ISTE Standards for Coaches

Revamping Adult Learning

Three ways to differentiate your PD with tech and how they relate to adult learning theories.

Just like students, teachers crave learning that is personalized, relevant, and fun. While best practices have shifted to include items like differentiation and personalized learning for students, school leaders are still in the process of revamping professional development (PD) for teachers that follow suit. Long lectures and “sit-and-get” PDs are a thing of the past! Technology offers new and engaging ways to deliver content and allow teachers a voice in their own continuing education. After taking the time to create your school’s vibrant and energizing culture of being life-long learners, check out some of the following ideas on how to shake up your PD with technology.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

Flipped PD 

Traditional PD gives teachers a bunch of information, but rarely the time needed to play, design, and reflect on how to put it to work in their own classroom. Therefore, educators developed the idea of flipped PD. Kristin Daniels (2014) explains that their model of Flipped PD puts the experts where they are needed most – next to the teachers during the design process and implementation. The process begins as teachers complete a needs assessment or when they sit down with a coach to explore options for projects and set personal goals (Daniels, 2014). Before the next meeting, the coach or admin can provide customized digital resources for the teacher to review, including articles, inspiration, or tutorial videos (Daniels, 2014). Then at the next session, coaches can provide support and guidance as needed. If a coach is not available, teachers can team-up together with others who have similar interests. If the school does have coaches on staff, they are a powerful tool because they can come alongside teachers to co-design, model, troubleshoot, reflect, and empower teachers on their learning journey. An ISTE article, “Technology, Coaching, and Community” (2011), states: “Effective professional learning is intensive, ongoing, focused on the classroom, and occurs during the teacher’s workday” (p. 2). This job-embedded Flipped PD model makes learning relevant, gives teachers agency in their own learning, and continues to provide support for staff throughout implementation.

Flipped PD connects with Malcolm Knowles’s beliefs on adult learning. Knowles believes that adults are driven by internal motives and are more willing to learn when the learning has immediate value (Navy Fleet and Family Readiness, 2018). So by allowing teachers to choose their own topics to explore for flipped PD and giving them job-embedded support while implementing, will ensure they are interested and it is relevant to their classroom. Knowles also argued that adults are independent learners and want to be in control of their own learning (Gutierrez, 2018). A flipped PD model allows teachers to complete their learning on their own time, compared to a traditional PD structure where teachers file into a room and listen to a presenter. Flipped PD also gives teachers a lot of say in how they learn, and in creating their own pathway to mastery. Probably most important, Flipped PD gives teachers hands-on experience with the support of a coach or collaborating with peers. Knowles believed that adults learn best when allowed to connect learning with real-world experiences (Navy Fleet and Family Readiness, 2018).

Photo by Tatiana Syrikova from Pexels


In her blog post “OMG Becky. PD is Getting So Much Better!!” Jennifer Gonzalez (2018) talks about micro-credentials as a new form of tech-driven PD. Teachers select a topic and work at their own pace to complete a learning pathway or series of challenges to receive badges or micro-credentials. Similar to learning via Twitter chats or EdCamps, micro-credentials are another untraditional form of PD that teachers are embarking on. It’s a great way for teachers to pursue personalized learning that is interesting and valuable to them. Thank you technology for the wealth of information at our fingertips! Here are some examples of micro-credential courses online: 

Self-Directed Learning is another well-known adult learning theory developed by Tough in 1971. In self-directed learning, adults design and structure their own learning (SH!FT, 2019). Microcredentials are a great way to empower teachers to pursue their own continuing education that interests them and fits into their busy schedules. And perhaps, after they earn a digital badge they would opt to continue learning by joining a Twitter chat or by asking someone to mentor them while they try it out in their own classroom. However, the one downside is that self-directed learning hinges on adults taking responsibility for their own learning (SH!FT, 2019). So it would be prudent for school leadership to provide an accountability structure that gives teachers a time and place to collaborate on what they are learning, perhaps during a “Lunch and Learn” or a PLC. 

Choice Boards or Cafe Menus

A third way to revamp your PD time is to create a choice board or cafe menu for your staff giving them PD options to choose from. One awesome example I found was from Big Spring High School in Newville, PA. Their instructional coach, Niki Donato, designed a Best Practice Group Choice Board that allowed teachers to personalize their PD and choose how they wanted to engage with others (Gonzalez, 2018). Some options included participating in Teacher Labs, doing cross-curricular planning, or spending 1-1 time with a coach. While this option is not strictly on an online platform, technology can assist in so many ways! Teachers can collaborate asynchronously on shared documents, post reflections via FlipGrid, research topics online, or explore new technology together. 

This PD structure made me think instantly of the experiential learning theory created by David Kolb. To put it simply, adults learn best by doing (Gutierrez, 2018). Compared to traditional PD where teachers sit and listen to an expert, choice boards or cafe menus have teachers participate as active learners! They read, design, collaborate, tinker, build, etc. These hands-on tasks let teachers apply their new learning and give them concrete experiences (Gutierrez, 2018). 


I was fascinated when researching different ways to personalize and differentiate PD for teachers. There are a lot of good ideas out there and people are doing some amazing things! However, we have a long way still to go. Let us commit together to make PD more meaningful one session at a time. By using technology, we can truly start to meet our individual teacher’s needs and allow them to learn in ways that motivate them. 

If you enjoyed this blog post, check out my other one: Shaking up PD.

Works Cited 

Coaching_Whitepaper_digital.pdf. (2011). Retrieved from

Daniels, Kristin. (2014, April 18). The Flip Side of Professional Development. EdSurge. 

Gutierrez, Karla. (2018, April 24). Adult Learning Theories Every Instructional Designer Must Know. SH!FT.

Gonzalez, J. (2018, March 4). OMG Becky. PD is Getting So Much Better!! Cult of Pedagogy. 

Moroder, Krista. (2014, April 7). Micro-credentials: Empowering Lifelong Learners. Edutopia. 

Navy Fleet and Family Readiness. (2018, February 12). Adult Learning Theory [Video]. YouTube.

Robinson, LaKetra. (2020, August 26). The Benefits of Differentiation in Professional Development. Edutopia. 

SH!FT. (2019, June 14). Here’s Everything You Need To Know About Self-Directed Learning at the Workplace. SH!FT. 

Wolpert-Gawron, Heather. (2018, October 30). The Importance of Choice in PD. Edutopia. 


  • Megan

    Great post. I really appreciate giving a name to some of these various types of PD options. We’ve been doing math labs in my district for awhile now and it makes me think of the flipped PD model a little. I think the key to all of these is that the PD has to be relevant and meaningful in order for it to work. It also strikes me how all of the great examples of PD could also be examples for great instruction in the classroom. So really it feels like good teaching is just good teaching, whether it is for adults or students. The learning must be connected and relevant!

  • Jan White

    Kaelynn, between this post and ‘Shaking up PD’, a previous post you referred your readers to, you have covered a wonderful variety of engaging and active professional development choices. Thanks for sharing the ‘Best Practice Group Choice Board’. I love the idea of giving teachers a choice in how the engage with others. It did get me thinking about which choice I would make, and why? I have always appreciated PD which has given me time to ‘read, design, collaborate, tinker, and build’. I think it’s help think like a learner and empathize with my students.

  • Sarah

    I thoroughly enjoyed your outline of these different ways to shake up PD! I have heard the term flipped PD before, but didn’t have a lot of information on it. After reading your description, I came to realize that we tried to implement this at my current school a few years ago. I remember being so excited about the idea of finding experts – that were my own colleagues – to “share the wealth” in our own school building. Unfortunately, it fell to the wayside. I can see how this would be a fantastic shift from the traditional sit-and-get style of PD. Thanks for all of the info!

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