My Professional Learning Journey

January 30th, 2019 | Blogs

The concept of professional learning intrigues me. As I’ve been reading the research and evidence base for its use in education, what I’ve come to realize is that it’s been a rewarding part of my career although it’s new to adult education. As I’ve reflected on what impacted my growth as an adult educator and project manager, I realized that it was not the professional development and training I received, but rather the creative work and problem solving of professional learning instead.

Professional development, which happens to practitioners, tends to be workshops, seminars, and conference sessions. Professional learning invites practitioners to take ownership of their learning, using a more reflective, collaborative, and inquiry-based approach.

My professional learning was rewarding because it:

  • Had relevancy to my situation/context
  • Was research-based with practical application
  • Allowed for practitioner agency/ownership
  • Solved a problem or enhanced a project
  • Added value to professional development activities
  • Was program-based while being informed by outside experts and communities of practice

As a teacher and local program administrator, I realized that we needed to improve student retention. Some research and practitioner inquiry projects led us to institute a formal orientation process and consistent follow-up procedures as well as an emphasis on student goal-setting and progress reviews. We were able to tackle the problem and make improvements, noting that students who attended the same orientation session also began supporting each other.

Seminal to my work as a trainer, professional developer, and instructional designer were seminars and workshops led by Jane Vella and her colleagues at Global Learning Partners. What was different is that the skills, knowledge, and attitudes I gained were applied to the development of training guides and facilitator manuals, online courses, and presentations and workshops I led (even those designed by others).  I still start the planning for workshops and facilitation of meetings with the “7 Steps of Planning” as those steps really help me to focus on the target audience and the situation/context before tackling objectives and the tasks.

Over the 38 years that I have worked in the adult education and literacy field, part of the work centered on special projects, research dissemination, and national leadership activities. As you can imagine, these projects meant publishing handbooks and reports as well as spending time in various activities to learn about the topic. We also learned collaboratively and collegially from the areas where work was new to the field. Now that I think back on moving from addressing adult competencies in teaching to meeting indicators of program quality and accreditation standards to managing a national workplace literacy grant to launching online professional development, it’s mind-boggling that most of the “new” was really professional learning!

How have you benefited from professional learning? As you can see most of mine has been nontraditional and morphed from what I needed to figure out to generate a product or solve a problem.

Written by Kaye Beall, Director of the LINCS Professional Development Center

Mattson, K. (2014, July 19). Professional development vs. professional learning. Blog posting retrieved December 31, 2018, from

Scherff, L. (2018, January 4). Distinguishing professional learning from professional development. Blog posting retrieved December 13, 2018, from

Vella, J. K. (1989). Learning to teach: Training of trainers for community development. Washington, DC: OEF International.

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