Friday, May 24, 2013

5 ideas for maximizing free, online professional development

A few weeks ago I was sent this response to one of my posts about free, online professional development.

Jenny said
" I was wondering if you had any other tips/hints as to how to make professional development stuff easier that you could let me know about as I always seem to be so busy!"

I have had a think and here are 5 ideas for how you can maximise professional development opportunities that are available online...and of course, are free!

1. Identify what it is you want to know or learn, and make a plan (your own curriculum) about how you are going to meet that need
If you are very busy and have lots of demands on your time, you are likely to be a lot more efficient in your learning if you are focused in your searches for learning opportunities. We all know how much time we can waste when surfing the net with no particular focus. The other advantage about having a plan is that you can measure the outcomes more readily. This becomes very useful when you are asked to provide evidence about your learning, say, for example, for a professional registration/regulation process. In other words, you can not only show what you learned, but how you applied it to your practice/job/work/activity.

2. Be a self-directed learner
It goes without saying that there are times when you enroll in a formal education course, be it an evening class at your local college to a PhD program in a university. As a formally enrolled student, you have a curriculum to follow and to a large part, your learning and methods of engaging with content is restricted to how the lecturers/educators dictate the program.

As a self-directed learner, you can make up your own curriculum and engage with knowledge in what ever way suits you. This is when Facebook, Slideshare, YouTube, Wikipedia, Twitter etc all come into their own. These modes of content delivery are as valid as any more traditional modes of delivery such as text books, journal articles or lecture. I mean...have you checked out any of the TED talks yet on YouTube....they are an unbelievably rich source of learning, that would otherwise be unavailable to the majority of us.

If you are using any of these tools and resources for professional CPD, integrate them into your learning plan, keep a track of how many hours you use engaging with them, and record what your learning outcomes were.

3. Build a personal learning network
A personal learning network is a network of people (and resources), usually online, of people you follow and engage with to help you to learn. Typically, social media tools are used to develop and maintain this PLN. In this PLN you will get to know who are the best people to go to if you have a particular learning need or question. For example, if I want to know about how I can use social media in my current role of working with a non-profit, I go to Beth Kanter's blog. If I have a presentation to give, I go to Slideshare to get ideas from what other's have said and presented. Not only does the PLN support you in your knowledge-gathering, but it saves you time by allowing you to be focused...which takes us back to points 1 and 2.

4. Make the most of "free stuff"
It is amazing how many free learning opportunities are now available on the Internet. This ranges from virtual conferences and webinars, such as the Virtual International Day of the Midwife, to MOOCs and online education courses. You do have to put in a little time to hunt around for these opportunities, but your learning network will help to guide you in the right direction.

5. Be open to serendipity
The beauty of social media and personal learning networks is that there are lots of wonderful serendipitous opportunities for learning that crop up. This can be a tad challenging if you are time-poor, and want to remain focused on one particular topic. But if you can take some time to chill out and follow your nose to wherever Twitter...Facebook...YouTube...leads you, it's surprising and exciting where you end up.

What would you recommend as great online learning opportunities or resources? Do you know of any MOOCs or free online courses that you would suggest?

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