SAMR – Design Learning for Engagement, Part 3 – Professional Development

Note:  This post is Part 3 in a 3-part series about the SAMR Model as it relates to digital badge learning design.  Explore Part 1 and Part 2 to follow more of this conversation.



Teacher professional development aims to transform teaching practices, which ultimately, improves student achievement.  At the onset, this sounds simple; however, developing effective teacher professional development experiences is more challenging than meets the eye.  Reflecting on your own experiences as an educator, I bet much of your critical feedback would highlight current research on effective (or ineffective) teacher professional development. Not only this, but I am guessing with certainty that you can recall only a few really meaningful and impactful professional development experiences.  What made them so impactful?

In Allison Gulamhussein’s report, “Teaching the Teachers:  Effective Professional Development in an Era of High Stakes Accountability,” from the Center for Public Education, she provides a succinct review and synthesis of what research tells us about effective teacher professional development. She highlights that in a recent study, 90% of teachers reported participating in some form of professional development, and they also reported that it was not helpful in their practice. Thus, professional development is happening, but it is not effective.  Further, the most often utilized model, the “one-and-done” teacher workshop, is also the least impactful.  Not only this, but professional development is often focused on obtaining new skills, rather than on implementing new practices.  It is interesting to note that any teacher development program less than 14 hours actually had no effect on student achievement.  And in fact, it takes 20 instances of practice to master a new skill and the number may increase as the practice increases in complexity.  Some studies report that teachers may need as much as 50 hours of instruction, practice and coaching combined in order to master a new teaching strategy in practice.


Personalized Professional Learning in a Digital Age from the Alliance for Excellent Education (57:40)
This conversation reflects current studies on teacher professional development and begins the conversation about how to move towards personalized, impactful experiences.


Researchers explain that the challenge in teacher professional development is not that educators are learning a new skill, but rather, implementing the skill in the classroom.  This is known as the “implementation dip.”  And in fact, teachers are more likely to abandon a new approach to instruction if they do not experience success when trying the new practice with students. Teachers are more likely to wrestle with new instructional approaches when they receive ongoing support and coaching as part of the implementation experience (Gulamhussein).

Research informs us that the following elements must be in place in order for effective teacher professional development to occur; and not so surprisingly, many of these same hallmarks support good student instruction:

  • Ongoing:  Allow extended time for teachers to experiment and wrestle with the new technique.  Job-embedded models of professional learning support this best practice.
  • Support: Provide opportunities for support during the implementation stage of acquiring the new approach.  This may the take the form of shadowing a colleague, observing another teacher’s class or collaborative planning time.
  • Learn by Doing:  Design learning around new concepts with active engagement in mind, appealing to a wide variety of learning styles and modes of thinking.  Immerse the teachers in the learning!
  • Modeling:  Demonstrate the new practice, give teachers opportunities to see it in action and build in time for experiementation.
  • Grounded in Teachers’ Discipline:  The concept presented should be framed within the teachers’ content area or grade level, adding relevancy and direct application to their practice (relevancy!).
  • Reflective:  Build in opportunities for reflections on practices, new learning and possible implications about the learning approach.
  • Collaborative:  Professional learning communities or communities of practice (CoP) enhance learning, relying on sharing, collective wisdom and dialogue about real-world examples, challenges and successes.  Research indicates that in general, CoPs have a positive impact on teaching practices and student achievement.  The social connection also removes the isolation barrier of the classroom that many teachers experience as professionals.


Adult Learning Theory — How do adults best learn?

As teachers, we spend a great deal of time thinking about our students in daily instructional design, considering their social and emotional developmental stages, learning styles; how to make the content and skills accessible; and how to engage each unique learner, both challenging them and helping them rely on their strengths.  When we plan professional development, we need to do the same for adult learners.  Let’s put “andragogy,” (the art and science of helping adults learn; coined in 1980 by Malcolm Knowles) at the center of our thinking when planning for meaningful professional development.

Key Attributes of Adult Learners:

  • Self-directed
  • Draw upon life experiences and background knowledge
  • Goal-oriented
  • Problem-centered and need to apply learning immediately
  • Internally motivated
  • Relevancy-oriented – “Just in time learning” appeals because it is related to current work and current professional roles


Digital Badge Learning:  Personalized Teacher Professional Development

In previous posts in this three part series, I reflected on the SAMR Model (Part 1), referring to substitution, augmentation, modification and redefinition as cogs in the process of utilizing technology integration to transform how learning happens in an organic fashion, rather than a linear model.  I also illustrated how New Bloom’s may be considered a “learning hive,” where lifelong learners move in and out of active learning modes, applying, remembering, analyzing, creating, evaluating and understanding (Part 2).

Badge learning for teacher professional development complements the Digital Age instructional designer’s machine, by relying on elements that support best practices in teacher professional development:

Relevant – Badges transparently and comprehensively document skills, training, specialities, experiences and interests relevant to a teacher’s toolkit.  By designing badge learning experiences with input from teachers on their goals, interests and needs within their discipline and/or content areas, the learning is immediately applicable, job-embedded and relevant.  The badges are valued by the learner and tied to their learner identity.

Self-Directed – Badges amplify the opportunity for learners to make decisions about their own learning processes, pathways, goals, resources and outcomes.  Badge learning supports self-directed learning, which research tells us comprises 70% of adult learning.

Connected – The Digital Age affords us with anytime, anywhere opportunities to learn.  We can chat with colleagues and experts from around the globe and collaborate synchronously and asynchronously by co-creating dynamic multimedia and artifacts of learning.  When designed within a connected learning community, digital badge learning may serve as the “connector in connected learning,” harmonizing interest-driven, academically grounded and peer-supported learning within a vibrant community of practice dedicated to improving teacher practice and student achievement.  Not only this, but the badges’ value is accentuated by being connected to a learning community dedicated to improved teacher practice and student achievement.

TAMRITZ’s badge learning model for teacher professional development attempts to integrate all the elements from the “Badge Learning Designer’s Machine” (above infographic), with the goal of providing an impactful professional learning experience.  I would like to take the model one step further: Instead of offering pre-determined topics and pathways with multiple choices within the learning experiences, engage teachers in co-designing the learning pathways and badges in concert with the teachers participating in a connected learning community. This would be the ultimate in self-directed, relevant and connected learning for adult learners, where they could rely on their passions, pull from their rich life and professional experiences and at the same time, explore new horizons with the ongoing support of their peers and learning coaches.

How do you imagine impactful professional development with the affordances of the Digital Age?  How do you imagine digital badges supporting personalized professional development experiences at your school?


Teacher Professional Development Resources and References:

Standards for Professional Learning – from Learning Forward

Adult Learning Theories Fact Sheet – from Teaching Excellence in Adult Literacy

Teaching the Teachers: Effective Professional Development in an Era of High Stakes Accountability – from the Center for Public Education, by Allison Gulamhussein

A review of research on the impact of professional learning communities on teaching practice and student learning – from the School of Teaching and Learning, University of Florida

Teacher Development Research Review: Keys to Educator Success – from Edutopia

Job-Embedded Professional Development:  What it is, who is responsible, and how to get it done well – from Learning Forward

Badge Alliance Work Group: Badges for Educators and Professional Development

Badges:  A New Measure of Professional Development – from Campus Technology


  1. Ariel says:

    Wow! What a great post tying all the “best theories,” out there with regard to professional development (and learning). I like the idea that the badges are not just personal gains (like in gaming)or used to identify ourselves to others what our skills/interests are but also a way to make connections (e.g., I can connect with someone who has similar badges or complementary badges). In a way, a good team will comprise of members who together have all the badges.

    This, too, could be used with students surrounding collaborative work. Find the partners who (a) complement your skills (b) fill the gap (i.e., have skills that you do not possess) and (c) together, create a formidable learning cohort.

    • Liz Ebersole says:

      I really like the idea of students finding complementary partners for collaborative work. I had not thought of that.

  2. The HRD research literature has explored the lack of “training transfer” for many years. My doctoral dissertation focused on the need for transformational leadership, proper work climate and ongoing support through coaching, mentoring, PLCs for effective professional development; meaning it changes/improves teacher practice which has a direct impact on student achievement. I agree that badging is one means to support the CPD process if the badge is used in a cumulative manner. Badges could be awarded based on a process of implementation of the new learning with badges earned when a teacher/administrator has submitted documentation (which could be reflections, lesson plans showing implementation of the new learning, etc.) to ensure the teacher’s intention to implement the new learning.

  3. Liz Ebersole says:

    One of the most meaningful statements in the blog post is, “teachers are more likely to abandon a new approach to instruction if they do not experience success when trying the new practice with students” (Gulamhussein). This often occurs with educational technology, when teachers who are not familiar or comfortable with technology experience any difficulty and do not have in-class support.

    In terms of teacher professional development, I think it is important to give guidance in terms of topic, but allow teachers to interact with each other in order to come to terms with where they are, how they feel, and what they need to do to personally advance in the given area. This gives teachers ownership over their learning. It communicates a value that is shared by everyone at the school and enlists the teacher as an important part of the scaffolding of that value.

    Badge learning allows the teacher to identify the individual path they need to take to advance their learning/expertise, as well as a way to demonstrate (through badge metadata) their learning. Of course, badge learning needs to be followed up with the teacher demonstrating that they are using what they have learned in their classroom.

  4. Liz Ebersole says:

    I also love the idea of “ed camp” style PD.

  5. Liz Ebersole says:

    Listening to Kyle Pace speak about PLNs now… I’ve been a member of National Council for Teachers of English for 10 years and have gone to the Annual Conference every year. I am also on the Education Advisory Committee for the local Holocaust Center. Before Tamritz, these were my PLNs. During the Tamritz course, I learned how I could use social media to expand my PLN. I thought Twitter was akin to tabloids in terms of the type of information being shared. Now, Twitter is a place I go everyday to get great ideas from the people I follow. I also follow a number of blogs.

  6. Michael Weinraub says:

    Thanks for the really rich, accessible piece here Sarah. Off to check out your profile and Tamritz on Twitter. Onward!

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