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Adapting Professional Development to a Faster-Paced World

Co-written with Erin McCloskey | Faculty Associate in Distance Education and Professional Development, University of Wisconsin-Madison Division of Continuing Studies

As higher education institutions strive to improve their professional development offerings, institutions should look to providing just-in-time learning opportunities that give students more choice when it comes to content and delivery method.

As providers of several professional development certificate programs, we remain curious about trends and changes in similar programs. Throughout 2012, DEPD delved further into this topic. We contracted with Eduventures for a national scan, reviewed websites and empirical studies, and conducted an internal survey of program enrollees and alumni. The eye-opening results provided clear directions for future work in professional development.

Research & Results

Eduventures’ August 2012 study investigated twelve non-credit certificate programs with a focus, similar to ours, on effective online instruction. Their study concluded that there exists no consensus on required time and effort for preparing to teach online. Reported time-to-completion ranged from 5 weeks to 9 years, with a median of between 1 and 2 years, and hours of effort ranged from 14 to 480, with a median of 89. For this study, hours of effort were calculated from state requirements for Continuing Education Units (CEUs), with each CEU representing 10 hours of effort (click here for more details). Three DEPD certificate programs currently require 30 (Basic Online Teaching Certificate), 100 (Professional Certificate in Online Teaching), and 200 (Distance Education Certificate Program) hours of effort.

Our own investigation of professional development programs that prepare faculty/instructors in online teaching yielded similar, sobering results. First, among institutions offering professional development, time requirements vary greatly: 2-32 hours, 2-10 weeks, and 6-18 months. Second, professional development in online teaching is rarely required of online instructors; Ray (2009) found only 27% of institutions with such a requirement. Of faculty teaching online, 50% (Lackey, 2011; Kosak et. al., 2004) to 63% (Perrault et. al., 2002) reported receiving no professional development prior to online teaching. In Lackey’s study, 50% of respondents had attended either formal or informal training activities, but only one addressed pedagogy; this could explain why faculty still reported feeling “…as though they were thrown into teaching online without any support or training.”

Themes noted by Kang (2011) during faculty interviews included:

  1. Don’t waste my time, if you don’t know what I need
  2. Training is critical but often boring.

Several institutions have recently revised their faculty/instructor professional development programs in online teaching pedagogies. The University of Central Florida (Chen et. al., 2012; deNoyelles et. al., 2012) shortened their program from 9 full-day face-to-face sessions to 1 ½ days plus ‘best practice’ online modules and in-person design consultations. Kansas State University (Boggs & Spire, 2012) reformatted their program into a set of online modules, each requiring less than an hour to complete. They also introduced Take Five segments, 5-minute videos each focused on a specific teaching strategy. These approaches align with the reflections of Pennsylvania State University’s Michael Moore, who recommends that institutions “…encourage self-managed professional development.” (Moore, 2006)

Results from our internal DEPD survey suggest that we, too, reduce time and effort required and heed Moore’s recommendation by introducing more flexibility. Sixty percent (60%) of respondents (n= 114) preferred a certificate program that could be completed in 6 months or less. Sixty-six percent (66%) preferred the opportunity to pursue their own learning goals. Fifty-six percent (56%) reported that interaction with peers was helpful but not essential, suggesting less emphasis on longer, collaborative courses. Fifty-seven percent (57%) want to access professional development on a mobile device, indicating a need for bite-sized chunks of content.

Next Steps

Clearly, in both non-credit certificates and faculty development programs, the range of required time and effort varies widely. What is the ideal? Lawler et. al., (2004) and Aguilar et. al., (2012) suggest refocusing faculty development on adult learning practices. According to Luck and McQuiggan (2006), faculty/instructors prefer a series of short, self-paced sessions.

Thus, in today’s fast-paced world, the ideal will likely involve: streamlined content providing short bursts of quality learning; brief showcases of best practices; as-needed access to professional development materials; and a flexible, self-determined mix of individual and collaborative online learning opportunities. At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, we plan to revise our programs in this direction and, as always, assess the results.

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Aguilar, D., Banda, J., & Perez, M. (2012). Justification for Certification Program for Teaching Online. Retrived from:

Boggs, R. & Spire, L. E-Learning Faculty Modules: Building Excellence through Collaboration. Presented at the University Professional & Continuing Education Association (UPCEA) Central Region Conference, September 26, 2012, Kansas City, MO. (See: )

Chen, B., Sugar, A., & Bauer, S. (2012). Effective Faculty Development through Strategies for Engagement and Satisfaction. EDUCAUSE Review Online, September 5, 2012. Retrieved from:

deNoyelles, A., Cobb, C., & Lowe, D. (2012). Influence of Reduced Seat Time on Satisfaction and Perception of Course Development Goals: A Case Study in Faculty Development. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 16(2).

Eduventures, Inc. (August 2012). Competitive Analysis for Non-Credit Certificates in Distance Education.

Kang, H. (2011). Training Online Faculty: A Phenomenology Study. Retrieved from:

Kosak, L., Manning, D., Dobson, E., Rogerson, L., Cotnam, S. & McFadden, C. (2004). Preparing to teach online? Perspectives of faculty in the University of North Carolina System. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 7(3). Retrieved from:

Lackey, K. (2011). Faculty Development: An Analysis of Current and Effective Training Strategies for Preparing Faculty to Teach Online. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 14(4). Retrieved from:

Lawler, P. A. & King, K. P. (2001). Refocusing faculty development: The view from an adult learning perspective. Paper presented at the Pennsylvania Adult and Continuing Education Research Conference, Indiana, PA.

Lawler, P. A., King, K. P. & Wilhite, S. C. (2004). Living and learning with technology: Faculty as reflective practitioners in the online classroom. Proceedings of the 45th Annual Meeting of the Adult Education Research Conference (pp. 328-332). Victoria, British Columbia.

Luck, A. & McQuiggan, C. (2006). Discovering What Faculty REALLY Need to Know About Teaching Online. Proceedings from the 22nd Annual Conference on Distance & Learning, Madison, WI. Retrieved from:

McQuiggan, C. (2012). Faculty Development for Online Teaching as a Catalyst for Change. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 16(2).

McQuiggan, C. (2007). The Role of Faculty Development in Online Teaching’s Potential to Question Teaching Beliefs and Assumptions. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 10(3). Retrieved from:

Moore, Michael. (2006). Faculty Professional Development. American Journal of Distance Education, 20(2), pp. 61-63.

Perreault, H., Waldren, L., Alexander, M., & Zhao, J. (2002). Overcoming Barriers to Successful Delivery of Distance-Learning Courses. Journal of Education for Business, 77(6), 313-319.

Ray, J. (2009). Faculty Perspective: Training and Course Development for the Online Classroom. MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 5(2). Retrieved from:

Author Perspective: