Chapter 3 – Foundations of Adult Education and Digital Learning
Educators cannot provide effective digital learning experiences without first understanding adult learners.
This chapter begins by introducing adult learning theories as a foundation for better
understanding adult learners, while also acknowledging the unique characteristics,
qualities, and strengths of each individual learner. It also highlights research focused
on digital learning in adult education, including recommendations and strong practices for digital
learning design and implementation. Next, this chapter introduces the
various roles in adult education, including certified staff, classified staff, and the many
other individuals that support learners. Then, relevant standards for adult education
professionals are briefly introduced, with a connection to how those standards inform
practice. Finally, the chapter concludes with a section on how professional development
supports educators and support staff in preparing for digital learning.
Adult Learning Theories
Adult learning theories differ from the pedagogical approach of K–12 education, which
focuses on educators transmitting content knowledge to learners through prescribed,
sequential curriculum and instructional activities. In pedagogical methods, the
educator controls what content is learned and how. Alternatively, adult learning
theories view learning as a collaborative process, where educators and learners
are cocreators of the learning experience. Due to the nature of the adult learner, the
learning process is often more self-directed, with a greater deal of choice, control, or
input from the learner.
Andragogy is a practical and theoretical approach to adult learning that sees the
learner as autonomous and self-directed, and the educator as a facilitator or guide
of the learning process. Andragogy provides a useful foundation to better understand
adult learners and their unique needs. Andragogy is process-based, meaning
that educators focus on the learning process, rather than the specific content to be
Andragogy includes the following core adult learning principles. Adult learners:
- need to know the why, what, and how of learning;
- are autonomous and self-directed;
- use prior experiences as mental models and resources for learning;
- have a readiness to learn and seek life-related learning experiences;
- are contextual and problem-centered (rather than theoretical); and
- have an intrinsic motivation to learn.
The andragogical process model includes the following steps:
- Preparing learners for the learning experience
- Establishing a collaborative, respectful, and open climate for learning
- Mutual planning and decision-making about the learning process
Establishing learning needs; considering both individual and organizational
- Mutual creation of learning goals and objectives
- Designing the learning experience
- Participating in learning activities (e.g., experiential or inquiry-based learning)
- Evaluating learner outcomes and perceptions of the learning experience
Experiential Learning Model
The experiential learning model establishes a learner’s experiences as central to the
learning process. There are four stages to the experiential learning model: concrete
experience, reflective observation, abstract conceptualization, and active experimentation.
Learners cycle through each of these stages:
Learning occurs by being involved in a new experience.
In a classroom, concrete experiences are activities in which learners actively
engage with content. In a physical classroom, learners might participate in
a hands-on demonstration or engage with relevant case studies. In a digital
learning environment, learners might participate in simulations of real-world
Learning occurs through observation (watching
others) or reflection (observing the self). In a classroom, reflective observation
might occur through small group or whole class discussions, or individually
through self-reflection prompts. Using digital tools, educators can facilitate
more flexible opportunities for participating in discussions—live video conferencing
sessions, chat rooms, discussion boards, or collaborative creation tools.
Learners make sense of their reflective observations by forming conclusions and establishing theories. In a classroom,
learners might have the opportunity for abstract conceptualization through
collaborative discussions, or in synthesizing content and sharing it with others
(e.g., having to present a summary of an instructional unit or topic).
Learners use what they have learned in the previous
stages to apply their knowledge to new experiences. In the adult education
classroom, this might occur in a lab environment or on-the-job training
Heutagogy focuses on the individual learner as the center of the learning process.
Like andragogy, the educator facilitates the learning process by providing resources
and support, but in heutagogy the learner fully owns the learning path and process.
Learners work in partnership with educators to negotiate what and how they learn.
The essential principles of heutagogy include:
Learners are autonomous and self-directed. Learners are
responsible for deciding what will be learned, how it will be learned, and how it
will be assessed.
Learners have varying degrees of capability in communication, collaboration,
applying skills to novel situations, positive values, and
Reflection on both the content learned and how it is learned
(metacognition) are essential to the learning process.
Learners change actions and beliefs based on their
learning experiences and what they have learned.
Learners choose their own path.
Before engaging in a learning experience, adult learners need information about the
how, what, and why of learning. How will we learn new information? What new
information will we learn? Why are we learning this information?
While adult learners are autonomous and self-directed, adult learners vary in
their preferences toward self-directed learning. Individual factors that influence
self-directed learning include previous experience with content, social orientation,
efficiency, previous learning experiences, and locus of control.
Some learners are
more comfortable with independence, while others seek out support and guidance
from their instructors. The educators’ role then focuses on knowing each learner
as an individual and taking their capabilities and preferences into account when
designing learning experiences.
The stages of self-directed learning include:
The learner is dependent on the educator, who acts as an authority
figure. Examples of learning experiences at this stage include coaching with
immediate feedback, drill exercises, and informational lectures.
The learner is interested in the learning process and the educator
acts as a guide and motivator throughout the experience. Examples of learning
experiences at this stage include inspirational lectures, guided discussions,
explicit instruction in learning strategies, and goal-setting.
The learner is involved in the learning process and the educator acts
as a facilitator. Examples of learning experiences at this stage include group
discussions or project-based learning.
The student is self-directed and the educator acts as a consultant or
delegator. Examples of learning experiences at this stage include internships,
individual work, or self-directed study groups.
Digital learning facilitates self-directed learning, because it increases flexibility in
accessing learning experiences. Through online or hybrid learning, learners can
access the classroom anytime, anywhere—if they have access to a digital device
and internet connection. Digital tools may further facilitate self-directed learning by
providing options for engaging with content, communicating and collaborating with
others, and demonstrating one’s understanding.
The goal of transformative learning is to use the learning experience to transform
the learner’s assumptions and expectations to broaden their perspectives through
dialogue and reflection.
Transformative learning is learning that transforms problematic frames
of reference—sets of fixed assumptions and expectations (habits of
mind, meaning perspectives, mindsets)—to make them more inclusive,
discriminating, open, reflective, and emotionally able to change.
Where do problematic frames of reference exist? Some examples include cultural
biases and stereotypes, fixed interpersonal relationships, ideologies, political
orientations, religious beliefs, scientific paradigms, social frameworks, and even aesthetic
standards and values. Educators can help address problematic frames of reference
by exposing learners to diverse content and perspectives, also through facilitating
A key component of transformative learning is communicative learning, or dialogue
that involves empathetic listening, having an open mind, seeking common ground,
and perspective taking. In order to ensure effective communication, an inclusive,
supportive learning environment must first be established so that learners feel
comfortable and open to transformation. Once a positive classroom community is
established, then communicative learning can occur through small or whole group
discussion, facilitated by the instructor.
Transformative learning can also occur internally through critical self-reflection and
reflective judgment (perspective about one’s own perspectives). Educators can help
learners foster habits of mind and skills that promote an open mind and willingness to
transform one’s own beliefs, perspectives, and practices.
Research-Based Practices in Digital Learning
This section highlights key findings and recommendations from the formal literature
review including the effectiveness of different delivery methods on learner outcomes,
benefits of digital learning for adult learners and educators, and communication and
learning design recommendations for educators when designing digital learning
Effectiveness of Different Delivery Methods
Studies that evaluated the effectiveness of distance education found no significant
differences between instructional delivery methods on learner outcomes.[74,75] Some
studies even found that digital learning programs had a positive impact on learner
outcomes.[76,77] Rather than focusing on the delivery method, the critical component
for impacting learner outcomes is the quality of learning design.
Benefits of Digital Learning
The main benefits of digital learning for learners include:
- convenience and flexibility;
- building learner’s self-confidence; and
- building academic and digital literacy skills.[79,80,81,82]
Digital learning tools provide educators with the ability to:
- differentiate instruction;
- facilitate personalized learning;
- monitor learner progress; and
- provide constructive feedback.[83,84,85]
Recommendations for Digital Learning
In supporting adult learners within a digital space, educators should first and
foremost respect adult learners as individuals and acknowledge their past experiences.[86,87]
Adult learners bring more diverse experiences and perspectives into the
classroom, including experiences with digital learning. Adult education classrooms
often include a wide range of learners with varying levels of access and digital literacy
Technology must be utilized in meaningful and purposeful ways that are aligned with
curriculum goals. As with any learning experience, educators should be intentional
in curriculum and instructional design in a digital learning environment. Digital
learning is as effective as other methods of learning, but only if designed in a way that
provides learners with meaningful, purposeful learning experiences.
Curriculum and learning design recommendations for adult educators:
Facilitate flexible learning opportunities and personalized learning pathways.
[89,90,91,92,93] Flexible learning opportunities means providing
learners with options when possible. Educators might consider providing
options for engaging with content, participating in class, and demonstrating
Design authentic, learner-centered experiences with real-world connections.
[94,95,96] Authentic learning is learning by doing. Real-world connections
mean that learning does not happen in isolation but is connected to real-world
activities, concepts, or experiences. Example activities to facilitate authentic,
real-world learning centered on the individual learner include journals or portfolios,
which allow learners to showcase their learning and opportunities for
self-reflection and demonstrating their growth.
Facilitate self-directed learning with scaffolded individual support as needed.
[97,98,99] Digital learning allows educators to facilitate self-directed
learning because learners have flexibility in deciding when and where to
engage with content. Adaptive software that provides learners with personalized
activities and content may provide additional support for learners who
are struggling or need extension activities. Educators can help guide learners
through this process.
Communication recommendations for adult educators:
Establish clear expectations and goals.
 At the beginning of a course or
unit, make clear expectations for participation and success criteria. Provide
learners the opportunity to set short- and long-term goals. Some adult learners
may have little to no experience with academic goal-setting, so this is an
opportunity for educators and staff to provide additional support.
Engage in multiple forms of consistent communication and meaningful feedback with individual learners.
[101,102] Communication will vary depending
on the course delivery method, subject matter, and preferences of the educator
and individual learners. Consider when and how you might communicate
with learners. Provide options to allow learners to engage with you in a way
that is most comfortable to them. Some learners may be more comfortable
expressing themselves verbally (either in-person or in a videoconferencing
session), while other learners may not feel comfortable speaking and prefer
to communicate via email or text. Meaningful feedback provides information
that is specific and personalized to the individual learner. Digital tools provide
a variety of audio, visual, and text-based options for providing meaningful
Provide opportunities for academic and informal discussion and peer-topeer interaction to help learners develop relationships and foster cultural competence.
[103,104] Academic discussion reinforces content, while informal
discussions build relationships, establishes a positive classroom community,
and fosters cultural competence through perspective-taking. Discussions can
be live, either in-person or online, or asynchronous using a digital discussion
board or other collaborative tools that allow learner participation.
Provide opportunities for learner self-reflection.
[105,106] Provide opportunities to reflect on the content learned and the learning process itself. Learners may
need guidance and structured activities to engage in self-reflection if it is a
new experience for them. Digital journals and portfolios facilitate self-reflection
while still allowing learner individualization. Learners choose what learning
artifacts to include in their portfolio or choose their own journaling prompts for
engaging in self-reflection.
Standards in Adult Education
Educators can use the standards included in this section to inform their practice. The
California Standards for the Teaching Profession focus on best practices in teaching
for California educators. The ISTE Educator Standards focus on best practices for
using technology to facilitate meaningful learning in the digital age. The National
Standards for Quality Online Learning include indicators for improving online courses,
teaching, and implementation at the program level.
California Standards for the Teaching Profession (CSTP)
The CSTP standards are applicable to California educators in all contexts with varying
levels of experience. The standards include:
Learner engagement and support:
Educators engage learners by getting to
know them as individuals; connecting learning to an individual’s experiences,
interests, and knowledge; connecting subject matter to real-life contexts; using
varied instructional strategies to meet the needs of all learners; promoting
critical thinking, inquiry, problem-based learning, and reflection; and employing
adaptive, learner-centered instructional practices.
Creating and maintaining effective learning environments:
promote a positive, respectful learning community; create learning environments that promote
diverse perspectives and positive interactions; establish
and maintain learning environments that are emotionally, intellectually, and
physically safe; set high expectations for all learners while still providing
adequate support when needed; foster appropriate learner behavior and interactions; codevelop
classroom expectations, procedures, and routines; and use
instructional time to optimize learning.
Understanding and organizing subject matter for optimal learning:
Educators maintain current knowledge of their subject matter; apply knowledge of adult
learning theories to better support learners; organize curriculum
to facilitate connection; utilize appropriate instructional strategies; and select
materials, resources, and tools to ensure equitable access to all learners.
Designing inclusive learning experiences:
Educators establish and articulate
learning goals and desired outcomes; develop short- and long-term instructional plans;
and adapt content to learners’ individual needs.
Assessing students for learning:
Educators utilize multiple assessment
methods to differentiate instruction, measure learner progress, and set
individualized learner goals; use digital tools to facilitate assessment
and datadriven instruction; and communicate assessment data with learners.
Developing as a professional educator:
Educators reflect on their own instructional practices; establish professional goals; collaborate with
colleagues and the broader community; demonstrate lifelong learning; and demonstrate professional conduct.
ISTE Educator Standards
The ISTE Educator Standards provide a framework for educators to rethink teaching
and learning using technology, with a learner-centered approach. The ISTE Educator
Standards help adult educators to design effective and meaningful learning experiences
with purposeful technology integration to empower learners.
The Educator Standards include:
Educators continually improve their practice by learning from and
with others and exploring proven and promising practices that leverage technology
to improve student learning.
Example activities: setting professional
learning goals; participating in professional learning communities; reading adult
education and digital learning research.
Educators seek out opportunities for leadership to support student
empowerment and success and to improve teaching and learning.
engaging with education stakeholders; setting a shared vision;
advocating for equitable access for all learners; modeling new strategies and tools
Educators inspire students to positively contribute to and responsibly
participate in the digital world.
Example activities: creating community-building
activities; establishing a curious, engaged learning community;
modeling and promoting the ethical use of digital content, materials, and tools;
modeling and promoting a positive digital identity and protecting data privacy.
Educators dedicate time to collaborate with both colleagues and
students to improve practice, discover and share resources and ideas, and
Example activities: cocreating a lesson or unit; colearning with
students to explore a new digital resource or tool; using collaborative tools to
expand learners’ perspectives through engaging with others; demonstrating
cultural competence when communicating with learners.
Educators design authentic, learner-driven activities and environments that
recognize and accommodate learner variability.
using technology to create personalized learning pathways; using technology
to design authentic learning activities that maximize active and deep learning;
designing digital learning experiences that engage and support learners in
achieving their learning goals.
Educators facilitate learning with technology to support student
achievement of the ISTE Standards for Students.
promoting self-directed learning; managing appropriate use of digital materials,
settings, and tools; utilizing design thinking and problem-solving strategies to
engage learners in real-world problems; modeling and encouraging creativity,
creative expression, and communication.
Educators understand and use data to drive their instruction and
support students in achieving their learning goals.
providing multiple pathways for learners to demonstrate understanding; using
digital tools to implement formative and summative assessments, accommodate
learner needs, provide meaningful feedback, and inform instruction; using
assessment data to inform instruction and support self-directed learning.
National Standards for Quality Online Learning
The National Standards for Quality Online Learning include three separate areas of
standards. Each set of standards includes corresponding indicators that can be
used to provide guidance in a variety of online learning environments.
The National Standards for Quality Online Teaching provide a framework for
improving instruction in online teaching and learning. Standards focus on
professional responsibilities, digital pedagogy, community building, learner
engagement, digital citizenship, diverse instruction, assessment and measurement, and instructional design.
The National Standards for Quality Online Programs provide a framework for
program providers interested in implementing blended and online learning
programs. Standards focus on the following categories: mission statement,
governance, leadership, planning, organizational staff, financial and material
resources, equity and access, integrity and accountability, curriculum and
course design, instruction, assessment and learner performance, faculty and
staff support, learner support, and program evaluation.
The National Standards for Quality Online Courses provide a framework for
improving the quality of online learning courses. Standards cover the following
course components: course overview, content, instructional design, learner
assessment, accessibility and usability, technology, and course evaluation.
VOICES FROM THE FIELD
Francisco Pinedo | Lead Instructor | Soledad Adult School
How do you use standards in your teaching practice?
It seems like everything now is a combination of the academic and the digital
literacy components, so I embed the ISTE Standards in all my classes. I
also use the CASAS competencies and CCRS standards because those are
required for testing.
When I’m teaching a lesson, I use an agenda and reference the relevant standards
within the agenda. I’ll add the standard number and in parentheses put
the key concept of the standard. I’ll also create a guiding question and put the
standards in words that they can understand. Now we’re introducing Canvas to
all our classes and we’re uploading the standards there as well.
In California, the credentials required to teach adult education differ by institution.
Adult educators in K–12 school districts are required to be credentialed through
the Commission on Teacher Credentialing, while adult educators in the community
college system are not required to be credentialed. Instead, most adult educators
in the community college system are required to hold relevant academic degrees.
The difference in requirements adds complications for individual educators who aim
to work at both institution types. Possible options for reciprocity include waiving
portions of the requirements by verification of hours of experience or performance
The primary role of a classroom educator is to design meaningful learning experiences
and facilitate learning. Educators guide learners to help them integrate new
material into their own personal contexts. Rather than acting as a “sage on the stage,”
today’s educators are a “guide on the side.” This idea of educators as a “guide on
the side” acknowledges that adult learners enter the classroom with a wealth of experience
and prior knowledge. It is therefore the responsibility of educators to provide
opportunities for integrating learners’ experience and knowledge into the learning
environment. Whether learning occurs in a physical classroom or online learning
environment, the role of the educator remains the same. In either case, digital learning
has no effect on learner achievement and outcomes—rather, high-quality instruction
matters the most.
What makes educators effective, or how can educators provide high-quality instruction?
Effective teaching starts with a learner-centered approach or by understanding
learners as individuals. This requires educators to be “sensitive to the unique
backgrounds, motivations, and goals of individual students,” as well as acknowledging
the complex social, emotional, and cultural dynamics influencing a learner’s
According to the Adult Education Teacher Competencies from the American Institutes
for Research, core competencies of instructors in adult education include:
Using data to monitor and manage learner progress and performance.
Educators assess learners’ needs, help learners set personalized learning
goals, and monitor learning through formative and summative assessments.
Plan and deliver high-quality, evidence-based instruction.
Educators design learner-centered, standards-based learning experiences; understand
adult learning theories; foster digital learning skills; and facilitate
communication, higher-order thinking, and problem-solving skills.
Effectively communicate to motivate and engage learners.
Educators clearly communicate high expectations for learners; engage in active listening,
dialogue, and questioning to facilitate and support learning; and model cultural
Pursuing professionalism and continually building knowledge and skills.
Educators possess content knowledge and instructional skills, participate in
professional development networks and learning communities, reflect on their
own experiences, and participate in program improvement efforts.
Many different roles support learners in adult education. Support staff differ across
program sites depending on factors such as budget, specific program offerings, and
number of students.
Academic support staff might include:
help adult learners choose courses and pathways for learning;
support the development and achievement of individualized learning goals; and
provide additional academic, emotional, and social support as needed.
s help adult learners with access to digital devices and
resources, connectivity, and development of foundational digital literacy skills.
They also support adult learners to navigate digital job searches and upskilling
provide a bridge between educators and students. They
reinforce and support learning objectives beyond regular classroom instruction
through activities such as academic support, remote testing, and technology
provide support to adult learners as they transition
among programs; for example, learners who complete their GED and want to
pursue postsecondary education.
Classified staff might include:
Clerical and office staff
oversee the operations of adult education programs,
provide information to potential and current adult learners, and constantly
adapt to support the demands and needs of the school community.
Custodial and maintenance staff
work to make sure school facilities are
clean and safe for all. They also often develop positive relationships with
learners, providing encouragement or a listening ear.
Data and accountability specialists
ensure that data for state and federal
reporting is accurate. They also often support clerical and office staff as needed.
work with program administrators to ensure a smooth
testing experience for participating adult learners through scheduling,
formatting, proctoring, and other duties as needed. Depending on the institution,
testing coordinators may also serve as data and accountability specialists.
VOICES FROM THE FIELD
Pete Gonzalez | Transition Counselor | San Bernardino Valley College
Beyond classroom educators, who supports adult learners?
I think it’s at all levels. In my experience, the campuses that have the most
success are the ones that involve everyone—student workers, classified staff,
full-time and adjunct instructors, and counselors. We’re very fortunate to have
the Inland Career Education Center, which is the largest adult school in our
consortia. They’ve built a system where everyone is in line to help the students
transition into postsecondary education once they’ve completed a high school
diploma or GED. For instance, they have tutoring staff from the local university
that work for them as tutors. The school trains the tutoring staff to help
students complete the application process for college, including financial aid
and orientation—all the stuff that needs to be done. They also have a transition
center with staff that is also trained to support students through all these processes.
As a transition counselor, what is your role in supporting adult learners?
Our role coming into the adult schools is we are the face of the college. We
come in and help students walk across the street, per se, but a lot of the work
is already done. The motivation, the cheerleading. The advocates have already
done their work with the students up to that point. It’s a smooth hand-off to us
and we help them continue with their process. We let the students know as well
that our role isn’t to get them to Valley College, but that our goal is to help them
continue their education, whether it’s at Valley College, a different community
college, or trade school.
What role do classroom teachers play in supporting adult learners during the
At first, teachers were not included in our college counseling transition piece.
We would conduct college information workshops for students that teachers
would also attend. The teachers were mostly quiet during our presentations,
but I quickly realized that our teachers had their own unique educational journeys,
and it was important for them to share those stories with their students.
Many of the teachers come from the same communities as the students that
they teach. They understand what the students are going through and have
faced many of the same barriers as the students. Including teachers encouraged
the conversation of continuing education to take place, during and after
our workshops. It was the teachers’ encouragement that led many students
to make their first counseling appointment with me. Teacher participation is
essential in the college transition process.
What role do students play in supporting their peers during the transition process?
Many are eager to act as advocates, mentors, and role models for other
students. They provide informal testimonials, peer support, and help guide their
peers through the application process and show them the path to take.
VOICES FROM THE FIELD
Suzy Kelly | CTE Instructor | Berkeley Adult School
Beyond classroom educators, who supports adult learners?
When students come to us, they know that they’re part of the “Berkeley Adult
School family”. We’re really focused on being student-centered, on supporting
adult learning and lifelong learning. We provide a wraparound of services that
includes counselors, learning specialists, technical support, and transition
support for those who are going on to postsecondary education.
One example—our custodian also works with counseling services for people
who struggle with addiction. We’ve had students who have struggled, and he’s
gotten them into meetings and given them amazing support. Now he teaches
a custodial skills course because that’s a great job market. So, somebody who
was a custodian for our school transitioned into being a teacher, and he has a
Digital Learning and Professional Development
Regardless of modality, programs that implement models for digital learning need to
include basic digital literacy skills development for both learners and educators. In
addition to basic digital literacy skills, educators need professional development in
effective technology integration.[115,116] As one research study noted:
Adult educators need to learn more about effective methods of
instructing, motivating, and supporting adult students working at a
distance. They also need to learn more about how to best use existing
and emerging technologies and products to meet student needs.
In spring 2020, WestEd conducted a survey of adult education administrators and
educators to learn more about their challenges with teaching during COVID-19.
While many respondents (58 percent) reported previous experience using a learning
management system, most respondents (81 percent) reported no previous experience
teaching a course through distance education. Educators were also critical
of their success in the transition to online learning, with 40 percent of respondents
rating themselves at 50 percent or lower in their success rate. Only 34 percent of
respondents rated themselves at 80 percent or higher in their success rate. These
results indicate a lack of self-confidence in educators’ ability to successfully
implement online learning. Along with a lack of self-confidence, many educators reported
receiving minimal professional development and support in online learning—66
percent reported receiving fewer than 10 hours of training. Popular training topics
included how to use their institution’s learning management system and how to use
video conferencing tools to conduct live sessions. Educators expressed a desire for
more professional development and training in accessibility, addressing equity, and
instructional strategies for online learning.
What does effective professional development look like? Effective professional development includes the following qualities:
Long-term, ongoing, sustained
Opportunities for reflection and self-study
Applied and interactive—allows educators to engage in practical activities that
connect content, design, implementation, and reflection to real-world problems
Personalized—differentiated to individual interests and skill levels
Building on strong instructional design—models strong teaching practices
within the professional development
Provides opportunities for coaching and peer learning
Digital tools are integrated into the learning experience—technology training
is not a separate professional development session but integrated throughout training
Through CDE and federal funding, OTAN offers professional development opportunities
in both digital and physical formats. Training topics range from basic digital
literacy skills to more advanced topics such as developing online communities,
creation and collaboration tools, and other ways to integrate technology into the
classroom. OTAN also offers a Digital Leadership Academy (DLAC) for California
program providers and the annual Technology and Distance Learning Symposium for
adult education professionals in California and beyond.
VOICES FROM THE FIELD
Elisia Doonan | Adjunct Faculty | San Diego Community College Continuing Education
What professional development has been most impactful for you and why?
The professional development that has opened my eyes has been DLAC. That
has been a whirlwind. In this cohort, I think I’m the only one working in AWD
and the rest of the cohort is ESL or HSE. I’ve asked my teammates and cohort
members what programs they are using, and I’ve shared them with my peers.
That’s been one of the best things, just learning from others.
Another great thing is the “Tech Slam” that we do at DLAC, where anyone in
the cohort gets two or three minutes to share a tech tip or tool. There’s so
many ideas and so little time! Sometimes I can’t use them because it’s too
high-functioning for my students, but there’s always something that I can learn.
For our DLAC project, we’re creating a module in Canvas to help students learn
the basics of Zoom—What is Zoom? How do you log on? What is the etiquette
of Zoom? How do you mute/unmute? How do you sit? How do you turn on/off
your video? It focuses on the beginning levels, and it’s all in pictures because
it needs to be super simple for my students. It’s an entire module in Canvas
about computer literacy and digital literacy basics and our goal is for all
instructors to be able to use this with their students. We’re also creating a chart
about how to make digital documents more accessible in different programs as
a resource for instructors.
Communities of Practice and Professional Learning Communities
A community of practice provides benefits in the following four areas:
The area of shared inquiry and the key issues (e.g., improving adult
learners’ transition to postsecondary education)
Professionals committed to a process of collective
learning oriented toward achieving outcomes and improving practices
Investigation of key questions, problems and gaps, identification
of resources and expertise, sharpening of subject knowledge through
professional learning, and development of new resources, processes, and methods
Reflection on practice, evaluation of impact and outcomes, ongoing inquiry,
refinement of practice and methods, development of new resources
Communities of practice have long been used as the organizing principle to problem-solving and strategic positioning in the business community and have more
recently been adopted by education agencies and organizations. Communities of
practice are beneficial professional learning opportunities for adult educators for the
Investigate pertinent questions for improving practice
Keep informed of developments in research and practice
Sharpen subject knowledge and skills
Gather resources and build new knowledge around teaching and learning issues
Make changes to improve practice
Build networks for learning and change
A professional learning community is committed to processes that help all learners
succeed. By working collaboratively, these communities explore the following critical questions:
What do we want students to learn?
How will we know if they have learned it?
What will we do if they don’t learn it?
What will we do if they already know it?
VOICES FROM THE FIELD
Merari Weber | Associate Professor | Santa Ana College
How do you help reluctant teachers embrace the learning process?
I think what’s valuable in the learning process is giving teachers space to voice
their frustration with change. You must allow them to voice the sadness that
they feel for not having the needed knowledge that they are asked to have,
and then, shaking it off and moving on. Saying, “OK, we’re going to have two
minutes of being really upset, and then we’re going to learn how we’re going to
do it in a different way.”
Some adult students come in with a lot more knowledge in technology than
the instructor has themselves. For the instructor to be open and receive that
strength the student has, and cocreate to make the classroom experience
better, is such a gift that I think faculty have learned to receive. They don’t have
to be the sage on the stage, they can be cocreators in their classes.
How do you implement meaningful professional development in your context?
Good professional development should have teachers experience what the
students will experience. Teachers should themselves experience new tools, go
through the process of learning and relearning, and feel what their students will
feel. Then, they can be a model for their students—you empower your students that way
How do you implement communities of practice within your context?
The work is really focused and intentional long-term professional development.
In communities of practice, you’re coming from an action-research mindset.
You’re coming together with other teachers on a common issue/concern,
brainstorming, conducting research, and then putting it into practice. That’s
professional development. It’s not me in the front of the room telling teachers
which tools to use. Real learning takes reflection and deep thinking—if you’re
not giving teachers time to reflect, then nothing really changes long-term.
One of the things that we’ve been trying to do with our faculty is create
communities of practice. With communities of practice, teachers are more
curious and can bring inquiries of practice into the space to discuss with their
peers. Then, they can test out potential solutions and come back and say what
worked and didn’t work. That iterative process maximizes learning.
At Santa Ana College we’re currently leading an Equity-Minded Teaching and
Learning Institute. Over the yearlong institute, we’re doing 10 virtual sessions.
Before the live session, faculty are doing remote work in our learning management
system. They’re reading, thinking, and reflecting. Then, during the live
session, we come together and discuss how our thinking has potentially
changed, how we applied our learnings in the classroom, and what were the
results, if any, and next steps. For this, you need administrative support and
faculty buy-in to make this successful since it takes time to do this well.