We are here for you in these difficult times. Check out our latest SOLVE COVID-19 Resources Here

Every Learner Everywhere
Achieving the Dream

Models for Effective Faculty Development While Implementing Adaptive Learning

To successfully launch and sustain a new adaptive courseware initiative, institutions need to make time and space for their faculty to learn skills needed in this particular teaching format. That means creating an effective structure for professional development.

Dr. Ruanda Garth-McCullough, Associate Director of Teaching and Learning at Achieving the Dream, works with colleges to build those structures, including providing technical assistance to Every Learner Everywhere’s pilot project.

If an implementation plan doesn’t account for how faculty will learn a new technology, the project won’t have the desired impact, says Garth-McCullough. “If you look at the faculty work week and their responsibilities, there’s often no time or support for professional development,” she explains.

“Without a strong support system, faculty may try the new courseware, struggle through it, then leave it on the shelf,” she says. “But even more important than the tool is this opportunity to support effective instruction.”

Garth-McCullough says effective support systems have these essential characteristics:

  • It’s team based. Everyone works together to share strategies, troubleshoot issues, and brainstorm ideas.
  • It’s “just-in-time”learning. Faculty can get training when they implement it in their courses, rather than being expected to just take big chunks of time before the semester starts.
  • It’s contextualized. The training is highly relevant to the unique needs of the institution, its faculty, and the student body it serves.
  • It’s non-threatening. Faculty feel comfortable enough to be open and vulnerable about their teaching practice.

To nurture those characteristics, Garth-McCullough recommends three basic models for effective faculty professional development that institutions can organize around.

1. Expert faculty model

One model is to identify “rock star” expert faculty members who are already using a courseware product, and establish them as a resource to help peers.

At one community college Garth-McCullough’s team worked with, a faculty member in the statistics department had been using adaptive courseware for years. (In a previous article, she called this the “random act of adaptive” that she frequently finds already in place on most campuses.) That faculty member became the main resource for her peers, developing training modules on how to teach the course and track its effectiveness.

The expert faculty model can be very effective for a department-wide implementation, but it can be difficult to scale throughout the institution, Garth-McCullough notes. “You’re not going to have that faculty member in every course that you want to work with,” she says. “But it is a way to start.”

Learn more: 7 Ways Faculty Use Adaptive Learning: Lessons from a Pilot of 40 Gateway Courses

2. Centralized faculty development

Another model is to support the adaptive learning implementation with a centralized development team of instructional designers and technologists

This was a very impactful approach for one college Garth-McCullough’s team worked with, which has multiple campuses that all operate distinctly. Instructional designers from each campus’s Center for Teaching and Learning met together to vet adaptive courseware vendors. They immersed themselves in the functionalities of the software, then guided their respective faculties through selecting the courseware, onboarding students, and aligning it to their courses.

“The team of faculty developers, instructional designers, and technologists was one step ahead of the faculty,” says Garth-McCullough. “They could address their questions and help them find ways to do what they wanted to do.”

This approach is effective for a campus-wide or system-wide implementation. Instructional designers can be assigned to different academic disciplines, making it easier to troubleshoot problems that may come up in a writing-intensive course compared to a lab course.

3. Faculty learning community

The third model is to develop a faculty learning community where faculty can gain insight, advice, and inspiration from peers. Faculty can either work across departments, or work in their disciplines, and then come together regularly to share ideas.

When faculty have a place to go talk about their struggles and get suggestions from peers, says Garth-McCullough, institutions have more success in retaining use of the courseware.

A faculty learning community also helps create an environment that supports just-in-time learning that’s contextualized to the specific problems a faculty member is coming up against. This gives it an advantage over outside training models.

“When you’re learning something new,” says Garth-McCullough, “you don’t have the time and space to listen to someone from another college that has totally different types of students, different requirements, and a different teaching load.”

A good support structure supports faculty and students

“To me, it always comes back to the student experience,” says Garth-McCullough. “You can throw different educational technologies at faculty, but if they’re not supported in learning, it will probably cause students a lot of frustration.”

In the end, a successful adaptive learning implementation is one that supports student learning, and building a good faculty support system is just one step toward making that happen.


Get started with our faculty professional development kit.