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Top 10 tips for taking control of your professional development

Knowledge is PowerKnowledge is power – but how do you plug into new ideas when budget-conscious organisations are flipping the switch on professional development (PD)?

The free webinar I delivered in May focused on the wealth of opportunities available online.

Based on the research, learning and development theories and my own experiences that went into that presentation, here are my top 10 high-quality professional development resources and tips to supercharge your practice – and your career.

1. Take charge

As organisations look at more effective ways of training staff, see this as an opportunity to take control of your destiny – and your PD.

It’s time to get self-organised, self-directed and self-managed. Dan Pink tells us “Control leads to compliance; autonomy leads to engagement,” by taking control of our professional development can lead to better engagement and application.

How are people doing it?

MOOCs are Massively Open Online Courses and some of the major educational institutes worldwide are offering them – most of them free, some charge a fee for a certificate. Keep in mind that unlike a qualification you don’t need to do all the coursework or even complete the course. You can drop in, take away what you want and move on. Here is a list of just some of the MOOCs out there (feel free to share your favourite providers in the comments section of this blog):

There are a range of places for free webinars (we have one every month), also check out:

2. Build resilience

In the past, the ability to manage change was seen as a critical skill. As change is a constant in our environments, researchers are now talking about the importance of being and building resilience.

There’s a story about a person walking through a forest when they lost their footing and slipped. As they started to fall, they grabbed a piece of bamboo. It nearly bent over and continued to support the person and stopped them from falling.

When you are falling and feel like you are at breaking point like you are going to snap. Be like the bamboo – Bend, don’t break. Endure the stress and find a way to bounce back. This is called resilience.

Resilience is the ability to adapt to change or setbacks. It doesn’t mean you don’t get stressed out by changes or difficulties, it means you can readily bounce back from them.

How do you develop resilience? Dr. Martin Seligman, called by many ‘the father of positive psychology’, has conducted research into why some people give up after a perceived failure and others don’t.

In an interview, Dr. Seligman says “We discovered that people don’t give up have a habit of interpreting setbacks as temporary, local, and changeable….” this has lead to looking into how optimists think.

Seligman’s model of how optimists think includes 5 “pillars” of well-being and resilience:

  • Positive emotion
  • Engagement
  • Relationships
  • Meaning
  • Accomplishment/achievement

Watch Martin Selgiman’s 2004 Ted Talk on what psychology can help use become more resilient.

3. Bring your tools and practice together

I often wonder… Why do tradespeople get such a long time to develop expertise in using the tools of their trades yet VET and L&D practitioners are expected to use whatever tools are provided to them AND know how to effectively apply them to their practice?

I have worked on a number of research projects that illustrate this. Practitioners will often feel comfortable using tools and technology in their lives, but lack to confidence to bring them into their practice. Or, in other words, just because someone feels confident using Facebook in their personal life, doesn’t mean they will be able to use Facebook in their learning and development/delivery and assessment.

If you are struggling with this, then seek out examples of the tools in action.

Consider the following:

  • Research case studies and then think of ways of adapting them to your practice.
  • Read conference synopses, even if you can’t attend the conference read about the tools and technologies others are using and think of ways that you can apply it to your work.
  • Follow bloggers and tweeps to find out what tools they are using and how they are using them.
  • Reach out to your networks. Do you belong to professional associations or groups. What are people doing out there?

4. Rethink your approach to PD


Often we set a long time aside for our PD like this… tomorrow I will spend the day to do/learn X.  Then the phone calls come, the emails flow in and/or the crises hit.

Instead of trying to find hours in a busy schedule, why not fit in PD in 15-20 minutes? Jane Hart tells us that

Modern learners also tend to make use of short, bite-sized, “snackable” pieces of content – both instructional and informational (that perhaps take 15-20 mins to consume) – as well as have brief interactions with others. They tend to avoid long, drawn out resources that take time to work through, and yet that is how most training/e-learning is designed – in the form of long training events or huge online courses that can sometimes take hours to work through.

What does your PD look like if you break it down like this? Perhaps it looks like spending 20 minutes during or after lunch to read a blog post. What about using that non-productive 15 minutes on a Friday afternoon researching a hashtag on Twitter or Yammer?

You could also allow yourself 30 minutes when you get to work  (before you turn on your email) to practice doing something you haven’t done before.

This leads us to another important point… Make it continuous.

Jane Hart suggests rather than approaching your PD as a one off consider it as a continuous process or flow of information, resources and conversations. This will build up over time to a large amount of knowledge and shared experience.

5. Waste time

Did you know in 2012, Worldwide, we spent 7 billion hours a week playing video games – 300 million minutes a day on Angry Birds alone! Often we think we have nothing to show for this ‘wasted time’ – nothing is further from the truth. Rather than re-wording Jane McGonical’s research, here is what she says about the subject.

Engaging in some activities we assume are nonproductive – as tiny exercises – may actually be a smart way to spend time, especially at work. These practices can make people more-resourceful problem solvers, more collaborative, and less likely to give up when the going gets tough. In other words, they can make people more resilient.

Physical resilience is crucial because it allows your heart, lungs, and brain to react efficiently to stressful situations. More and more, researchers agree that a sedentary lifestyle is the number one obstacle to becoming able to endure and bounce back. Their advice: Stand up and take at least a few steps away from your computer every hour.

Emotional resilience: To be less afraid of failure and more open to using different strategies, try to experience, on average, three positive emotions for every one negative emotion over the course of the day. Scientists call this the 3:1 ratio – and gazing at an adorable baby animal or making a satisfying hit in Angry Birds can raise your count.

Social resilience is about the relationships that help us find resources when we need them. Here, studies on the effects of gratitude and touch suggest developing habits that connect you to others. Send a thank-you note once a day by e-mail, chat, or text message. When you shake hands, hold that grip a little longer. If you do it for a full six seconds, the touch will boost oxytocin levels in your bloodstream and your colleague’s. (Elevated levels of it have been associated with trust.)

Greater resilience will make you more capable, and it will benefit your organization. Come up with a regimen – a game, even – to build yours every day.

So if you like spending a few minutes watching cat videos, that’s okay… just stand up while you do it and text someone afterwards!

6. Do your own learning needs analysis

Being aware of what your learning needs are is like selecting the best tool for a job. Why would you go to a conference if you don’t need to learn anything about it? When we are faced with a learning problem, look for the quick and easy solutions. You don’t need to take a course or a test to show you know it – ask your professional learning network (PLN).

Gottfredson and Mosher identify 5 moments of learning need that provides an overarching framework for understanding learning needs.

  1. When people are learning how to do something for the first time (New)
  2. When people are expanding the breadth and depth of what they have learned (More)
  3. When they need to act upon what they have learned, which includes planning what they will do, remembering what they may have forgotten, or adapting their performance to a unique situation (Apply)
  4. When problems arise, or things break or don’t work the way they were intended (Solve)
  5. When people need to learn a new way of doing something, which requires them to change skills that are deeply ingrained in their performance practices (Change).

Think about your PD in terms of what you might need to know and why you need to know it. Then seek out custom information to support you. The type of PD you need is dependent on your learning need.

7. Get social

I’ve already used the expression ‘professional learning network’ (PLN) in this post and I think Jane Hart puts it concisely.

Modern learners are highly social, and by that I don’t just mean they learn WITH (or alongside) others, but continuously FROM others in terms of the resources, ideas, experiences and thinking that have been shared. Traditional learning, on the other hand, is largely based on content, which has been authoritatively designed, developed and delivered by “experts”.

So start building your PLN in your organisation (Yammer) or outside your organisation (Twitter). Explore hashtags used to organize content such as #lrnchat and #educhat, find out and follow conference hashtags (and of course #klevar). When you find an interesting conference, connect with presenters on LinkedIn – even if you don’t attend a conference, you can still keep up with what is going on.

8. Be inspired by others

We are all inspired by different things, so find the things that inspire you! Klevar community members shared the following sites and resources as being inspirational to them:

9. Get uncomfortable / Just do it

Our PD is a form of learning, so let’s go to some learning theory. Peter Jarvis talks about the importance of dissonance in the learning process

Experience begins with disjuncture (the gap between our biography and our perception of our experience) or a sense of not-knowing, but in the first instance experience is a matter of the body receiving sensations, e.g. sound, sight, smell and so on, which appear to have no meaning. Thereafter, we transform these sensations into the language of our brains and minds and learn to make them meaningful to ourselves – this is the first stage in human learning.

This is about being uncomfortable.

If you are doing your PD in short sharp bites, then you have only lost 15-20 mins if it doesn’t work…. so (as Nike tell us), just do it.

If you like, start with something unrelated to work. The Ted video Try something new for 30 days sums it up nicely and, at 3 minutes, will fit well within your 15-20 minute PD break…

10. Make time to reflect

Finally, reflection provides an opportunity to see where we have been and where we want to go. Dr. Stephen Brookfield talks about the critically reflective practitioner, who spends time looking at their underlying assumptions of practice and then reflecting on these assumptions in the light of an experience.  Often we have experiences and don’t take the time to reflect – it’s important so block out the time to do it.

So there is my (first) top 10 list of tips and resources to help you supercharge your Professional Development.

Each month, we provide a free webinar – subscribe to our newsletter to find out what’s coming up next month.

Have anything to add in terms of tips or resources or feedback on this article? Please leave a comment on this post.

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