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Curriculum & Leadership Journal
An electronic journal for leaders in education
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Global trends in professional learning and performance & development

Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership

The article is based on extracts from the report Global trends in professional learning and performance & development: Some implications and ideas for the Australian education system 2014, © Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership, used with permission.

What constitutes effective teaching, and how may teaching be made more effective? These two questions are the focus of a great deal of attention at all levels of the education community.

They are key questions for the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL), which recently commissioned the Innovation Unit in the UK to undertake a scan of innovative practices in professional learning and performance and development planning. Fifty organisations in ten countries were included in the scan. Schools, colleges and universities comprised around half of the data set, but the research also went elsewhere for ideas and inspiration: the remaining examples were drawn from amongst technology and design companies, arts and cultural organisations, the armed forces, and providers of public services. Five trends emerged.


The first trend is for professional learning to be integrated with the processes that organisations use for performance evaluation and training of staff. Professional learning is given expression through the development and deployment of new practice at work, while efforts to enhance performance and introduce new practices are assumed to require professional learning. In the fully integrated model, these two reciprocal processes are embedded within organisational culture and practice.

As part of this model, learning is rewarded via incentives. Incentives can range from simple but explicit recognition by peers and leaders through to benefits such as bonuses and pay increases – more tangible, but also controversial within the education context. Whatever form they take, incentives are embedded within the organisational culture.

This trend toward integration intersects with a move toward individual, personalised and self-directed learning, which is nevertheless situated within, and supported by, the employing organisation. In combination, these features suggest strong cultures where organisational and individual goals are closely aligned, and where the development of the individual is seen as essential for the health and wellbeing of the organisation.

In schools

What might this look like in schools? Professional learning is likely to become more closely integrated with the processes governing performance management. Professional learning is also likely to be more closely attuned to the personal developmental needs of individual staff members. Accomplishments in these related areas may have rewards attached to them, but these rewards could be team-based and subject to collaborative review.


Participants in professional learning are increasingly being taken out of their normal working environments and immersed in new ones. Immersion includes

  • Project-based learning, requiring participants to take on new roles and complete unusual tasks to solve problems
  • Simulations, either online or real-world
  • Externships, or extended opportunities to work in a completely different setting
  • 'Boot camps', characterised by intensive work with a tight focus, to make fast and radical changes to thinking and practice.

What these approaches share is an intention to change people. Fundamental values are offered up for scrutiny as the immersive environment acts to make explicit the tacit beliefs which underpin practice. It is this opportunity to 'get under the skin' of participants that gives the immersive approach its power.

In schools

Schools may offer teachers incentives to participate in project-based learning, either within a school or away from the school environment. Schools may work together to design tools and protocols for running boot camps, and perhaps host these events. Schools may negotiate and broker externships for their teachers: at other schools, in other sectors, perhaps in an environment suited to their subject specialism.

Design-led approaches

The processes that designers use to develop and test new products and services are now starting to be applied to the improvement of professional learning and to performance and development planning. At the heart of this approach is the involvement of users. For example, clinicians and medical students may learn by 'shadowing' a patient, or by 'buddying' with one, to help them understand the reality of living with a long-term health problem. In other contexts users may be invited to co-design products and services. The rise of vast data sets introduces the possibility that professionals in various occupations may explore this information via analytics as part of their self-directed learning.

In schools

In schools, both teachers and students may be involved the co-design and co-delivery of professional learning and of performance and development planning.


Commercial provision of professional learning and performance and development is nothing new. In the private sector, management consultancies and training providers have long been energetic and successful. Closer to home, universities and colleges have been providing higher degrees and vocational programs to all sectors for decades. There is now a burgeoning international market in spin-offs, social enterprises and freelancing teachers and school leaders offering products and services to schools, including support for professional learning and performance and development. Just as massive open online courses (MOOCs) are sending shockwaves through higher education, so too online platforms and resources are massively expanding choice and access to professional learning and performance and development for practitioners of all kinds.

The explosion in online provision is especially visible in the USA, but with so much of the material open source and available in translation it may be viewed as a global phenomenon.

In schools

A slightly different version of the market-led trend is the emergence of schools themselves as providers of professional learning and performance and development practices. In some places, for example in the English and US school systems, this has been stimulated by the rise of federations and chains: formal networks of schools, independent of government, who share funding and governance arrangements and present themselves with a clear brand identity. Here too technology is significant: it gives these chains the opportunity to codify and commoditise their professional learning and performance and development practice for online dissemination at scale, which enables entrepreneurial schools to make their practice widely available and to generate revenues as a result.

However, within the school education community there is concern that successes in the business context do not necessarily mean that market-led innovations are readily transferable to the school context. The market-led trend also raises questions about quality and about access.


Enabled by digital technologies and catalysed by social media, the open trend reconceptualises professional learning as a social movement. Ideas, resources and examples of practice are exchanged; solutions are crowd-sourced; and quality is assured through peer review and iteration.

Blogs and forums populated by online communities are the mainstay of this trend. Some are punctuated by face-to-face encounters such as maker fairs at which groups come together to work on a project together. Another example is the free training offered by the Khan Academy to some mathematics teachers who use Khan Academy videos in their teaching.

In schools

The open trend is not obviously amenable to regulation; indeed an anti-establishment sentiment and voluntarism are central to their appeal for many participants. However, attempts are being made to stimulate the growth and energy of communities like this in education, for instance through the Connected Educators Months organised by the Connected Educators initiative.

Educators wishing to make use of the open professional learning may seek to locate and observe online communities of teachers, host occasional face-to-face opportunities to develop promising ideas, or experiment with crowd-sourcing solutions to long-standing problems of policy or practice.


This scan offers insight into the processes successful and innovative organisations use to support professional growth. Educators will adopt some of these opportunities; the trend towards open professional learning, for instance, is probably unstoppable. Others, however, may only eventuate if schools or education systems make them happen, or create conditions where they seem possible. Any opportunities deemed desirable could be accelerated, and the horizon brought closer, with varying degrees of intervention.

Teachers and school leaders are progressively taking greater ownership of their professional growth, and schools and education systems are reviewing the development opportunities they offer. These findings encourage all educators, policy makers, system administrators and professional learning providers to go beyond what is currently known. They provide stimulus to consider new and different ways of engaging and supporting educators' growth, while retaining the best of current practice.



Subject Headings

Educational evaluation
Professional development
Teachers' employment