Crossing borders, breaking silos: Internationalising your PD

Online professional development courses are much like typical student classes – a shared space with a diverse group of people, both in terms of experience and culture, all with different learning goals. One key teaching challenge with participants from multiple countries and contexts is maintaining student engagement by catering to their different needs, whilst also working towards shared learning outcomes.

When teachers assume the role of students in this multi-country context, a great opportunity presents itself. Beyond their own learning, teachers can share and generate ideas for internationalising their classroom as they empathise with the challenges and potential benefits possible in an internationalised learning environment.

Internationalising a Learning Design course

In our PD courses we try to speak to everyone and empower them to take what they’ve learned to adapt to their own context. We try to focus less on individual items and more on the rationale of why you might do something and the potential benefits it might produce. It’s a shift from thinking about how to make an effective video, for example, to identifying where video might best serve the learning experience for students, that allows us to speak to a wider audience with a shared challenge.

One such course is Learning Design Essentials, a 5-week course introducing the principles and practice of learning design and exploring strategies you can use to create a coherent and consistent course. In February this year, the course underwent significant change to suit a broader audience – it was the first time an overseas business unit was engaging in the course for professional development.

This course had participants from Australia, the US, the UK, Slovenia and a large contingent of staff from our SAE (Creative Media) colleges in Germany and Austria. To better understand the European context and to ensure content was suitable for a large number of participants who spoke English as a second language, I liaised with Carolina Löhle, Learning and Teaching Manager at SAE (Germany, Switzerland, Austria). During this process, two considerations for conducting the course were made:

  • Language and terminology: Carolina provided documents which were then translated from German to English by our team member Andrea Scheuringer, so we could be better informed of the learning and teaching principles discussed at a local level. We considered these first, as a way of ensuring we provided a consistent message in our course. Once the course itself took shape, Carolina looked over our material and asked questions about certain terms to ensure that these could be understood in the local context. Carolina’s insights helped us realise that we needed more examples in the course to help convey the right meaning.
  • Opportunities to get familiar with people and technology: The course itself includes weekly, one-hour online discussions. These video conferencing sessions can be tricky to navigate for first-time participants, so to help ease the cognitive workload, we were careful to include low risk activities in the first session of the course and pair all participants with staff from the same colleges – it’s much easier to make a mistake in front of someone you know than a stranger. Once everyone was comfortable with the technology, had practice sharing their ideas and understood how the discussion sessions ran, we mixed up the groups so that teachers could share their thoughts with peers from overseas business units.

What happens when borders are crossed?

It’s widely understood that diverse groups provide a broad variety of insights and experiences that can benefit all participants, however, seeing this happen in real life is an exhilarating experience. During the course, we noticed the development of three important characteristics in the group:

  • Community through shared experiences: Although teaching contexts were different due to differences between college locations and student population, similar issues and experiences were raised by all participants. This sharing of ideas helped participants to find new ways of teaching material in their courses. As Liz Atkinson from Deakin College reflected:

“The discussions have been insightful, with many excellent suggestions about what has worked being shared – many of which I have implemented into my teaching.”

  • Empowered learning: As a participant, you want to spend professional development time working on the things that are a priority for you. The challenge for a facilitator is ensuring each person can complete the course, achieving their goal, but by using concepts and techniques discussed in an appropriate way. As Celia Brockway from Richard Bland College of William & Mary (Virginia, USA) stated:

“Never before had I been in a classroom with people from all over the world! Through the experience, I learned not only about education practices across the world, but also how to effectively use discussion boards to create community. In the future, I plan to use discussion boards in my newly-restructured courses, which will also have more organized modules that encourage greater engagement outside of the classroom.”

  • New ways of doing things: In facilitating courses with diverse learning communities, it’s important to emphasise the value of everyone’s experience. Many problems can be solved in slightly different ways, so it’s important to emphasise diversity as an essential component of learning to solve problems. In this way, everyone in the course can become a coach, rather than relying on a single point of knowledge. As Carolina Löhle explains:

“The weekly Zoom calls were a great way to get to know each other and talk about the challenges in our everyday work life. The things we learned in the course could be applied directly in our teaching. We constructed a lesson plan which was very practical and the peer review feedback was very helpful.”

The power of shared experiences in bringing teacher communities together

The greatest advantage we have in facilitating courses with an international community of learners is the breadth of experience that each person brings to the course. Making time for participants to share their knowledge allows us as facilitators to guide rather than lead discussion.

Internationalised PD benefits everyone – facilitators, participants and ultimately, the students we teach. By working with local staff to fine tune course content, and allowing time for participants to get comfortable with diverse peers and unfamiliar technology, we create opportunities for teachers to be empowered by shared experiences, learn through a supportive network, and gain new perspectives on how to do things.

For more information about the course, contact

[This story was produced in collaboration with Liz Atkinson, Celia Brockway, Carolina Löhle and Jen Ng]