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The hurrahs and harrumphs of remote professional learning delivery

On many occasions I’ve heard from practitioners that everything would be so much easier if organisations just delivered all their professional learning remotely. That way new learning could be accessed at a time and place that was chosen by the participant. So, the move to our current 'new normal' seemed like their wishes would finally be granted. All would be well. All would be smooth. Everyone would be happy. Mmmmmmm.

What happened next for me was a very steep learning curve, one that I had probably partially avoided in the past few years and more commonly termed – I.T. avoidant. Preferring paper and pen (colour coordinated, obviously) to keep track of appointments, meeting minutes and the recording of my own professional learning, it now meant that I had no choice but to embrace modern technology and software with vigour and enthusiasm. Not a problem, I thought, as there was a variety of platforms available and surely, I would have time to play around with them to familiarise myself in the peace and quiet of home working. Mmmmmmm.

As I set up a space at home that had everything I needed - laptop, mobile phone, WIFI connection, notes for presenting - I felt I was ready to begin.  What I hadn’t anticipated during the preparation for my first session was the impact of the wider world on my little bubble space that I had organised. Firstly, it was incredible at first how the rest of my household seemed to take the door closed on my space as an invitation to enter and ask random domestic questions – questions like what do you want for lunch? Wait a minute, it’s only 10.30am. Or have the dogs been fed? Well, they’re licking their lips so I would take that as a yes. It took time to establish that when the door was shut, it didn’t mean I was in the huff but actually needed quiet and space to keep my thoughts focused on what participants were asking me and what they were feeding back.

The second revelation for me was that not everyone’s technology experience was the same, what software worked on somebody’s device did not necessarily work on another, and they all looked to me to help them solve their connections issues. I was, after all, the one who had organised the PL session. However, they needed answers whilst I was delivering the session at the same time and also having minimal experience myself. Didn’t they know me? Didn’t they know I liked paper and pens? What became clear, however, was that when educators are determined to make things work – they jolly well do. Combinations of media being used, sharing of ideas in a solution-focused way by phone, text, and email, meant that no sessions were a disaster and what started as a tutor and participant relationship soon became one of solidarity and community. A feeling that we were all in it together, learning from each other in so many different ways about so many different things.

What have I realised? Keep it simple. Remote delivery of professional learning of course brings its own challenge of technology and environment but actually the key fundamentals haven’t changed from when we were all in a room or hall Creating that sense of a community of learning is key. Less tutor delivery and more participant discussion and sharing – time and space for reflection and evaluation we all know is when the light bulb moment happens, as an adult or child, and online is no different. Content needs to be clear, unambiguous and research led – credibility as a leader of learning comes from knowing your stuff regardless of location of delivery. Preparation of the session is still necessary; it just means something different now – no longer am I checking to see if the hall has the appropriate IT and enough tables and chairs. Instead I now check my own IT and that the family and dogs know I’m going to be busy for the next while.

What have I loved? I am still meeting up with enthusiastic and dedicated educators on a regular basis, albeit virtually, and discussing learning. Learning for themselves but, always at the heart, learning for their young people. I am in awe of how dedicated our professionals are to get it right for their learners during this uncertain time and love hearing about all the different ways they have engaged them in new ways. I have learned so much from them. Of course, I have also loved getting an insight into who people are from the different rooms they have connected from, whether a very organised study to a more relaxed fairy-light lit bedroom – I can only guess what they have thought of me from the mixture of baby pictures and Star Wars artwork in my background.

What have I learned about delivering PL remotely? All has been well although not always smooth but together we are making it work. My steep learning curve with IT can sometimes still seem steep but when I look at how far I have come and how I now know where/who to go to for support it doesn’t seem so scary and I am proud of what I am now able to do. A community of learning takes many forms whether virtual or in person because what is central is the purpose of what we are trying to achieve and learn together. And finally, always remember to shut dogs out of the room - just in case the postman arrives whilst you are speaking and utter bedlam then ensues.

Alison Dakers is a Professional Learning Development Officer with Fife Education and Children’s Services Directorate.