Designing a Learner-Centric Professional Development Model for Teaching Strategies

A Challenge to Create Powerful Professional Development

Teaching Strategies is a leading provider of curriculum for early childhood education. Shortly, they will be releasing a new online planning tool called GOLD Plus that makes it easier and faster for teachers to make curriculum-planning decisions based on digital documentation and assessment of student performance. For previous product releases, Teaching Strategies has utilized outside vendors to develop training and implementation materials for teachers but has been dissatisfied with the results. For GOLD Plus, they were seeking to shift from a pure training model to broader professional development anchored in their product. Teaching Strategies also has a long-term goal to use the new model on other products and, eventually, position themselves as the market leader in professional development for early childhood educators.

Six Red Marbles’ Learning Experience Design Process

Learning Experience Design

Learning Experience Design (LX) quickly creates concepts for learning products that from the outset of projects are known to be of high value and effectiveness for the target learners and stakeholders. Six Red Marbles’ (SRM) LX model has been created and refined to be evidence based, extremely learner-centric, and rigorous. Above all else, the process is intentional and flexible. Every project is different, and it is our practice to carefully match what we do to the specific needs of each project.

The Six Core Principles

As a starting point for any project, teams consider Six Core Principles—the foundation for Six Red Marbles’ Natural Learning Approach™:

  1. Neuroscience knows best
  2. Tribal pedagogy works
  3. Play is productive
  4. Curriculum must adapt
  5. Technology is today
  6. Easy see, easy do.

An Iterative Approach

Six Red Marbles’ Learning Experience Designers know that to get the best results, iteration is key. With Teaching Strategies, we:

  • Considered the challenge and solution from every angle
  • Immersed ourselves in research and data
  • Sought to work with and ultimately empathized with the intended learners
  • Worked closely with the client to understand their needs and aspirations
  • Analyzed relevant educational theory and pedagogy
  • Created a rubric to guide design and plan very specific pedagogy checkpoints
  • Built prototypes that helped us see the potential solution from several different viewpoints

Teaching Strategies’ Goals

Teaching Strategies engaged the Learning Experience Design team at Six Red Marbles to find a solution that:

  1. Led with the “why” of professional development
  2. Generated teacher buy-in for the product
  3. Created an engaging learning experience
  4. Maintained consistency with their pedagogical approach
  5. Treated teachers with respect as adult learners

Six Red Marbles’ recommendation was to produce three lo-fi prototypes, each with a different approach to address Teaching Strategies’ challenges and goals. All three of these would incorporate product-embedded, face-to-face, and online course elements as requested by Teaching Strategies. The SRM team added the goals of addressing learner variability and allowing for flexible implementation in response to situational constraints, such as time and technology.

Project Execution

Team

Six Red Marbles put together a project team that would maximize value to Teaching Strategies:

Learning Experience Design—Conducted design research, produced ideations of concepts to address project goals and learner needs, integrated current ideas from pedagogical theory and the learning sciences.

User Experience Design—Brought expertise in current UX/UI industry standards, provided creative input, and held primary responsibility for wireframe production.

Project Management—Ensured efficiency and timely delivery of project milestones.

Process

The SRM team conducted an initial three-and-a-half week discovery, brainstorming, and lo-fi prototyping process.

Discovery

During the discovery portion, the team:

  1. Honed their understanding of Teaching Strategies’ goals and challenges
  2. Immersed themselves in Teaching Strategies’ products
  3. Worked to gain empathy with teachers and other stakeholders
  4. Articulated a pedagogical approach for the project consistent with Teaching Strategies’ pedagogical principles

The information learned was compiled and distilled into a prototype rubric that would be used to maintain focus on a set of clearly defined objectives as brainstorming and prototyping were conducted. This rubric was shared with Teaching Strategies to ensure coincidence of vision.

Brainstorming

During brainstorming, the three LX designers and the UX designer on the team, with assistance from several other SRM personnel, proposed potential features and storyboarded a number of rough usage scenarios. The LX designers used the results of these sessions to come up with a core concept for each of the three prototypes.

Prototyping

Finally, during prototyping, LX designers sketched each prototype on paper, and the team’s UX designer used these to create digital, lo-fi prototypes. Concurrently, LX designers produced documentation proposing face-to-face and embedded components for each concept. The team shared their work internally, gathered feedback, and made refinements. Final deliverables, consisting of three lo-fi prototypes and descriptions of face-to-face and embedded components, were then prepared and presented to Teaching Strategies.

Results

At the conclusion of this initial design effort, Teaching Strategies received three concepts for their GOLD Plus professional development model. Each concept was designed to fulfill all of the project goals described previously.

Concept 1: Task Oriented

Teachers select goals related to GOLD Plus and their practice; professional development is focused on learning how to complete tasks related to that goal.

  • Three different categories of information:
    • Tutorials guide teachers through specific procedures within GOLD Plus or give explicit instruction on related professional development topics.
    • Case studies give opportunities to analyze real-world scenarios and apply learning from the tutorial section.
    • Knowledge extension section offers resources that explain the theoretical foundations of these topics.
  • Sandboxed version of GOLD Plus for guided practice.
  • Access to personal GOLD Plus pages for real-world practice.

Concept 2: Project-based

  • Teachers complete projects in which they explore broader concepts and think about their implementation in the classroom.
  • Projects are leveled and assigned a point value based on estimated duration and level of complexity:
    • Teachers accumulate points as they complete projects, allowing them to “level up” and unlock more complicated projects.
  • In a project, teachers are scaffolded through a thought process by
    • Gathering information about a concept from various media sources.
    • Making a plan to practice the concept in their classroom.
    • Reflecting on their experience.
    • Sharing and comparing their experiences with fellow teachers.

Concept 3: Collaboration-based

  • Prioritizing opportunities for collaboration among teachers.
  • Teachers declare interest or expertise in a set of topics and receive suggestions for webinars and professional development modules based on their interests.
  • Modules may ask teachers to several or all of the following:
    • Observe a real-world scenario through various media formats.
    • Gather related background information.
    • Interpret their observations.
    • Suggest a plan to address the situation.
  • Opportunities for collaboration are created through:
    • A forum for asynchronous discussion and comparison of approaches
    • A chat feature to communicate synchronously with other teachers
    • Completing the same module with teachers who have declared expertise in the topic area
    • Webinars using a variety of formats
    • The ability to leverage their wider social and professional networks through social media

Value to Teaching Strategies

The Learning Experience Design team at Six Red Marbles provided Teaching Strategies with three innovative approaches that addressed their professional development needs. Each option considered the solution from a different perspective by placing emphasis on different aspects of the learning experience. From this pool of ideas, Teaching Strategies had a diverse set of options to consider, all of which they knew to be viable due to their basis in the SRM team’s careful consideration of goals, constraints, and learner needs. Teaching Strategies can now confidently and enthusiastically take their next step based on the sound design foundation SRM helped to put in place.