Professional Development for Educators
Professional development is an essential way for teachers to refine their strategies, methods, and understanding of their work. In order to provide educators with the tools that need, a market in professional development (also known simply as "PD") has developed around online and offline tools built for teacher training.
This list is a guide of the major and minor players in the PD field. Our analysis of each competitor shows PD 360 from School Improvement Network to have the most tools and training videos in the industry, and they are also one of the most inexpensive. Teachers can buy individual licenses to PD 360 for $ 125, but the most inexpensive method is to purchase a license for an entire school or district, which often drives the price well under $ 100 per license.
Each school and district must determine what their needs are and what is most effective. We hope to have been as open and objective as possible in the following analysis.
PD 360 – School Improvement Network
PD 360 has 1,500+ videos, training from 120 experts, 97 topics, a community of 700,000, new content added daily, and a year's complete access costs around $ 100 or less per teacher. The platform also integrates with an observation tool equipped with prescriptive technology, Common Core Standards training, and a unique product for Title I schools. PD 360's community is closed to the public.
Pros: You get the most bang for your buck. PD 360's entire platform costs less per teacher than one course from any of the competitors.
Cons: The platform is currently built in Flash.
Bottom line: School Improvement Network provides a true tour de force that is unstoppably effective and cost efficient.
EdWeb has a K12 Educator Store that sells eBooks and teacher aid materials, but it is not presented as a focused resource for teacher improvement. The store and its products are open and available to anyone, although the main product looks to be the online teacher community. The number of users is unpublished.
Pros: EdWeb sends out weekly emails to help subscribers stay up-to-date.
Cons: The community is open access, meaning that one does not have to be a teacher to participate in the forums. The user interface is very difficult to navigate and participation in the community is small.
Bottom line: EdWeb's site only provides forum capabilities-no professional development is connect to the community. EdWeb sends helpful emails, but the community is difficult to navigate.
Schoolnet focuses on improving education through data analysis and positions itself as "the leader in data-driven education for K-12 school systems." They have an open-access community, and their website seems to provide professional development solutions la carte. The number of experts, users, and community participants is unpublished. Pearson Education purchased Schoolnet in April 2011.
Pros: Pearson Education will likely be able to expand Schoolnet's resources.
Cons: The community is open access. Their products are not one comprehensive whole.
Bottom line: Schoolnet provides free resources on their website to assist educators as much as possible. They have connected tools to their community, and Pearson Education will probably be able to expand Schoolnet's resources.
Edutopia is backed by the George Lucas Educational Foundation. Edutopia provides 150 free videos that average four minutes each, a community of over 100,000 members, and other free resources for educational professional development. The community is open access, so the public can and does participate in the forums.
Pros: The free materials are high quality and the community has good participation.
Cons: The materials and resources are limited, the community is open to the public, and the community is relatively small.
Bottom line: Edutopia may be one of the best free resources available to teachers, but the resources are very limited.
SimpleK12 offers a community as the main professional development solution. The community does not have free registration as all other communities have in this competitive analysis; a registration fee of $ 297 per year will give a person access to the community. SimpleK12 claims to serve 500,000 worldwide and offer 500 hours of classroom technology how-to videos on the community.
Pros: If the community serves 500,000, then there could potentially be good participation.
Cons: There is no way to test the product without buying it, and it is quite expensive.
Bottom line: SimpleK12 is expensive and veiled.
Knowledge Delivery Systems
Knowledge Delivery Systems (KDS) has eClassroom, mVal, eWalk, and custom PD programs for some of its main products. KDS does not provide a community, but it does provide a way for educators who are following the same course to communicate with each other. The product eClassroom is the platform on which educators follow courses which they buy one at a time. The mVal product is an evaluation tool, and eWalk is a classroom walkthrough tool. KDS offers approximately 760 hours of training videos from 55 experts.
Pros: Educators have up to 760 hours of content from which to choose and evaluation tools that work effectively.
Cons: The observation and evaluation tools are not integrated with a professional development platform, KDS offers no community, and districts and teachers buy one course at a time.
Bottom line: KDS offers primarily specialty courses from which educators can gain college credit, but they are not meant to be a district-wide solution.
Teachescape offers courses that a school or district must buy one at a time. They offer 108 courses from 12 experts as of July 2011. Teachscape's tour de force is the 360-degree camera technology that they employ with their classroom observation platform.
Pros: Teachescape boasts a 360-degree camera for their observation technology.
Cons: Teachscape's professional development, much like many other companies in the industry, is only available one course at a time from only twelve experts. They also do not offer an online professional learning community.
Bottom line: Teachscape provides extensive training, and any training must be universally applied.
ASCD is a nonprofit organization that serves 160,000 educators in 148 countries with myriad products. ASCD offers several levels of membership, from a $ 25 student membership to a $ 219 premium membership (as of July 2011). ASCD offers several professional development solutions, including PD in Focus, a professional development platform with 90 hours of video and 49 experts. The community is theoretically open to all, but the group facilitator must approve each member.
Pros: ASCD has many resources at their disposal, meaning that users have the opportunity to access many resources in one place.
Cons: The resources are spread thin, and the actual PD training is minimal at only 90 hours, 55 hours, and a small community.
Bottom line: ASCD is affordable due to their membership breakdown. There are good resources, but those resources are spread thin.
PBS Teacherline provides 130 graduate-level courses for teachers. They have recently added Peer Connection, their own online community. The courses and trainings are available one at a time, and separate licenses are purchased for each user.
Pros: The number of graduate courses available is tempting for anyone looking to advance in school while in his or her career.
Cons: The community is not free, and educators must pay for each resource that they use rather than having an open library. The licenses make providing specific training to multiple educators a logical challenge.
Bottom line: PBS Teacherline is a good option if educators want to work toward a higher degree.
Annenberg Foundation has created Learner.org to provide free educational resources online. Learner.org has great resources for the average learner, but the site is not built for professional development on a district- or school-wide scale.
Pros: It's all quality, and it's all free.
Cons: Learner.org is not a viable resource for specific training as its PD content is limited.
Bottom line: Learner.org is the professional learner's dream, but it is not a source of training for classroom management or teaching techniques.
Staff Development for Educators
Staff Development for Educators (SDE) coordinates both traditional and online professional development. SDE does not provide a community on which to cooperate, and online courses are only available with individual licenses. Educators can choose any one of 54 courses to buy and follow online.
Pros: It is simple and straight-forward: each teacher buys a course and finishes it.
Cons: SDE does not provide a library, a community, or a true PD platform.
Bottom line: SDE started as a traditional PD company, and they have retained that model even in their online endeavors.
Please feel free to leave comments about aspects we may have missed, companies you have seen or used, and your honest-and respectful-opinion about what has worked for you.