Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Social Constructs of PD Design: 4 Pillars

Last week, I had the great opportunity to brainstorm with Sergio Villegas over some fantastic Mexican food. Sergio works with Napa Learns and is the king of many things #eduawesome. Mostly, our chat centered around professional development design and adult learning. As we explored our various experiences, we both realized that all of our adult learning success hinged on something common: social constructs.

Our reflections and shared stories led us to realize that we both enjoyed attending professional learning because we genuinely enjoyed the people that helped us to uncover tangible ideas. It wasn't about the content at all. And while I believe this is antithetical to the ways we normally think about learning, I believe that's exactly the point.

So, I'm going to share my initial thoughts about the 4 Pillars of Socially Designed Professional Development. Generally, I believe Socially Designed PD has fewer controlled, concrete outcomes but much greater levels of empowerment and engagement. As I say with most things, socially designed PD is only one component of a balanced professional learning diet!

I have more research to do and more conversations to have, but here's where my thinking has landed.

Pillar 1: Strategic Recruitment
Who are the right people to learn about this topic? Newbies? Veterans? Both? Do we need subject area experts? Think tanks? Carefully curating the people in attendance at the PD event (whether it's face to face or virtual) is the first component of Socially Constructed PD Design. This can be done through conversation, email, websites and Twitter. The key here is to make sure that you identify the people you need and let them know they're critical to the success of the conversation.

Pillar 2: Interaction-Centered Ethos
Every activity, event, or communication around a Socially Construction Professional Development event should invite interaction. It may be as simple as arranging chairs in circles or as complex as setting up a series of Google Hangouts on Air with virtual backchannels. Whatever the medium, make sure people know that interaction is considered key to success.

Pillar 3: White Space
Socially Constructed Professional Development events must have white space. White space is loosely defined as time when people can mingle and chat. This means that there should be breakfasts, long lunches, and after parties integrated throughout Socially Constructed Professional Development. And while these activities might seem counterintuitive, the social bonding that happens during these activities often increases the "long tail" of learning and collaboration for participants.

Pillar 4: Long Tail Options
One of the hallmarks of successful professional development is that people continue to engage with the ideas long after a learning event has ended. Perhaps they make connections to their classrooms, experiment with a new practice, or continue to reflect on blogs or other social media outlets. In any case, well designed Socially Constructed Professional Development provides attendees with many "long tail options" to consider the conversation. It might be a hashtag, a series of meetups, or a Google Hangout. Whatever the case, the learner is encouraged to continue the conversation beyond the event itself. Learning is viewed as time/event independent.

Ok- that's what I'm thinking. Did I miss anything? What do you think?

Thanks for starting this conversation, Sergio.


Photo Credit:


  1. One addition to this fantastically concise list of ideas would be that healthy social constructs don't go dull form the end users perspective. Their is an indirect relationship between frequency of participation in PD on a certain topic and desire to attend a future one (diminishing returns idea). As a coach it is easy to find people who go to a series on say "differentiated instruction" and find themselves stuck in the "been there, seen that" mentality, regardless of practice. However the inverse is true of healthy social constructs that accompany learning. A healthy dose of the four elements described creates a "can't miss" culture around whatever a group or organization is trying to achieve. In short, there is a reason Kristen used the term "pillars of PD design", they are 4 things that the quality of any PD experience should stand on. Maybe it's time all of us start thinking about how to engineer this into the culture of our organizations. Blog post coming soon from the lens of North Bay CUE.

  2. This is so important. Do you think it's the 5th pillar maybe?

  3. Pillar 5: Designing beyond the room?

  4. hmm. I like that. I'm thinking there's overlap between 2 and 5. I like "designing beyond the room."

  5. Yeah well the both of you (and more of us #TeamNorthBay peeps) need to go on record for an upcoming vid/podcast of Wired/Inspired. If Techlandia gets to interview Kristen from afar, then us local types should be able to also, yah???

    I've referred to the Pillar 1 concept before as the "Bring a Friend" ethos - but I should expand that to "Bring a Friend AND Someone Else Who Might Not Be." A key element in any school/district is to build a "team of rivals" - meaning, never let the echo chamber set in by only interacting with "like-minded" buddies. Great things can still happen but they'll happen in pockets. What a fantastic post - cannot wait for post to come from Signore Bellisimo!

  6. In this model your hard work is seen clearly. But do you think this model works properly in real life.?
    Does you know all disadvantages of the model? Must conform this before implant it in real life.


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