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Professional Development: Finding Opportunities Online

As an online instructor, you have many demands on your time related not only to teaching your courses, but also to staying current with a wide range of information. How do you keep up with the latest advances and events in your field of expertise, higher education administration, online instructional strategies, and educational technology?

Most of us participate in professional development opportunities voluntarily, as part of the job and motivated by our own interest to continue learning. Your professional certification or employment situation may even require you to complete continuing education units or other documented activities for contract renewal. The possibilities range from very formal (e.g., courses for academic credit) to very informal (e.g., reading lists). Here are a few examples to get you started:

Professional Organizations and Conferences

Take a closer look at your current memberships to see if the associations you are already affiliated with offer professional development activities. If these are part of your annual dues, you should definitely take advantage of them! Courses, workshops, and conferences are just a few of the options you'll find.

  • Courses: ASCD, formerly the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, offers a series of over 90 self-paced, online courses that include topics such as assessment, leadership, and learning communities.
  • Workshops: The Sloan Consortium has already posted the Online Workshop Schedule for 2012. Each description includes specific learning objectives for participants.
  • Virtual Conferences: The University of Hawaii and sponsor the annual Technology, Colleges, and Community Online Conference. Consider attending or presenting at an online event like this one. You can also increasingly find virtual attendance options for traditional conferences.

Don't forget to check with your schools and employers to find out if there is any support, time and/or funding, to attend online and on-ground professional development events.

School Sponsored Activities

What is already available at the institution(s) where you teach? You may find what you are looking for is conveniently coordinated and offered by your school or program.

  • Faculty Development Center: Many schools have an office dedicated to supporting faculty development. These groups usually provide workshop series, networking events, and other opportunities for skill enhancement. Walden University's Center for Teaching and Learning provides resources and updates through their Facebook page. Find the calendar of events at your institution and register for an upcoming session.
  • Showcases and Symposiums: Does your institution showcase faculty work? This could take place on a website, in symposium sessions, or through online conferences. You may want to attend these events and even consider preparing your own presentation proposals. These activities are beneficial as professional development activities that allow you to share your work with others who are also seeking development opportunities. Kaplan University's annual KU Village is one such event that features Kaplan authors and faculty, but is also open to outside participants.
  • Reading Lists: Look for existing lists of "must-read" books in your field and choose one to begin reading now. Take a look at an example [PDF] from Purdue University that was assembled for a staff mentoring program. This list provides links to more information about books that address general topics such as public speaking, time management, and work/life balance. A book club centered on relevant titles is another great venue for professional development activities.

Open and Online

There's a world of opportunity for learning online. Conduct a search for resources, events, and activities related to your field and professional development interests. You can pick and choose what makes sense for you and even create your own activities with these openly available materials.

  • Online Materials: From video tutorials and interactive presentations to PDF guides and helpful links, you can find collections of professional development materials via the Internet. The Annenberg Foundation provides online workshops that you can attend and earn credit for, or just download the materials for your own self-study purposes.
  • MOOCs: If you are interested in an experience that is both structured and allows for flexibility, consider joining a Massive Open Online Course [video]. These courses often involve hundreds of participants – some of whom are very active, while others mostly listen in. MOOCs include scheduled presentations (live and recorded), resource collections, and learning assignments, such as reflective blog posts.
  • Curate a Collection: Select a specific area of interest in which you want to expand your knowledge and begin collecting relevant resources. Use a curation application, such as (see the MOOC example above),, or to organize your collection, tag each item with keywords, and provide access via URL to others who may be interested in the topic as well. Many of these tools also include commenting and sharing features that encourage dialogue about the topics.

Your Professional Development Plan

There are a few things to consider before getting started. Consider both what you may need to complete and what you want to complete, and look for ways in which you can fulfill these requirements.

  • Providing proof: Check for availability of certificates of completion or other evidence of your participation. Many webinars now offer email confirmation of your attendance, for example.
  • Using what you learn: Gathering the information is just the first step. Think about how you will reflect on, share, and apply the knowledge and skills you gain from professional development participation. Plan a specific action to follow-up each activity. At the very least, create a thorough summary for your own records or for your institution's annual performance review.
  • Finding creative solutions: Create your own mix of events, activities, resources, and reading materials to suit your needs, interests, and availability. Be open to exploration and try new formats to see what works best.
  • Choosing wisely: What will you stick with? You know your own strengths and weaknesses as they relate to following up on this kind of work. Choose the types of activities that you are most likely to enjoy and complete.

There is a lot to keep up with and little time and money to spare, but engaging in activities that develop your knowledge and skills are critical to keeping your approach relevant and up-to-date. There are multiple options available, and many are both free and online. Last week, I began to see this hashtag, #onlinePD, in my Twitter stream, indicating online professional development opportunities. It seems to have been initiated by Education Week and hopefully will catch on, providing another way to search for ideas and events.

Consider using the #onlinePD hashtag to continue the discussion and dissemination of opportunities that you find and enjoy, so that others can take advantage of them as well. What is your favorite format for online professional development? Help us add to this list!