How to deliver effective professional learning in an online environment

by The Assessment Network, 18 October 2020
Woman working at a laptop

Delivering professional learning online, whether via Zoom, Blackboard Collaborate or other webinar software, has very quickly become the new norm, and it certainly has its benefits. No travel requirements means no long commute, less disruption to the working day and a widening of access to participants from around the world. Plus the comfort and convenience of working from home (possibly in your PJs!). But engagement with participants may be harder and ‘screen fatigue’ can diminish their ability to fully digest the content. 

Since having to move online, Cambridge Assessment Network has thought carefully about how professional learning is best structured and delivered in an online environment to ensure maximum impact for participants. Here they share the key features of their approach, which have been embedded into their new assessment practitioner workshops.

Create activities that require participant engagement 

In any training scenario, activities are essential to stop the participants from being passive observers and to solidify learning and understanding. Attention spans can be short, particularly in online environments where there are other distractions immediately available. We learn best when our brains are put into action and we perform the tasks for ourselves. All our assessment practitioner workshops incorporate activities that work as a ‘drill’ for the skill being taught that can be practiced again later, for example how to improve an item or assessing a higher order skill using MCQs.

In this way the workshops are designed to kick-start your learning – giving you a process to follow and implement in your own context.

Supply resources to support learning long after the session has finished

It is no secret that learning a new skill takes time and practice and can’t be achieved simply by attending a workshop. Our sessions are always practical focused and give opportunities to apply your new knowledge. However, it is the take-away resources that ensure the sessions work hard beyond their 90 minutes or 2 hours. 

High quality resources that support ‘the doing’ outside of a session are essential to aid long term impact.

High quality resources that support ‘the doing’ outside of a session are essential to aid long term impact. Our resources act as an aide memoir to the learning, providing a process checklist to refer to – showing what the theory says and how it is applied. This is what builds thoughtful and accomplished practitioners.

Use breakout groups to encourage engagement

Breakout groups are a great way to mimic what would happen in a face to face session and give participants the opportunity to get to know each other and feel more comfortable in contributing to the main session. It is also an excellent opportunity for participants to discuss challenges they are facing in their practice, share expertise and gain new perspectives. This type of engagement and networking can be invaluable to practitioners as they build connections with other assessment professionals and learn from each other.

Give opportunities for participants to contribute or ask context-specific questions

Just as with a face to face session, participants will inevitably bring questions with them, or require clarification at times. Having a process to facilitate contributions without disrupting the session or going over time is important. Using a ‘raise your hand’ feature or simply keeping the chat box open is a good idea. That way you can build in time for questions and comments at the end of a slide deck, or you can answer questions as you go without your flow being interrupted.

Avoid screen fatigue with short, focused sessions

Our practitioner workshops are either 90 minutes or 2 hours long. Keeping the sessions short has numerous benefits - one being that it optimises the time where our brains can concentrate and take on new information (which is far less than we would like to believe!). It also minimises screen fatigue and ensures no one has to drop out early due to other commitments. 

Some skills and subjects may need more content than can fit into 2 hours – this is why we devised our workshop series with one session a week over a period of three weeks. Meaning more content can be covered whilst reaping the benefits of a shorter session. Each session builds on the learning from the last and participants have an opportunity to reflect on and implement their learning during the weeks in-between individual sessions. 

Use a learning framework to support delivery of learning outcomes

All elements of a training session should have a clear purpose and be linked to the stated learning outcomes. Our practitioner workshops are all based on our research-backed assessment professional learning framework. 

Our practitioner workshops are all based on our research-backed assessment professional learning framework. 

This framework includes the four stages of the development cycle – building principled skills and knowledge, reflecting on your own context, developing new insights, and innovating in your practice. Our workshops aim to facilitate these four stages.

Using a framework in this way ensures that every part of the training is useful in building long term impact and facilitating life-long learning. 

Cambridge Assessment Network is an accredited provider of assessment training and professional development. The Assessment Network exists in order to provide high-quality assessment training, underpinned by research, to Cambridge Assessment staff and the wider assessment community.

Find out about our upcoming assessment practitioner workshops on our events pages.

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Tim Oates

Director of Assessment and Research

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