn’t learn anything revolutionary. However, I came away with some ways I can tweak video creation and provide the right kinds of accommodations for students on 504 plans.

So, while I understand what people mean by “it’s about the teaching and not the technology,” I’m convinced that sometimes it is about the technology. Sometimes what you really need is a session explaining how to use something and then as a professional educator you ask yourself where that might work in your content area.

I made a list of the types of technology professional development I’ve been a part of over the years:

  • Sessions: These are 30-60 minute presentations where someone explains concepts or demonstrates skills connected to technology. Sometimes it’s more of a direct instruction, other times there’s more discussion and still other times teachers get the chance to make something during the time period. Sometimes a session is less about the pedagogy and more about another content area.
  • Workshops: Often, the format is similar to a session. However, the extended time allows participants to spend more time delving deeper into an idea. So, in a workshop on blogging, teachers might actually create their own blogs, write their initial posts, and leave comments on one another’s work.
  • Courses: This could be online, in-person, or hybrid. The goal here is a longer, more systematic approach to a particular topic. Sometimes it’s more about a specific technology idea (like digital publishing or digital citizenship) and sometimes it’s more about embedding technology into a pedagogy course (like using digital tools in a course about reading strategies).
  • Tutorials: Sometimes we forget that a tutorial is essentially technology professional development. It’s such a seamless part of what we do. However, when I think of some of the most complex programs I’ve used (from something like Photoshop to coding projects), I nearly always accessed a tutorial at some point.
  • Multimedia Content: Unlike a tutorial, this is type of professional development is more about concepts and ideas rather than skills. Sometimes people consume the content alone, as is the case with a podcast on a drive home. Other times, it’s connected to a conversation. I’ve seen some great book club discussions connected to the ideas of It’s Complicated or Amusing Ourselves to Death.
  • Sandbox Time: This is a period of loose, unstructured time where you can play around with the technology. You get a chance to learn from others and experts can provide specific, targeted help in the moment. It’s the idea that you learn best through playing.
  • Independent Project: This is basically the notion of a Genius Hour for teachers. Over a long period of time, teachers can work independently on a technology-related project.
  • Coaching / Mentoring: Sometimes coaching is more about modeling a lesson or co-teaching. Other times, it’s an opportunity for a coach to help a teacher reflect on how they are doing and plan for the future. We used to use the Cognitive Coaching model in my district and I loved the way it empowered teachers to own their journey as a teacher and to reflect on how the technology transformed their pedagogy.
  • Group coaching: I’m currently working as a technology mentor.
  • Discussions: This could be an edcamp, a Twitter chat, or a Voxer group. Sometimes the conversations are more about swapping ideas or solving problems. Other times, they are a chance to share one’s story and realize you are not alone in your journey. Personally, I’ve benefited a ton from having a mastermind group.
  • Lab Schools: This is a powerful way for teachers experience powerful tech integration. Here, they learn as they plan, create, teach, and reflect while using digital tools in the entire process.
  • Tech-integrated Curriculum Development: This is similar to the lab school model, but it involves a full year of curriculum development. The idea is to embed the technology into the planning process with a stronger focus on student learning instead of just the technology.
  • Tech-integrated Action Research: I think I learned the most about technology when I did an action research project for my Capstone Project connected to my Masters in Educational Technology. However, it was a ton of work (that’s right, I weight it in tonnage).


So Which Model Works Best?

In the past, I’ve mocked things like “app-smashing,” because it was relevant to me. But here’s the thing: it wasn’t for me. I didn’t need a bunch of demos of new apps and programs. However, seven years ago, when I first worked with iPod Touches, I needed some short demos of how specific apps worked. The fact that I don’t need that type of professional development now doesn’t negate the fact that other educators find it useful.

So, when you think of the question, “What is the best type of technology training?” the short answer is, “Whatever works best for each teacher.”

All of the approaches listed above work for various reasons. A keynote inspires changes and pushes thinking. A tutorial offers specific how-to pointers. Coaching allows for longterm reflection. Some of these are more about paradigms or self-efficacy. Others are more about specific skills. Still others aren’t even about technology so much as the fusion of technology as teachers develop curriculum.

The point is, they all matter. We know that “one size fits all” doesn’t work for students and it doesn’t work for teachers, either. What matters is that we empower teachers to find the specific professional development that they need when they need.

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John Spencer

My goal is simple. I want to make something each day. Sometimes I make things. Sometimes I make a difference. On a good day, I get to do both.More about me


  • Hey Pal,

    Totally agree that the right training/development is what works for each individual teacher and that there are different purposes/outcomes for each type of training you mention.

    I think the hitch is that there's no real choice provided to teachers most of the time when it comes to the training that they will receive. The person providing the training makes that decision instead of the person receiving the training. And the person providing the training makes those decisions based on THEIR needs/wants instead of the needs and wants of the recipients.

    So if providing a keynote is easier than providing sandbox training, participants get a keynote. Or if the decision-maker is one of those people who is always inspired by keynotes, the participants get a keynote.

    That's interesting, isn't it? Choices aren't made by — or even for — the participants. Instead, they are made by the host.

    Reminds me a lot of the choices we make in classrooms!

  • Thank you so much for stating PD can be about the technology tool itself, as you are an influencer and people listen to you. For many students with special needs on IEPs or 504 plans, it's all about the technology. Effective tech implementation bypasses learning challenges and promotes independence.
    Check out this blogpost I wrote last year.
    It's my experience that too many students still do not have access to the technology they need. Let's change that reality.

  • Thanks for sharing such an amazing and informative blog. As a technology expert, I really like it.

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