21st Century PD: Its time to catch up! 8 ideas for engaging adults

I smiled to myself as I considered the irony of the conference presenter decrying the ‘sage on the sage’ as she herself was the ‘sage  on the stage’. Isn’t it time that the educational community addressed the context and delivery of professional learning? Our challenge is to be able to blend expert knowledge and experience within a 21stC learning context – putting the needs of the learner first. There is, of course, merit in the face to face professional learning environment, especially the cross-pollination of ideas that can occur.

In the past week or so I have found myself participating in professional learning, where the content focused on the context of the 21st Century learner, while elements of the delivery to adult learners was structured in the 20th Century paradigm:

  • Two day conference on technology in education where presenters talked to the audience – where there was very little interactivity, that is except for the viral Twitter hashtag that found its way to the surface. Sadly there was no wifi available, so only those with their own internet connection could participate. The two days were primarily held in one large lecture  theatre.
  • One day workshop with educational evangelist, Ian Jukes. This was held in a lecture theatre with fixed seating for about 200 where it was difficult to foster conversation and sharing of ideas. Ian is a sensational presenter with excellent content and delivery. He did his best to generate interactivity and connection in these conditions, which he acknowledged were  less than ideal. It was a fantastic day nevertheless.
  • A workshop session in a conference, where I presented – Transforming a school’s learning culture: A case study of change management. The main auditorium of about 200 where the keynote addresses were held was divided into three workshop spaces. In this smaller space I presented what I felt was a compelling argument for change. Taking my lead from Ian Juke’s workshop I provided the content and input in a variety of modes and gave opportunities for conversation. But the room was small, with about 50 people packed in, it was hot, the technology set up didn’t allow a free flow of the presentation. I appreciated the people for staying with me for the hour.

At SCIL we seek to provide PD that is consistent with our values, the way we structure learning for students is modelled in the professional learning context. We include multi-model delivery, movement and activity, collaboration and sharing ideas. In my workshop presentation this week, I commented on the irony of the topic (transforming learning), while facing people sitting in rows. At the conclusion, one participant asked me what I would do with the workshop space. Here are a few ideas:

  1.  Do all you can to provide access to wifi for all participants and encourage people to bring their devices
  2. Nominate a Twitter hashtag is a great way to engage a variety of people in a conference. This facilitates sharing ideas, reinforcing key points and connecting people. Use something like twitterfall.com to show the flow of ideas.
  3. Room set up ideas: At the least – have single chairs and the space to move them around, or have 3-5 people around small tables, and/or provide a variety of furniture options – such as sofas, tables and chairs, floor space
  4. Technology – no ‘death by PowerPoint’. Provide great visuals, videos that are memorable, rather than text overload.
  5. Program – the expert content is necessary, which is why you have invited the speaker, but balance it with interaction and dialogue. Deliberately build this into the program.
  6. Delivery – use the presentation technology as a stimulus to inspire and communicate the core message. Put the detailed information in a resource that can be handed out at the end. Be excited and passionate about the content
  7. Movement – where possible, get people moving, such as change location, form new groups
  8. Presenter – Be dynamic, passionate and inspiring. You are competing with numerous other means of input – so its up to you to capture their hearts and minds

The challenge is to provide expert content and participant input. We are currently working with Charles Leadbeater as we prepare the seminar . These are the sorts of conversations we are having in the lead up to the event on 14 June (http://charlesleadbeater.eventbrite.com/) . In addition, the CEFPI conference in Sydney on  15-17 June is also structuring the conference to be consistent with 21st Century learning and are incorporating some great innovative ideas.

For those of us who plan professional learning opportunities, let’s ensure that we model the approaches that we are advocating  for our students.

Can you add to the list? I would love to hear your thoughts.
Tweet me your ideas @AnneKnock

Thanks Maria, you are absolutely right…

Maria’s comment: My dream is for Conference spaces that are actually light and airy. Rooms that have windows that let in natural light and can even be opened in the event that you want air. Windows you can look out of. Most conference spaces are drab and dark with hopeless temperature control and do nothing at all to inspire creativity and innovation.

Su tweeted: allow for participants to submit inquiry based questions before & during seminar. Explore answers in groups

Join the Conversation


  1. My dream is for Conference spaces that are actually light and airy. Rooms that have windows that let in natural light and can even be opened in the event that you want air. Windows you can look out of. Most conference spaces are drab and dark with hopeless temperature control and do nothing at all to inspire creativity and innovation.


  2. Breaks please! I have attended several conferences hosted by computer companies where I was expected to sit for three hours without a break.

    Make the learning meaningful. Depending on the information, learners generally need a few moments to talk about it and write down ideas molding the information into their own situation. I love it when I am able to have a few moments to write, reflect or share an idea with my neighbor. It would be great if more presenters would keep this in mind.

    I am happy to see you have brought this subject up. Attending several educational conferences per year, I generally feel I could offer tips for most presenters to make things better. When I do see someone fantastic, they really stand out.


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