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Innovative Approaches to Professional Learning

Kay Meredith, Managing Director of Learning Design & Development at Start Early, shares her perspective on the current state of professional development in early childhood.

Kay Meredith February 21, 2024
  • Professional Development
  • Blog

Focusing on the Needs of Early Childhood Professionals

The word “innovation” can be perceived as a buzz word. We see it everywhere – in job descriptions, in resumes, organizational websites, etc. and people almost instinctively pay attention to it. And rightfully so… it’s desirable to think of new ways of doing something, especially if it saves time, human effort, and money.

And yet, I often wonder if designing relevant and engaging professional learning for today’s early childhood educators is a matter of innovation, or rather a matter of focusing on the learner and what matters most to them.

The field of adult learning has provided some principles about how adults learn…and there have been research studies to confirm these. I like to think of these as conditions that we can create to center the needs of adult learners. Here’s a few of them:

  • Give learners choice
  • Respect learners and meet them where they are
  • Show, don’t tell them
  • Let learners practice
  • Make it relevant

These conditions that support adult learning help us shift our focus from what we want (learning designers, subject matter experts, etc.), to what learners need. In my work at Start Early, we’re focusing on learner needs through centering equity using inclusive facilitation and offering microlearning.

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Educators’ time seems to be shrinking by the year as the needs of children and families grow. Microlearning is a flexible strategy that supports ongoing, meaningful professional learning while lessening time requirements for learners.

This year, Start Early launched microlearning modules for its evidence-based framework – The Start Early Essentials. We designed six accessible, introductory microlearning modules to create a critical knowledge base for teams in under 15 minutes per module. It’s called The Essential Microlearnings.

  • Accessible: the language is straightforward, they feature interactive components, and the design follows best practices for adult learning.
  • Practical: first, learners acquire a basic understanding of each Essential, then they explore real-world examples of it in action, and by the end of the module they start building an action plan to improve their own practice.
  • Flexible: they provide a useful knowledge base on their own and they pair well with live trainer sessions, communities of practice, and coaching for comprehensive year-round professional learning.

Centering Equity

I’ve been part of many discussions this year about the poor state of black maternal health in the U.S. These discussions about interpersonal biases and differential treatment of people based on race, and how they contribute to poor maternal and infant health, underscore the importance and urgency of our collective work to design, develop, and deliver professional learning through the lens of equity.

One of the predominant ways we’re doing this is through inclusive facilitation. We’re shifting away from the expertise of the trainer and towards the lived experience of the learner/professional.

We’re also making a concerted effort to elevate parent and caregiver voice through stories that build learner empathy and are introducing counternarratives to interrupt learner implicit bias.

We know we can’t solve every problem in early childhood through professional learning, but I’m hopeful that we can create professional learning that early childhood educators find engaging, relevant, and inclusive, and challenges them to show up in meaningful ways to the communities they serve.

About the Author

Kay Meredith Headshot

Kay Meredith

Managing Director of Learning Design and Development

Kay Meredith is a leader in adult learning and leadership development, with extensive experience in the creation of engaging, blended learning experiences. At Start Early, Kay is the Managing Director of Learning Design and Development, where she partners across the organization to create and deliver high-quality professional learning that center the diverse needs of professionals in early childhood education across the US.

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