This resource has been drawn from discussions in the General Forum of the Australian Flexible Learning Community during the period July 2002 to December 2004. Many thanks to all who contributed.
Of all the topics in the General Forum of the Australian Flexible Learning Community, this was probably the hottest. It attracted more postings and generated more passion than any other.
What was interesting was that although all contributors agreed that CPD is essential, there was considerable debate about who should take responsibility, what form it should be in, how often practitioners should engage and other issues.
Here’s an extract from the opening salvo.
Our teachers in VET and Higher Education are content experts. There is no requirement in the VET sector for them to complete any more than the Certificate IV in Workplace Training and Assessment.
There is a degree of professional knowledge and experience that is required to teach well that needs constant refreshment and reflection…
If teachers and trainers are struggling to meet the expectations of learners, and deliver a quality learning experience to our students in a face to face classroom environment, how much more will they struggle in a flexible or online learning environment where the additional skills of communication in a virtual world and technology manipulation are in play? Teaching online or through educational technologies IS different – but it is still teaching and requires the same pedagogical understandings (and I don’t mean shoe size!).
…comprehensive ongoing professional development opportunities MUST be provided for teachers and trainers in all sectors. However, it must be a shared responsibility. Employers and employees need to be equally committed to whatever PD is put in place. After all, PD is not just a systemic responsibility. There is a professional responsibility for teachers to keep up to date with current practice in education. Teachers need to remember that today’s knowledge can be on the scrap heap tomorrow – keeping current is a survival technique for every profession. You’d quick smart find another doctor if he/she told you they hadn’t had any further professional development since graduation in 1989!
Example models of CPD and teacher support were offered at the very beginning of the discussion. In particular…
The Learning Technologies Suppor Network and its Generic Centre, supporting teachers in UK Universities through a wide variety of flexible learning CPD experiences, and the work of the Learning Technologies Support Centre at Bristol University are exemplars of sound strategies for ongoing professional development.
…a number of 'pathways to progression' were developed in Victoria during the funded ICT programs - the Online Education Program 2000-2001 and the ICT Professional Development program 2002-2003. Several Victorian TAFE institutes developed their own approach to the sequential development of skills for teachers and implemented their own internal Professional Development programs.
You can still access information about the ICT programs at the TAFE VC at this address:
You can also access the Waikato materials at this address:
However, that opened a vigorous debate about the apparent inequities in accessing CPD opportunities. In the experience of the contributors to the discussion, one of the key elements in determining the availability of CPD was whether the VET practitioner was employed by a public or private provider and whether their employment status full-time, contract or part-time/casual.
Although the AQTF standards for RTOs identifies the Certificate IV in Training and Assessment as the minimum requirement for those delivering and assessing training, this qualification is not the minimum for some teachers. In NSW for example, full-time TAFE teachers are required to have a tertiary qualification in vocational education. Interestingly though, part-time teachers in the same organization are not expected to have the same level of qualification and although CPD is available, it’s not compulsory for either.
The debate considered the question of who should bear the responsibility for providing CPD – the individual practitioner, their employer or the VET sector at large? One contributor thought all three should have a role.
To reach the potential that technology offers to revolutionise teaching and learning in all sectors of education, but most particularly in Vocational and Higher Education, takes imagination, innovation and quality teaching practice. We will only achieve this through a mutual commitment to adequately funded, relevant, well targeted, quality and innovative professional development.
In response to the suggestion that some VET practitioners weren’t motivated to engage in CPD the following was offered.
Continuing Professional Development (CPD) should be built into our performance objectives and if the only way we can move upwards is to reach certain CPD goals, then we’ll find the time and we’ll be motivated!
This was based on the assumption that VET practitioners are subject to performance agreements. Although that’s the case for some – particularly contracted teachers and trainers – it’s not the case for all. Hence, the question of motivation remains.
Issues about who should take ownership of the PD pathways to progression [and CPD generally] - this is a really important point and… for some teachers it just won't happen. I know that for many teachers, their focus will be on doing what they are paid to do. If there is not a structure in place that supports and encourages them to undertake PD, then it does not happen.
And so the discussion kept drifting back to the idea that organizations should take responsibility for CPD – either the RTO or the VET sector as a whole. Here’s an example.
An institutional strategic approach to CPD for flexible learning could go a long way to addressing some of these issues. I note that in some cases the linking of groups of teachers to LearnScope projects that also have strong links with the strategic direction of the institute is one example of how this can happen. If there is ample opportunity for groups of teachers, who would not normally be targeted for such CPD, to become involved then equity is addressed.
I agree with you passionately about the critical need for:
"...adequately funded, relevant, well targeted, quality and innovative professional development." Perhaps we should take this up with our political leaders - after all it is they who control the purse strings guiding our respective employers.
A long posting by Chris Sutton, Internet Training Consultant at TAFE Qld On-Line, provided some solid ground for the rest of the debate.
There have been many studies in the past few years that have identified the quality of teaching practice in the VET sector in Australia as being of grave concern. You will find a number of these on the ANTA site and a major study carried out in Queensland can be found on the DET website.
For the past 12 months, using these studies and their outcomes I have been investigating the strategies needed to deliver Continuing Professional Development in teaching and learning in the VET sector. I have interviewed many people in Australia, New Zealand and the UK who are responsible for pre-service training of VET teachers and University teachers (by the way the Higher Education sector has the same concerns) to find out what teachers need to know understand about teaching and learning in order to teach effectively using educational technology and what strategies have been effective in delivering that PD to teachers across large systems.
eLearning is not successful in Australia, despite what the devotees might tell you. There are many students enrolled in many places but the test of success is not enrolments, it's completion. Completion rates are very low; often as low as 30%. NCVER studies are showing that for many students it's not a good experience, and for those that have a good experience it's the teacher that makes the difference.
I believe, and my investigations are supporting it, that the reason it’s not a good experience for so many is that we are not using the technology effectively. We are trying to teach the same way online and flexibly as we do face to face... and that is not the potential of the medium. We have to stop looking at educational technology the way we looked at the computers in Mathematics - as a way to do the same job more quickly and more easily. We have to understand teaching and learning very well in order to find new and better ways of teaching using technology to its full potential. If we don't, eLearning will fail because learners won't enrol in eLearning courses when learning materials and teaching methods do not meet their expectations.
But some contributors still had their eye on the individual.
It's the people that matter in all of this. We need the champions and the mentors, but we also need to ensure access and equity to CPD for all of our practitioners and that indeed should be the national focus. Just look at the collaboration that we can now 'see' across Australia. Are we not in a much better place than we were five years ago? Are we not considered by our international colleagues as leaders in the field of flexible learning? I believe we are!
Not everyone thought CPD was something to be pushed from the top down.
I believe that CPD begins at the lower management level. Yes it needs to be supported organisationally, however if one takes small steps at the departmental level, then there’ll be a progression of PD across the organisation. Given that and peer mentoring across a department, isn’t that CPD in practice? But then again how many of us within a given department are prepared to work together and peer mentor? Very few I suspect, because everyone is too busy doing their own thing.
And some thought individuals and groups were already doing quite a bit but their efforts weren’t seen. This suggests that there might be more CPD happening than we think.
I personally believe that there is a lot of CPD happening in the workplace, especially in the trades areas. It is just that we fail to recognise it both in the value that it brings to the organisation or even that fact that it is happening. Once we do that there will be a better understanding of what CPD is really about.
The following posting echoed this view.
I am for Professional Development and have undertaken a significant amount of PD over the years – most of which has been personally undertaken. I believe that there needs to be a balance of employer / individual PD programs undertaken. To expect the employer or employee to “pay for it all” is in reality beyond reasonable expectations in today’s climate. There always seems to be an argument that there’s never enough time, money etc – by both parties. Much of this is brought about by economic rationalism and a great desire to “outsource”.
At this point the debate turned to the content of CPD. Some were of the view that maintaining currency in their original profession was the focus while others thought of CPD in terms of their teaching and facilitation skills. The teachers/facilitators/trainers in trade areas were quite vocal about professional currency. Indeed, some described themselves as ‘tradespersons who teach’ as a way of contrasting themselves with others who viewed themselves as ‘teachers who happened to have had a previous vocation’.
Despite the differences in view throughout the discussion, everyone agreed that…
CPD is a valid pathway to progression for any practitioner, whether they are self-employed, in a trade, in a workplace, in a TAFE, in a community centre or in a private RTO. There are still some lessons to be learned by each of us to find out how to access "...adequately funded, relevant, well targeted, quality and innovative professional development..."