Active Learning & Professional Development

Recently I implemented a brand-new digital tool to aid my high school students in organizing their research and citing their sources properly. The tool had just recently been purchased by my school and this was the first time both my students and I would be utilizing the tool for a major project. To roll out this new tool, I asked my school’s digital literacy educator (think, 21st Century Librarian) to come by and walk students through the registration and process of first use. As she projected each step of the process onto my Smartboard, I walked around and made sure students were able to follow along. Then students followed step by step as we went through citations, research, and note-taking. Despite a few minor bumps, we were off to a great start within a short amount of time.

This experience happened to coincide with this week’s research question for my 6106 class: how can tech coaches and administrators balance delivery of content and the opportunity for hands-on application and practice when introducing teachers to a new digital tool or platform? There is no way I would introduce a digital tool to my students without allowing them the opportunity to walk beside me and experiment with the new tool. You can probably imagine the lack of success and confusion if I had shown students a PowerPoint introducing the tool and then asked them to go home and give it a try. Why then do we use this method when introducing teachers to a new digital tool?

The guiding adult learning principle at play when we consider how to balance content delivery and application is the principle of active learning. Though the particular percentages assigned to learning activities in Edgar Dale’s Cone of Experience have been debated (see here), most educators would agree that active learning is far more beneficial than passive learning.

Jeffrey Anderson [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Passive learning through lectures, reading from assigned texts, or outlining content are still prevalent in higher education and teacher trainings despite evidence that supports active learning: “Long-term retention, understanding, and transfer is result of mental work on the part of learners who are engaged in active sense-making and knowledge construction … learning environments are most effective when they elicit effortful cognitive processing from learners and guide them in constructing meaningful relationships between ideas rather than encouraging passive recording of information.” (Lynch, 2017)

According to educational researcher Dr. Jay Lynch, three of the most powerful ways to incorporate active learning into instruction include production of ideas over passive collection, integration of new knowledge with existing knowledge, and frequent opportunities to engage with new content.

As technology coaches, administrators, and innovative teachers consider methods of professional development, I would argue that active learning should be a guiding principle when “Design[ing], develop[ing], and implement[ing] technology rich professional learning programs.” (, 2017)

So what might this look like on a practical level when introducing a new tool or platform? In researching possible answers to this question, I discovered the ITPD3 Framework as introduced at the 2015 ISTE Conference by Dr. Cynthia Vavasseur, Sara Dempster, and Cammie Claytor.

ITPD3 is an interesting approach to technology professional development that attempts to clarify and systematize what ‘relevant, timely, and meaningful’ PD looks like. Previously I’ve explored what effective professional development looks like, but I’d struggled to find a tangible tool/framework to guide educators.

The ITPD3 Framework (ITPD = Instructional Technology Professional Development) features three leaders, three levels, and three steps (hence, the 3 at the end of the acronym). Here’s what it looks like:

  • The three leaders each take on a level of tech adopter to teach: early, intermediate, and advanced. Interested teachers opt into the group based on their comfort level.
  • The leader then identifies an area of focus for the group based on teachers’ needs/interests.
  • From there, training occurs in three steps:
    • 1) “flipped” screencast tutorial with instructions for any registration or preparation work that should occur prior to the PD session
    • 2) small group PD session with goal of integrating newfound tech tool/skill into upcoming lesson plans, also providing opportunity to ask clarifying questions and collaborate
    • 3) follow-up with resources and artifacts published in iBook or website form for teachers to refer back to

Here’s what I love about this model (not to mention how it incorporates best practices in adult learning):

  • CHOICE: teachers get to select the tool or resource they want to explore
  • DIFFERENTIATION: by allowing teachers to opt into groups by level, coaches can better meet individual needs and increase efficiency by not going over the basics for more advanced teachers
  • EFFICIENCY: “flipped learning” is a buzzword for students, yet it works wonderfully for teachers in this framework; time is saved when all teachers are registered and familiar with the site or tool before meeting
  • MULTIPLIER EFFECT: the last step in the ITPD3 process calls for coaches to design a tutorial that teachers can refer back to along with additional resources and examples from teachers who have gone through the cycle; this resource can be shared with new teachers or those who weren’t able to participate

For educators and coaches looking to move away from the ineffective lecture model of technology professional development, the ITPD3 framework offers an interesting solution that balances the need for content delivery and hands-on application while incorporating vital principles of adult learning such as choice and relevancy.


Lynch, J., Dr. (2017, October 25). What does research say about active learning? Retrieved January 19, 2019, from Pearson Higher Education website:

Vavasseur, C., Dempster, S., & Claytor, C. (2015, June 23). A PD approach that educators love (and learn from!) [Blog post]. Retrieved from ISTE Professional Development Blog:

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