Differentiating professional development for your staff

Sam Di Sano

Teacher and School Enablement Leader at Atomi


min read

Defining the optimal sources of PD for your staff has historically fallen into three categories with at least three different labels: (1) 70% job-related, (2) 20% networking, and (3) 10% formal opportunities. While for some organisations this approach worked well and doubtless still does, it did not take long for the percentages to be the focus of much dispute and debate, with some arguing that their approach was best represented by a 50:30:20 or 50:25:25 approach rather than 70:20:10. It was also true that for some smaller organisations networking did not necessarily work well, hence the ratio concept was changed to an acronym: ‘OSF’ representing on-the-job, social and formal training. This dispelled any arguments over locked-in percentages, which originally referred to managerial targets, not necessarily relevant to their shop floor employees. It was also true that increasingly available internet and technology-based or online options rendered the 70:20:10 approach dated.

The need for a refreshed approach is plain.

Experience, exposure and education

The diagram outlines a clearer approach, again based on the three similar inclusions: experience (job-related), exposure (networking) and education (formal). Irrespective of labels, the greatest value in considering this delineation is the creation of a general guideline for maximising the effectiveness of your professional development offerings.

exposure and education drop shadow graphic

There are of course some interesting contextual factors which also influence choices for professional development opportunities, such as the organisation or school’s history, size, or philosophy, as well as the collective and individual experience of the staff.

Combining the three elements provides diversity and balance for staff:

  1. Hands-on experience has always been considered the most beneficial because it enables staff to discover and refine their job-related skills like decision making, dealing with challenges, learning from mistakes, or receiving feedback in situ.
  2. Learning from others through networking is a powerful method, encouraging coaching scenarios, mentoring, collaborative or other peer interactions. The more diverse 21st-century workplace now adds greater depth to this element of learning.
  3. Formal learning through third-party external agencies and coursework instruction is still a valuable, albeit less used, method of training generally optimising both on the job and social opportunities and experiences.

An astute leader or coordinator of professional development will appreciate the need to incorporate all three modes in order to deepen learning. It also pays to introduce them judiciously in order to best meet staff needs. Educational leaders know that one size does not fit all and are wary of providing the same experience for everyone. The risk is that workers may turn to other forms of learning if what they are offered does not suit or meet their needs. This is probably more the case with formal offerings, which if irrelevant or simply not helpful, will drive people to look for other options.


Professional development needs have changed considerably over time, in line with worker needs. Teaching staff are more interested in what is useful and applicable to their needs today and appreciate more offerings which are differentiated and personalised. The delivery method is also vastly different from what was de rigueur when I began teaching over three decades ago. Online offerings, podcasts and small group workshops generally offer individuals the specific training they desire as opposed to large group presentation style seminars. Similarly, the individual context of each workplace demands that more attention is paid to personalising the offerings in line with the three distinct but overlapping modes: on the job experience, social exposure, and formal education.

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Published on

May 27, 2019

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