Faculty professional development into the next decade


While information doubled every 12 months in 1982, it is doubling every 12 hours today. The burden of what some call “liquid learning,” the need for continual learning, is felt by professors and increasing. The professional development market is predicted to grow by $3.75 billion between 2021 and 2026.

The myriad of ed tech unleashed during and after the pandemic is the most significant factor behind this incredible growth. Those of us who have been educating before and after 2020 have noticed the difference. The pressure to teach well with technology in the past few years has left its mark as we scrambled to learn engagement techniques for Zoom lectures and a hundred other tips and tricks. What should faculty know about professional development in the future?

Editor’s note: The Instructional Technology Council continues its series of articles focusing on the anticipated impact of distance learning over the next 10 years.

The challenges

As many observed in the pandemic, professional development for faculty is too often about reacting. Perhaps the most powerful example of this is ChatGPT. Instructors are wondering how to upskill to match the warp speed of ChatGPT’s classroom impact while the Covid funds that fueled professional development in the past few years and enrollment are simultaneously slowing down.

The reaction is fierce and frustrating. Immediate needs in the world of professional development track with the needs of the student population: increased online instruction, stackable credentials, DEI training, workplace readiness skills and active learning. What the students need, the instructors need to master to meet the need. This will never change as it speaks to the teacher/student dynamic.

However, the speed of learning and speed of these needs as we approach Web3 has created a vulnerability in the teaching community. Instructors are finding it difficult to do anything except react in their professional development choices.

Breaking the norm

Pressing student needs often detract from time to consider the future, and community college culture itself can clash with the need for balanced, meaningful workplace experiences. Community college faculty members are unique educational creatures- hard-working, compassionate and practical. We do what we need to do to help our students, colleagues and communities.

There is an aspect of professional development that feels almost selfish to us, if we are being honest. To attend a conference to develop “our classes” and share “our successes” may feel like too many bites of flourless chocolate cake. It may feel indulgent. Taking time, even a few days, to meet our peers face-to-face may be difficult even if we understand its inherent benefits.

CC faculty have a hard time quieting the voice that says, “you have so much work you could be doing.” It can be uncomfortable to shift from reacting to anything else because we have been doing it for so long.

A proactive mindset

The greatest challenge faculty will face in the next decade will be shifting from a reactive mindset to a proactive one. A proactive mindset gives permission to be whole, to learn at a comfortable pace, and to find purpose in our work. As instruction becomes more fast-paced and complex, instructors must find ways to look past immediate problems toward meaningful, thoughtful career goals that will ensure their survival and resiliency. 

According to a report by ICONIQ Growth on the Future of Work, professional development is a key element in how work will change for all of us moving ahead.

“HR teams (and managers of all teams) will need to practice imagination to redefine what professional development and performance management look like given highly personalized career goals and a desire across the workforce for more balance and meaning,” the report said.

As funding tightens, faculty will be looking to their department chairs, deans and provosts. Will they find champions and advocates who support holistic development and budget for their growth? In his article, “10 Trends to Watch in Distance Education,” Fred Lokken observed the need for campuses to commit to a culture of lifelong learning noting, “Campus leadership must embrace these changes and provide prioritization of resources needed to transform the way we teach and learn,” because, as he says, “…our relevance and survival depends on it.”

Those leaders who learn to do less with more, innovate and keep encouraging faculty to develop will find loyal and enthusiastic employees ready for anything.  

Towards a new approach

Because of the propensity of community college faculty to adopt a reactive versus a proactive mindset when selecting professional development (PD) experiences, it is helpful to consider what this approach may look like.

A proactive PD approach may look like:

  • Starting an inter-departmental conversation on Teams/Slack that allows the open sharing of PD opportunities and ideas.
  • Talking through PD choices with a respected colleague. Which best aligns with long-term goals and former achievements?
  • Tracking PD achievements on a log or a private, digital bulletin board like Padlet or Wakelet to promote the curation and collection of growth points. Record the key takeaways and how specific instruction was impacted.
  • Creating the PD that is needed when it can’t be found. Consider starting a micro-conference, workshop or short on-campus “retreat” centered on the research or topic that is sought.
  • Self-advocating for PD funding. If there is some form of PD that will increase performance, employees must practice assertiveness in asking for what is needed.
  • Mindfulness practices to increase well-being. Perhaps a sabbatical, silent retreat or scheduled time each week for reflection would prove an invaluable PD investment in yourself.

Fred Rogers, arguably one of the most innovative virtual educators, said, “You rarely have time for everything you want in life, so you need to make choices. And hopefully your choices can come from a deep sense of who you are.”

Future-forward educators who wish to thrive in the next decade must focus professional development choices on specific career goals, choosing them with authenticity and giving self-permission at times to enjoy the flourless cake.

About the Author

Brittany Hochstaetter
Brittany Hochstaetter is a professor of communication at Wake Tech Community College in Raleigh, North Carolina. She serves on the board of directors of the Instructional Technology Council.