ISTE Standard 4: Learning Designer

Exploring the nuts and bolts of ed tech PD program evaluation: Merits of a mixed method approach


From an instructional coach’s perspective, a great deal of time is expended on the planning, designing, and execution phases of professional development (PD). Much effort is put forth into determining content, developing active learning activities that introduce and integrate educational technology, and structuring opportunities for educators to collaborate and reflect on their teaching practices. I recently wrote a blog post titled. “Designing Professional Development Sessions that Go the Distance” which addresses considerations for developing ed tech PD offerings. One important component of designing PD is to begin by surveying the need and wants of your target audience. Gauging learning needs is important as well as understanding how confident educators are with integrating digital technology into their teaching practices. This is a good place to start in the PD design process. Additionally, having a solid understanding of the goals and objectives of the educational system in which your target audience works is essential to provide relevant, applicable, useful PD.

At the conclusion of a PD workshop, whether formatted synchronously or asynchronously, the instructional coach should gather feedback to assess whether the PD delivery was effective in meeting the needs of the participants.

For this blog post, I will explore the mixed-methods approach to program evaluation by addressing the following question:  How can surveys and focus groups be used collectively to evaluate ed-tech. professional development? My question aligns with the International Society for Technology in Education’s Standard 4.5 Professional Learning Facilitator, and performance indicator 4.5c “Evaluate the impact of professional learning and continually make improvements in order to meet the schoolwide vision for using technology for high-impact teaching and learning.”

A mixed-method research design has been defined as an approach “whereby researchers collect and analyse both quantitative and qualitative data within the same study” (Shorten & Smith, 2017). The explanatory mixed method design is structured to collect quantitative data first, such as through a survey asking closed-ended questions, then followed up with qualitative data collection, such as through focus groups.

In her blog post on evaluating professional development, Robinson (2018) describes how focus groups, surveys, and interviews can be used together to evaluate professional development. Robinson outlines how all three methods of data collection are unique and where they intersect (see Venn diagram for a graphic representation). Additionally, Robinson discusses strengths and weaknesses of using focus groups for general data collection purposes. For example, one strength mentioned is the ability to ask additional questions based on survey responses, such as asking probing questions to elicit more feedback. One weakness discussed is that data analysis of focus group feedback can be more time-consuming than other methods, such as surveys. Lastly, Robinson suggests that collecting information from a focus group after reviewing survey data can allow the researchers to further explore survey responses.  Echoing Robinson’s views, Shorten and Smith (2017) state that “mixed methods can be used to gain a better understanding of connections or contradictions between qualitative and quantitative data.”

An additional consideration for program evaluation is to consider asking qualitative survey questions. In contrast to quantitative survey questions that are closed-ended, such as asking a question about satisfaction of the PD experience on a 5-point Likert scale, qualitative survey questions are open-ended, such as asking for feedback on the implementation of PD content into teaching practice.

Example of a 5-point Likert scale

One benefit of qualitative data collection is that it can be categorized into themes (i.e., a thematic analysis) to better understand feedback. There are two types of qualitative coding: deductive, which is when the researcher pre-determines categories that they believe responses will fit into, and inductive coding, where the researcher determines categories after the fact. Once data have been analyzed, qualitative coding can be arranged into a table delineating categories and frequency of responses.

So why put so much effort into evaluating ed tech PD courses? Any time a program is offered to a target audience, instructors need to know if they were successful in their delivery. Did the program meet the professional development needs of the educators in attendance? Was the content useful, relevant, and meaningful? Did the PD improve educators’ teaching practices and, ultimately, student learning?

A mixed method research design can be an effective approach to evaluating the effectiveness of PD efforts due to the varying types of feedback solicited. Quantitative and qualitative data reviewed collectively can provide meaningful feedback to assess what is working well and what improvements can be made to program design.


International Society for Technology in Education.

Robinson, S. (2018). How surveys and focus groups can be used together to evaluate professional development. Frontline Research & Learning Institute.

Shorten, A., Smith, J. (2017). Mixed methods research: expanding the evidence base. Evidence Based Nursing, 20,3: 74-75.

ISTE Standards for Coaching

Designing active learning for a virtual professional development learning environment

I am a steadfast proponent of active learning.  I cringe at the thought of a curriculum that is built on passive lectures, whether synchronous presentations or asynchronous videos, with little to no integration of active learning activities. I am a firm believer that students need to test their knowledge and skills in order to solidify their understanding of new content. In my opinion, it takes much more time and effort to design a curriculum that incorporates a variety of active learning activities than to simply provide lectures. By engaging students in active learning opportunities, the instructor will structure the learning environment to enable students to explore their understanding of concepts while utilizing higher order thinking.  

In this blog post, I will be focusing on the integration of active learning into online professional development sessions. My question is as follows: How can online professional development be designed to maximize active learning opportunities? This question aligns with the International Society for Technology in Education 4.5b (professional learning facilitator): “Build the capacity of educators, leaders, and instructional teams to put the ISTE Standards into practice by facilitating active learning and providing meaningful feedback.”

 What is active learning?  

Active learning activities require learners to “construct knowledge through higher order thinking (such as recalling, applying, analyzing, evaluating, synthesizing, and verbalizing concepts). This contrasts knowledge passively transmitted to students solely via listening, transcribing, memorizing, and reading” (Yale Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning).  

How does Bloom’s Taxonomy intersect with active learning?

Active learning requires use of higher order thinking skills, such as creating and teaching a lesson plan, whereas passive learning uses lower order thinking skills, such as memorizing content for an exam.

Why is higher order thinking important?

According to Cummins (2020), higher order thinking skills benefit the learner by:

  • Promoting “essential skills such as critical thinking and problem-solving,”
  • Developing “transferable skills that can be essential in a wide variety of contexts.”

What are some examples of online active learning activities?

  • Debate
  • Peer review
  • Problem solving
  • Small group and full group discussion, including utilization of online discussion boards
  • Group work in breakout rooms using Google docs for collaboration
  • Simulation learning
  • Idea mapping
  • Case studies
  • Role playing
  • Presentations

Application of active learning in professional development sessions:

A comprehensive report titled Best Practices in Online Professional Learning outlined a broad range of considerations when designing professional development sessions for educators. The subject areas within the report include applying design principles, choosing delivery models, providing support before training, creating opportunities for collaboration and reflection, facilitating interactive participation, fostering collaboration, and following up with targeted support. The section that related most to this blog post focused on facilitating interactive participation. It included a variety of ideas on how to engage educators in active learning online, including ideas for both synchronous and asynchronous learning. A few of the take-aways are shown below:  

  • Online tools to facilitate active learning:
    • Discussion boards
    • Open forums
    • Interactive documents
  • Engagement strategies: The authors emphasized the importance of engaging learners in a virtual environment. Some of the strategies mentioned to increase engagement included “intersperse text with activities such as quizzes, spot challenges, and brief exercises to keep learners mentally alert,” and “reinforce learning by asking participants to recap major points, consider ways to apply material, or solve case problems.”
  • Practical examples provided based on the online format included the following:
    • Asynchronous learning: task exploration and analyzing student work
    • Synchronous learning: group video conferencing and interactive whiteboards

Using the Backward Design framework developed by Wiggins and McTighe would ensure that professional development coaches determine their desired results, including learning objectives, before determining acceptable evidence and subsequent learning activities (Bowen, 2017). By defining learning outcomes that assess higher order thinking skills, determining acceptance evidence and planning learning experiences will likely result in active learning activities.

In summary, active learning can be accomplished in an online learning environment. Some of the learning activities are similar to what has been implemented in a face-to-face setting (e.g., group work, debate, role play, case studies) while others are more unique to the online environment (e.g., using Google docs to complete group work in breakout rooms and online discussion boards). Active learning can be effective in both synchronous and asynchronous learning environments, and it is important to structure active learning experiences in either learning environment to be engaging and to offer opportunities for collaboration and reflection.


Author unknown. (2021). Active Learning. Yale Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning.

Author unknown. (2019). Best practices in online professional learning. Hanover Research.

Bowen, R.S. (2017). Understanding by Design. Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching.

Cummins, K. (2020). Higher order thinking skills for students and teachers. Innovative Teaching Ideas.

International Society for Technology in Education. (2022).

ISTE Standards for Coaching

How can the integration of adult learning theories enhance the design of educational technology professional development sessions?

When I think back to my elementary school years, I remember ample spelling, math, and reading comprehension tests. Learning was largely content/subject-centered, extrinsically motivated, and determined by the teacher. In contrast, I have experienced adult learning as more problem-based, intrinsically motivated, self-directed, and linked to life experiences. What is being juxtaposed here are simplified differences between two instructional practices: pedagogy and andragogy.

Pedagogy is defined as “the teaching of children or dependent personalities,” whereas andragogy is defined as “the facilitation of learning for adults, who are self-directed learners (  The Venn diagram shown below summarizes the similarities and differences between these two instructional practices.


When developing professional development content for adult learners, it is essential to integrate the principles of andragogy into the facilitated learning experiences. The term andragogy was coined in the 1800s by Alexander Kapp, a German teacher. However, Malcolm Knowles, a 20th century American educator, is well-known for broadening the understanding and implementation of andragogy (

My question for this blog post is as follows: How can the integration of adult learning theories enhance the design of educational technology professional development sessions?

My question aligns with the International Society for Technology in Education Standard 4.5: Professional Learning Facilitator, and Performance Indicator 4.5a: “Design professional learning based on needs assessments and frameworks for working with adults to support their cultural, social-emotional, and learning needs” (

Beyond andragogy, there are a variety of additional adult learning theories found in the literature. This article provides additional adult learning theories in a succinct manner. Additionally, I discovered an intriguing study that integrated principles from various adult learning theories into a teacher professional development (PD) design.  

This study investigated the effectiveness of designing a professional development course using the tenants of adult learning theories. The researchers incorporated the following principles of adult learning theory into the PD sessions. Feedback from study participants aligning with these 6 principles is outlined below:

  • Create a climate of respect:
    • Participation in PD sessions was voluntary, not mandatory. An emphasis on sharing of experiences and collaboration amongst teachers was valued and appreciated.
  • Encourage active participation:  
    • Limited modeling and direct teaching were offered, followed by immediate experimentation in classrooms. Written and conversational reflections were used to debrief new teaching experiences with colleagues and instructors.
  • Build on experience:
    • The PD empowered teachers to build on their prior learning and experiences.
  • Employ collaborative inquiry:
    • Group problem solving, support, sharing of resources, and exchange of ideas were encouraged.  
  • Learning for immediate application: 
    • The PD offered relevant, meaningful information that could be applied right away to instructional practices.
  • Empower through reflection and action:
    • Teachers were encouraged through reflection and action to improve their teaching practices.

In summary, “the findings of this study suggest that when principles of adult learning inform and shape professional development experiences for teachers, teachers are able to reflect on their practice, construct professional knowledge with their peers, and develop more collaborative relationships with their fellow teachers” (Gregson & Sturko, 2007).

Understanding the principles of adult learning theories is critical to design and offer professional development that is relevant, meaningful, and useful to educators. Building in ample time for sharing experiences, engaging in group work, and encouraging participants to build on their prior knowledge and skills is a great starting place in the design of adult learning curriculum.


Author unknown. (2022). Pedagogy, andragogy, and heutagogy. University of Illinois Springfield.

Gregson, J., Sturko, P. (2007). Teachers as adult learners: Re-conceptualizing professional development. MPAEA Journal of Adult Education, 36(1), 1-18.

International Society for Technology in Education.

Kurt, S. (2020). Andragogy theory – Malcolm Knowles. Educational Technology.