Moving at the Speed of Creativity by Wesley Fryer

Developmentally appropriate technology integration PD

Scott Weidig asked some important questions on his VanishingPoint blog post, “Internalization vs. Utilization,” regarding teacher professional development and technology integration. He asked:

  • Where do we go from here?
  • How do we create (or re-find) that childhood love of investigation for all educators?
  • How do we break down the fear barrier?
  • How do we become comfortable moving away from [canned] curriculum?
  • How do we meet the needs of 21st Century learners?
  • What is it really going to take to make technology integral to learning?

I don’t have answers to all these questions, but I did offer the following as a comment:

The difference in learning styles between many young people and many older people is summarized well in what I’ve heard others term a “navigational” versus a “procedural” approach to technology use. Young folks tend to take a more navigational approach, in which they experiment via trial and error to discover how something works. Many older folks, including lots of teachers, tend to be more fearful about technology use and take a more procedural approach. With procedural learners, they want to have everything spelled out in advance on a detailed handout they can follow. One of the greatest challenges in professional development for teachers, I think, is helping people who are naturally more “procedural” in their learning approach with technology to become more navigational. I don’t have any silver bullets on how to do this, but I agree with you and David Jakes that personally using the technology is key. If I was launching a PD initiative in a school district, I might even make personal uses of technology the centerpiece of the program. Too often (and I am guilty of this too) we rush to get teachers to the creative integration phase of technology use, when they have barely started to use the tools themselves. I think this is a response to several of the questions you’ve posed here, including “where do we go from here” and “how do we get beyond the fear factor?” Let’s focus on digital photography, sharing images safely with sites like Flickr, and videoconferencing with family and friends using tools like Skype and iChat. I think that is where we need to focus much more attention when it comes to technology tool use inside and outside of schools. To make technology integral to learning, teachers must be able to seamlessly use technology tools throughout the day as they access, use and share information. It must become part of the way teachers process and work in their world. Personal uses of technology are pivotal here, in fact I am sure they are a prerequisite to higher level uses of technology throughout the curriculum. I think too many leaders want teachers to skip developmental steps in their own technology use, and taking that approach is as developmentally inappropriate as giving a kindergartner an encyclopedia to read instead of a picture book.

navigating Melbourne

I’m not sure who to cite or credit with these terms “procedural” and “navigational” learner. Is anyone aware of who started using these terms first? If I can identify that person I’d like to give them credit!

The idea of being “developmentally appropriate” resonates with reading and language arts teachers. Perhaps we should use this vocabulary when discussing professional development for teachers involving the use of varying types of technologies?

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14 responses to “Developmentally appropriate technology integration PD”

  1. Scott Weidig Avatar


    I replied on my site, then saw the track back here and wanted to bring my thoughts here as well.

    Your comments about “navigational” (utilization) versus “procedural” (internalization) hit it right on the head and it sparked a conversation with my wife (also an educator and yes we were/are up at about 1am cst blogging) about goal setting… Young learners believe that they can do anything, as such they do not feel the (irrational?) fear of not being able to accomplish something so they try and try again. Look at the video game analogy. Where else do you see kids failing over and over yet coming back changing tactics, strategies, the outright rules to succeed… Is there a point in which procedural learners acquire that “fear” where learning becomes rote?

    I guess that I am thinking that if we look at how young children, (who very much want to learn and I feel are a great model of what an investigative thinker/learner is/should be,) learn (navigationally) is there a point in the education cycle where we teach that out of them and create a procedural learner in its place? Are we creating this cycle by in essence teaching goal setting and breaking of topics/ideas down into more manageable “goals.” Then this carries over into life? Do we actually teach them to fear?

    Is this why a majority of educational advocates are now talking about formative vs summative assessment and moving to authentic learning activities to get away from this “procedural” format?

    I completely agree with you about the personal uses of technology to help bridge that comfort level gap and how it leads to higher level uses of technology. The struggle I am finding is the lack of desire for investigation 🙁

    Will Richardson has been talking for well over a year about educators using these tools for their OWN personal learning and less to get teachers to teach their kids these tools… (I don’t think that came out exactly right here, but I can’t think of a better way to say it right now) Then as you point out through a seamless use of technology by teachers modeling will enhance student learning and these tools will become seamless for students.

    I’m still rattling around how to make this happen. I do like the suggestion of starting with digital photography. Make it personal to the educator and then look for natural ways for them to feel comfortable bringing it to students.

    In reference to leaders and developmental steps, is it really the leaders who want to teachers to skip those developmental steps or is it just easier to not learn? I guess I am coming back to that question: Are we “teaching” investigation out of our students? At what point do we want to stop learning and prefer to/need to be taught to learn?… hhhmmm…


  2. Sue Waters Avatar

    I love your explanation of “procedural” and “navigational” learner because too often I see people wanting to run professional development set up with the expectation that the participants should just learn themselves. Sure I would love this to happen; considerably more fun than repeatedly having to tell them where the delete button is on the keyboard. But we need to be realistic.

    I like to use this analogy a lot which I learnt from an person who teaches instructional intelligence. When you teach a person how to drive a car you don’t give them the keys and tell them to go for it. Instead you gradually scaffold them moving them from total dependence, where you’re ready to grab the steering wheel to, to independence. In a sense moving from your procedural to a navigational learner — which takes time.

    She went onto explain that use ICT is far more complex than learning how to drive a car yet we place this expectation that people will just learn. We need to be establishing systems that build towards them learning to use effectively in their personal lives first; and don’t pressure them to use until they become effective at using. Our professional development programs need to be structured that provide support/development in terms of years not a few hours of workshops. It’s not much fun sitting in the passenger seat with a newly qualified driver if it crashes.

    Here in Australia, considerable money has been spent on professional development in the vocational education and training sector. Most programs have found that digital photography, digital story telling and creating movies is an excellent way of engaging participants as they are more motivated to practice their new skills in their own time.

  3. Carolyn Foote Avatar


    Great distinctions and it’s helpful to have some identifying terms to use to think about these differences. I also would like to point out that even within groups of students, some students operate at a much more procedural level and others more navigational, and the same is true for teachers as well.

    So I wonder how much of it is generational or age related (I believe some of it is) and how much of it is simply the same learning styles we observe in our students, just reflected in a professional population?

    Scott, I think your questions about investigation are also really important. That appears to be a trait common to most children, but by the time you get to high school and to the professional world–there is what I would term more of a minority of “investigative” habits. It reminds me of the distinction in the Tipping Point about the different types of people who operate as tipping points–connectors, mavens, etc., who I would think fall more into that category.

    But I do think that we do things in schools that “breed out” this trait and it’s detrimental to the types of learners we want to have. (I’m going to borrow your question for a post I’ve been contemplating, btw!)

    Sue, I also agree that the idea of scaffolding is so important. We tend to approach things in such a piecemeal fashion that it isn’t scaffolded very well. We put the cart (providing the time for staff development) before the horse (knowing what we’d like teachers to be learning) all too often.
    (We do that for students as well, I might add.)

    Thanks for the thought provoking post.

  4. Dave Black Avatar

    What really resonated with me is the idea that we don’t give kindergarten students an encyclopedia and expect them to embrace it for learning, yet we often do the same through professional development. Now how can we get the time necessary for play with technology built intentionally into professional development schemes. That is such a struggle.

    I found Pageflakes to be an excellent “hook” for technology usage for my faculty. Teachers can build “flakes” for all the information they seek and place them on a single page. I also find this to be a good tool for introducing RSS.

  5. […] Wes Fryer and Scott Weidig have been having an interesting exchange about this idea of “procedural” learning versus “navigational” learning in regards to teachers, but I think it applies to students as well.   (To summarize and oversimplify, Wes defines procedural learners being those that want to have a series of steps to follow, and navigational learners as being those who figure it out by “doing” it and experimenting.) […]

  6. Sylvia Martinez Avatar

    Wes, it seems to me that observing differences in the way adults and children tend to use technology doesn’t mean we have to invent new “learning styles” to explain it. I think you are blurring the line between learning, knowledge, and how people approach unfamiliar territory. Most adults will dig into a salad and most kids won’t, but nobody thinks that implies a vegetable-based learning style.

    And even if I accepted the whole premise that there is such a distinction, why is one better than another? Just because it looks like kids are using technology with more facility doesn’t mean they achieve fluency any faster, or end up with deeper understanding. I just have to question why you would assume that adults have to be retrained to use a different learning style and that this works (or is even possible.)

    I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask a professional to learn to use new tools for their professional practice. Nobody says a doctor has to fall in love with the miracle of the MRI machine or use one at home. They just have to learn to use it because it saves lives.

    My fear is that this simply puts the goalpost further away and provides more excuses for teachers to not use technology with kids.

  7. Wesley Fryer Avatar

    I’m certainly not wanting to give anyone more excuses. I think the “digital native” idea is used as an excuse often. I do think it is important for people to develop comfort with a navigational style of learning, however, particularly when it comes to using technology tools. I’ve taught innumerable workshops with teachers who have insisted that everything be on the handout, in a step by step format. It is that type of insistence on procedural learning which I think we need to grow beyond. I totally agree with your reasonability point, that everyone should be willing to learn new things and use new tools and strategies to achieve learning goals. The way we are oriented in our thinking about learning new tasks IS different, in my experiences helping teachers learn new technology tasks. I know that people can change learning styles, and I am not implying here that some people are “genetically programmed” to be procedural learners, and for that reason there is no hope for them. I’m not saying that all. What I am saying is that we need to help everyone, regardless of age, to take a more navigational approach to learning new skills relating to technology. This CAN involve following procedural steps, but navigating to the help menu on your own… or Googling for help on a technical topic. This learning style difference is also related, I think, to a person’s willingness to take risks and just try new things. Overall a primary goal of technology-related PD should be helping teachers develop more comfort and fluency using technology tools for different purposes. That is why I’m suggesting a focus on digital photos as a beginning point.

    I definitely don’t want to “provide more excuses” for teachers, so if what I’m saying here is construed that way then I need to re-evaluate what I’m saying and how I’m saying it.

  8. Diane Quirk Avatar

    If the learning in a professional workshop is presented only as procedure knowledge (a set of step in a process) rather than as declarative knowledge (a set of facts, generalizations, principles) then teachers will probably continue to act as if, to include technology in their teaching, they must follow a prescribed set of steps in order to use it well.

  9. Scott Weidig Avatar

    Sue, I feel that your friend is correct in that we need to handle the education of how to drive a car in a certain way and then we simply cannot toss the keys to someone and expect them to just practice / learn on their own. We do walk then through proscribed steps to develop a comfort level operating a motor vehicle… However, I somewhat disagree that ICT is far more complex. I think the difference may still lie in the desire to drive the car versus the lack of desire for some ICT learning. Additionally, when we drive a car, we are very tactile… you develop a “feel” for the cars vibrations, the acceleration gforce, braking, evaluating situations on a moment to moment basis… This gets back to Wes’ navigational domain. While the drivers ed instructor may be braking down some of the material into procedural (internalization) formats, the act is still navigational (utilization) in nature.

    I still come back to the desire to learn and the simple utilization factor. Wes brings up a great point in his reply. Like Wes I have conducted quite a bit of training of adults in technology, and the vast majority want handouts (printed I might add) with step by step procedures… I don’t believe that he was creating excuses for teachers. Additionally, one would think that by our nature of being educators and our desire to create life long learners we would be as Wes aptly puts it “willing to learn new things and use new tools and strategies,however, often in practice, this is not always the case. I don’t understand why, but it is true.

    Carolyn, I wish it weren’t the case, but I can’t seem to move myself away the thought that we DO somehow “breed out” investigative learning by the high school years. In discussions with grade school, middle school, and high school teachers, grade school teachers bring out the point that most/all kids love school and love learning at their level. However, beginning at middle school and continuing on to high school teachers often reflect that this love of learning to learn diminishes, and too often at the HS level students are just going through the motions to “get the grade.” I know that this is not all hs students, however… why do kids seem to lose this love of learning to learn?

    I do agree with everyone that the education of ICT needs to be scaffolded, and Carolyn you are dead on that we are too piecemeal in this process. I am sitting on the ICE 2009 Committee next year, and a thought I want to bring up is offering a “tracked” learning initiative. I know that this might not go over well, but we’ll see. I also an re-thinking how I plan and conduct PD in my school to move more along these lines…

    One of the replies to this topic on my blog is from an individual who knows educators who have their entire next curricular year for their students planned out… where does something like this fall into this discussion…

    Sylvia, I agree, I don’t think that it is unreasonable to ask a professional to learn new tools for their profession, however, we are seeing a number of professionals who in essence don’t want to save lives… I know that sounds harsh, but are we seeing a critical mass developing around 21st century skills, or the same people drinking the cool aid? (Again, I am generalizing I know.)

    Finally, Wes, I didn’t get the feeling that you were providing excuses for educators, but attempting to put a name to what is occurring so that through definition we might be able to look at this objectively and hopefully collectively we could come up with a direction to begin moving toward productive PD and become aware of the other issue I keep pointing to of reform in teaching to keep students in the navigational path…

    Just my thoughts,


  10. Sue Waters Avatar

    My work involves mainly adult learners, in the vocational education & training sector, and 50% of my job role over the past 1 1/2 years involved faciliating professional development workshops. The level of support needed for each individual varied depending at where they were at with using ICT. Those starting out with minimal skills e.g. never downloaded or install programs, never set up online accounts generally needed how-to guidelines that were printed off and lots of hands on support. The fear factor that you might do the wrong thing is a huge barrier for those with minimal skills. Whereas experienced participants were more than capable of accessing the information from websites, teaching themselves and watching videos.

    The other challenged faced is those with minimal experience would focus too much at learning how to use the tool that they would loss sight of why/how you would actually use it with their learners.

    Off course we also haven’t discussed how the Roger’s Innovation Adoption Curve impacts on their willingness to engage with use of technology 🙂 which really should be taken into account.

  11. Tom Avatar

    I love the terms “Navigational” and “Procedural”. I may harvest those at some point (with proper credit paid to Scott, of course.)

    The terms I used were “cookbook” versus “concept.” For example, a teacher that masters the concept of image manipulation is going to be much better off than one that needs a step-by-step list just to resize an image. However, I think your terms are broader and much more applicable.

  12. Scott Weidig Avatar


    I want to point out that the terms Navigational and Procedural are Wes’ terms that he had heard someone use. He is looking to find the source to provide credit. I guess until them the credit should belong to Wes and not me, but I am happy to be the inspiration 🙂 heehee.


    I completely agree the “fear” factor is enough to cripple a novice teachers initiative regardless how much we tell them they cannot break something. However, with the professions we are, in and the communities that we are dealing with, teachers and students, there should not only be the expectation but the demand to be open to embracing new tools and methodologies. However, I feel go back to the environment we are creating to “breed” this type of utilization (navigational) learning out of students. Have these environments created a similar teacher expectation of complacency or apathy toward personal growth as there is no accountability on educators for it?


  13. Anne Mirtschin Avatar

    I was so interested to read this post. This year, I and another teacher have been given teacher professional leave to look at implementing web2.0 throughout our school. We have started exactly where you suggest with tools that teachers could use in their own personal lives. They will try these, gain confidence and then see the potential applications for classroom use. So, we started with images, resizing for online use and emailing. Skype has been demonstrated for videoconferencing. Using digital cameras and video cameras etc All staff have now created delicious accounts, although diigo now seems all the go. As time has gone by, we now have 11 staff blogging which we think is a real coup and even more are just placing comments on our student blogs. It takes time, but we need to start with what they see has a purpose for them personally and then for weaving into their classroom practices.

  14. jeffreygene Avatar

    Wes – thanks for sharing this! Gives me a very nice framework for an upcoming presentation at the HK 21st Century Learning conference – something that’s come together partially as a result of the success of the Learning 2.0 conference in Shanghai you were at this last fall. If you’re interested in seeing how I adapted it, I’ll be putting my presentation online at my website soon.