Why the distinction between “professional learning” and “professional development” is important

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Professional development in schools refers to the processes used in promoting professional learning and the context and other resources that support it .

Professional learning refers to the outcomes – what is learned, how deeply it is learned, and how well it is applied in classrooms. It is about changes in what teachers and leaders think, say, and do on a consistent basis.

Discussing professional development without discussing professional learning goals and outcomes is like talking about teaching separate from student learning.

Put another way, professional development is to professional learning as teaching is to student learning.

Just as ineffective teaching strategies produce little student learning, ineffective professional development produces little professional learning.

And just as ineffective teachers say, “I taught it, but they didn’t learn it,” ineffective planners of professional development say, “I developed them, but they didn’t learn it.”

Unless teachers and leaders professional development is sufficiently robust to improve professional learning — that is, to change what educators think, say, and do — student learning won’t improve.

I’ll have more to say about that tomorrow.

8 Responses to “Why the distinction between “professional learning” and “professional development” is important”


  1. 1 Naomi Norman May 7, 2013 at 7:21 am

    What an important distinction! And it couldn’t have been more timely.

  2. 2 Wanda Dean May 7, 2013 at 9:00 am

    Very important. You have given me something else to think about.

  3. 3 Jane Kise (@JaneKise) May 7, 2013 at 11:08 am

    This is really helpful–I plan to use the distinction as I work with school leaders to set clear targets for our time together.

    • 4 Dennis Sparks May 7, 2013 at 11:45 am

      My thanks to Naomi, Wanda, and Jane… I really appreciate knowing which posts are most valuable to readers.

  4. 5 DR May 7, 2013 at 9:50 pm

    I remember you writing about this “difference” several years ago….can’t wait for you next post!! How does this align with the the PL standards?

    • 6 Dennis Sparks May 7, 2013 at 10:00 pm

      This distinction is in tune with Learning Forward’s PL standards, Dayna. At least that’s how it seems to me.

  5. 7 Joellen Killion May 8, 2013 at 10:33 pm

    The conversation about the distinction between development and learning began with Dennis’s deep commitment to professional learning that moved people to think, speak, and act in new ways. He has and will continue to be the source of that level of learning for me.

    • 8 Dennis Sparks May 9, 2013 at 5:56 am

      Thank you, Joellen, for the very kind words. You have been and continue to be my teacher as well.


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