Blended Professional Development Model

Spoiler alert: the most promising model that we found for TD4Ed — and likely for many other platforms that engage educators — is a blended model that involves both online and in-person training for teachers. In retrospect, this isn’t a huge surprise. In creating TD4Ed, the Student Experience Lab used a blended model to pilot the curriculum. The 50 educators who were part of the pilot program both used the online platform and participated in facilitated workshops to work through the interactive activities with their teammates. All twelve pilot teams completed the pilot, developed innovative solutions to the challenges they faced, and reported that it was a particularly meaningful experience for them.

So we knew that the blended model worked. But in this second phase of the project, where we were driving traffic toward the free, online-only version of TD4Ed, we learned something important: new users were excited by the offering, but self-facilitated teams often had a difficult time actually completing the curriculum. This lesson reinforced just how much teachers craved the opportunity to work together both online and face-to-face, and how the in-person aspect was crucial to delivering a valuable experience.

There are a large variety of organizations already working in the blended professional development (PD) space, so we spoke with a range of them. We had already worked with the Highlander Institute as an engagement partner during the pilot for TD4Ed, and so we were aware of the PD work they’re doing around blended, expanded, and diverse learning. We also had a series of conversations with Digital Promise, an education innovation organization with a focus on technology and research. Their League of Innovative Schools facilitates collaboration among a group of superintendents, researchers, thought leaders and entrepreneurs. TeacherQuest, the collaborative PD program that the Institute of Play offers teachers, occupies an interesting space in this field. Like TD4Ed, it positions teachers as designers and seeks to reimagine education, but it does so through game-based tools, programs, and experiences.

For a breakdown of the key attributes of each of these organizations, as well as others we explored, check out the following chart:





The blended PD space turned out to be a very important one for us, and while we’re still exploring whether working with any of these organizations could be a way to deliver TD4Ed to a wider audience, for now we are mainly looking at what it would look like to offer such PD trainings ourselves.

This would be a new business model for us, and one that we have been exploring over the past months. There are two main models we are exploring. The first, a direct training model, would give us tight control over ensuring that TD4Ed-based PD meets our standards, but would also require we have staff available to deliver the trainings. The second, a “train-the-trainer” approach, would involve teaching individuals —TD4Ed alumni, other teachers, or PD facilitators — how to support and bring others through the process. We would train teachers, who would in turn train other teachers, and lay the foundation for peer- and educator-driven professional development. While not giving us the same level of control as in the direct training model, this second approach could enable such PD offerings to have a larger spread than they otherwise might, given BIF’s size and resources.

We found during our work on TD4Ed that experiences should be personalized and allow for multiple levels of engagement (see Learning #1), so we have been experimenting with what some of these models could look like:

At the shortest end of the blended PD spectrum, we’ve been offering one-time workshops based in the TD4Ed curriculum to different groups, including classroom teachers at a charter high school in Rhode Island, education graduate students at Brown University, and educators at the 21st Century Learning Institute in San Jose, CA. The goals of these workshops are to give educators a chance to experience the basic outline of the design thinking process and explore the TD4Ed platform’s resources. It’s also been a great way for us to play with how we can foster collective reflection, ideation, and prototyping, and capture some of the collaborative magic that emerges for teams using the full-length TD4Ed curriculum.

A more intensive “design jam” model teaches participants even more of the design thinking process, and uses activities and resources from the “full strength” TD4Ed program to enable participants to identify and tackle a challenge of their choosing. This model starts with a kickoff workshop, in which each participating team defines a challenge they want to take on and develops a plan of how they are going to use qualitative research to explore what their issue means to the people most affected by it. After the initial meeting, teams spend a week or two conducting this research on their own. Then, the 2-day weekend design jam brings together all teams from the participating cohort and gives them a chance to complete the rest of the TD4Ed curriculum through concentrated, hands-on activities. Teams reflect on what they’ve learned, brainstorm ideas to solve their problem, test out prototypes of their new concept with a partner team, and leave with an understanding of the overall process and an actionable idea that they can further test and start to implement.

The design jam model has been great, and we encourage others looking for a high-energy way to engage teachers around education challenges to try out a similar fast-paced, interactive, “crash course” experience. A few of the things we’ve learned in playing with this model are:

  1. Involving teachers in facilitating the event is beneficial for all parties.

In our design jam, we had a team of TD4Ed alums spend 20 minutes sharing their experience, where they were now, and their next steps with participants. The alums’ story — and their willingness to give advice to the new cohort — was inspiring and made the process seem real for participants: if the alums could come up with an innovative solution to a difficult challenge and see significant results, so could they!

There were two other primary benefits to involving teachers. First, as a designer without a teaching background running the design jam, I appreciated the credibility that the TD4Ed alums — all veteran teachers — lent to the process. Teachers trust other teachers, and hearing from the alums how they helped us co-create the TD4Ed program and found it relevant and useful was an effective way to help educators embrace a new technique. Second, the alums themselves found the experience valuable. They were able to make new connections with other educators, and walked away with ideas and inspiration that they could apply to their own projects.

  1. A “light-touch” version of facilitation works.

During the TD4Ed pilot workshops, each team had a dedicated facilitator who helped them develop their ideas and guide them through the process. This worked well, but requires a heavy staffing model. In our design jam, we played with what would happen if we gave teams instruction and context for each step, but then let them facilitate their own pathway through the activities. Even with minimal outside facilitation, teams successfully completed each exercise and ultimately developed interesting solutions, leading us to believe that a lean staffing model for this type of PD offering can be appropriate.

  1. The length and intensity of a design jam model occupies a sweet spot for educators.

Going into the design jam, I was worried that it was going to be way too fast and lose much of the value that the 6-8 week version of TD4Ed offers. So I was happily surprised to hear at the end of the design jam that participants actually appreciated the pace, as the fast clip forced them to be decisive and not draw the process out over an unnecessarily long timeline. In just a couple of working sessions, they developed an actionable solution for their challenge, and made plans to start piloting and implementing their solutions.

At the same time, some participants acknowledged that while they liked moving so quickly, they also cared deeply about their challenges and wanted to give them the time and attention they deserved. To get this balance right, we suggest framing short design jams as a starting point for learning a technique that participants can use to give important issues as much time as necessary going forward.

  1. Design jams provide a great opportunity for cross-pollination between different teams.

Our design jam involved five teams, with representatives from seven different schools and organizations, each bringing unique perspectives and experiences. While the challenges they tackled were all distinct, several similar themes emerged in their learnings and insights as they worked. Participants were excited to see these patterns, which led to interesting conversations and idea sharing between teams. We paired teams up for the testing phase of the design process, and encouraged cross-team connections during breaks and meals, but the participants wanted even more opportunities to interact with educators from different groups. If running similar events, find ways to build in space for this cross-collaboration to occur!

Think blended professional development based in TD4Ed might benefit your own school or district? Fill out this form to indicate your interest.

Looking for all of the blog posts in this series? Use the links below:

What's happening at BIF? Get updates by email.