Opportunity, Risks for PD Providers Revealed in Teacher Survey Data

Teachers want personalized PD backed by research, and the cost of programs matters

Teachers are generally unsatisfied with the professional development they receive, a nationwide survey of educators shows, a level of frustration that creates both an opportunity for providers and a threat to existing business. The 2015 survey of 856 teachers nationwide has big implications for vendors …

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Teachers are generally unsatisfied with the professional development they receive, a nationwide survey of educators shows, a level of frustration that creates both an opportunity for providers and a threat to existing business.

Whether teachers are participating in workshops, taking online courses, or attending in-service PD sessions, most are disappointed in the offerings, the 2015 survey of 856 teachers nationwide found.

There are big implications for vendors in the results, said Peter Grunwald,  the founder and president of the research and consulting company Grunwald Associates, which did the survey. (See a visual breakdown of the findings, below.)

The results are part of a larger market research report from Grunwald Associates on teacher PD and micro-credentialing.

“There’s a real opportunity to provide more effective and compelling professional development,” Grunwald said. “For the providers in the traditional space, however, the data seems to indicate clearly an absence of satisfaction that at some point is going to have an impact on purchase decisions by districts.”

Overwhelmingly, most teachers still take part in the traditional in-service professional development provided by school districts, the survey revealed. But those opportunities are often geared toward a large number of teachers, and, by design must appeal to a general audience.

Teachers more often want targeted training, Grunwald said. His point is bolstered by the fact that though 84 percent of respondents said they attended in-service days in the previous year, only 20 percent said they were satisfied with it.

Making PD Personal

Just as teachers want personalized learning in the classroom, they also crave personalized professional development.

Seventy-one percent of teachers surveyed said PD tailored to their professional needs was very important. But that approach is hard to pull off when vendors are trying to address a large group of teachers in the same program at the same time, Grunwald said.

Other methods of delivery are gaining in popularity, including webinars, online offerings, and small-chunk, just-in-time support and training. Teachers ranked easy access, low cost, limited time commitment, and self-pacing as important factors in their choice of professional development.

Teachers also want professional development that has science behind it: 63 percent surveyed said PD grounded in education research is a high priority. That means teachers want to know that the efforts they’re making to improve or change their instructional practice will have an impact in the classroom, Grunwald said.

But professional development providers must also make sure they’re presenting a PD program using methods that have been found effective, he said. The style, delivery system, and presentation must all be considered. That may require PD providers to move beyond traditional “sit-and-get” strategies and adopt newer approaches, including small-group learning, online learning communities, and a mix of established and emerging strategies, Grunwald said.

Vendors need to “make sure the content, the way the content is delivered, and the way the learning takes place on both sides are grounded in educational research,” he said.


Rightly or wrongly, price is consistently a leading factor in how districts and teachers choose their professional development, Grunwald said. Fifty-eight percent of teachers surveyed said low cost was of key importance when choosing training, indicating that at least in some instances, teachers are paying for PD themselves, he said.

Price remains a concern for districts as well, Grunwald said. That means vendors may be asked to justify their charges to district officials, and explain the benefits of what they’re offering, and why the least-expensive option may not always achieve the district’s educational goals.

If PD providers have research showing the effect of their training, that can help make their case, Grunwald said.

Other key elements in the criteria teachers and districts use to choose PD include recommendations from peers and the reputation of a company in the education community, Grunwald’s research found.

Forty percent of teachers surveyed said getting PD from a well-respected institution was a significant factor in choosing training; 39 percent said PD that was widely recognized within the profession as high-quality was important.

“A lot of this is done through word of mouth,” Grunwald said. “Peers in the education community who are influencers play a very important role.”

Online, Self-Paced Options Popular

Though the gap between participation in PD and satisfaction with it remains fairly wide, it’s not as pronounced when it comes to the newer delivery systems for professional development, Grunwald said.

Online courses, webinars, and self-paced participation had proportionally more satisfaction among teachers in the survey, he said. These are also often the types of offerings that aren’t required, but that teachers seek out on their own.

“When teachers get to select the PD activities they’re participating in voluntarily, by definition they’re more targeted to the individual,” Grunwald said. “Teachers’ needs, interests, and learning styles are a factor more than is often the case with required professional development services.”

A blended delivery seems to resonate better with teachers, particularly if it’s personalized to meet teachers’ specific classroom needs, he said.

Just-in-time professional development, micro-credentialing — which allows educators to get credit for adding specific skills to their repertoire throughout their career —  and highly focused skill training are all part of that menu.

But vendors also need to be aware that just because PD has a technological component or is offered online, teachers won’t necessarily be satisfied with it.

“There’s room for improvement,” Grunwald said. Providers need to know that “it isn’t magic just because it’s delivered electronically.”