Professional Development across the Teaching Career: Teachers’ Uptake of Formal and Informal Learning Opportunities

From Section:
Professional Development
Jan. 15, 2011

Source: Teaching and Teacher Education, Volume 27, Issue 1, (January 2011), Pages 116-126. (Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The goal of this study was to investigate teachers’ uptake of different learning opportunities from the beginning to the end of the teaching career.
The authors focused on in-service training as an example of formal learning opportunities and on teacher collaboration and the use of professional literature as two examples of informal learning opportunities.
To further investigate these relationships, the authors developed a categorisation scheme to classify the content of teachers’ formal learning opportunities.
Finally, the authors seek to identify individual teacher characteristics that predict career-related change in the uptake of formal and informal learning opportunities. The authors therefore examine whether teachers with additional service or management responsibilities are more likely to participate in learning opportunities than are teachers who do not hold such positions.

Participants and procedure
The data were collected within the COACTIV study (“Professional Competence of Teachers, Cognitively Activating Instruction, and the Development of Students’ Mathematical Literacy”; Kunter et al., 2007 1). The sample consisted of 1939 teachers (51.3% female) of mathematics, science and other subjects (e.g., German, English, and physical education), who were drawn from a nationally representative sample of 198 German secondary schools.

Uptake of learning opportunities from a lifespan perspective

The authors found distinct trajectories of teachers’ uptake of the three types of learning opportunities across the career.
Results showed that formal learning opportunities (in-service training) were used most frequently by mid-career teachers, whereas informal learning opportunities showed distinct patterns across the teaching career. Specifically, results indicate that older teachers show reduced involvement in in-service training.
Furthermore, results indicated that teacher collaboration decreased over the career.

Individual predictors of the uptake of learning opportunities

The authors further investigated teachers’ work engagement and additional responsibilities and examined their relationship to professional learning. Findings demonstrated that teachers with high work engagement and teachers who held service or management responsibilities pursued more in-service training.
Further, teachers with high work engagement—but not teachers with service or management responsibilities—used more informal learning opportunities. Moreover, the data showed that the age effects were not fully explained by the inclusion of the additional individual predictors.


In conclusion, this study has both theoretical implications for research on professional development and practical implications for policy makers.
The study investigated teachers’ participation in professional development from a new perspective, using a generic model of teachers’ career development to make predictions about their actual behaviour. The model provided insights into teachers’ changing needs and concerns, but its capacity to explain different developmental patterns of formal and informal professional development activities was limited.

The study’s findings also have practical implications for policy makers who plan and provide professional development opportunities for teachers.
The authors also suggest three possible ways of increasing participation in professional development activities.
First, policy makers could make it compulsory for teachers to complete a minimum number of in-service training hours within a given period of time, thus ensuring that all teachers participate in learning activities on a regular basis.
Second, participation rates might be raised by offering activities that respond to the needs of older teachers.
Finally, it might be helpful to provide opportunities for experienced teachers to share and learn from each other. This two-way process could be motivating for teachers and help them to respond more effectively to the needs of their school.

Updated: Jan. 17, 2017
Informal education | Lifelong learning | Professional development | Secondary school teachers | Teacher collaboration