Research on Professional Development and Teacher Change: Implications for Adult Basic Education

In this resource, an emphasis on standards-based teaching and learning is examined as well as key factors that influence how teachers change through professional development. 

C. Smith
M. Gillespie
Author(s) Organizational Affiliation
National Center for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy (NCSALL)
Review of Adult Learning and Literacy, Vol. 7, Connecting Research, Policy, and Practice, Ch. 7
Publication Year
Resource Type
Informational Material
Number of Pages
Product Type

This chapter focuses on how teacher professional development impacts student achievement.  An overview of research on professional development for adult basic education teachers and K-12 teachers is presented and two models of professional development are discussed.  The authors present research findings and provide an analysis and comparison of a traditional model and a job-embedded model of professional development.  

The document provides an overview of relevant research related to the following six topics.

  • The introductory section on The Role of Teachers in Student Achievement builds upon the growing recognition that instructors are the most important factor in student achievement and examines the role pre-service preparation and other factors play in instructor quality and student achievement.
  • The section on the State of Professional Development in Adult Education details the differences between adult education instructors and their K-12 counterparts.
  • Contrasting Models of Professional Development examines the differences between traditional professional development and job-embedded professional development and provides research-based characteristics of effective implementation for each.
  • Professional Development in a Standards-Based Environment outlines the conditions under which standards-based professional development can contribute to teacher change.
  • Factors Affecting How Teachers Change examines a variety of individual, school, program, and system factors that impact the amount of changes in instructional practices.
  • The final section, Implications for Policy, Practice, and Research,suggests ideas for further research and some key implications and recommendations that can promote the implementation of more effective research-based professional development policies and practices.
What the experts say

Expert 1:  This document is a “must read” for local and state adult education program administrators and any staff involved in designing or delivering professional development for adult education instructors.  Most adult educators understand that instructors are the key to helping students achieve level gains and reach the other job-related, life-related, and education-related goals for which the program is accountable.  They also understand, however, that many instructors come to work with a K-12 teaching perspective and lack formal training in teaching adults.  In other words, the majority of adult educators enter the field “sideways” – with degrees in everything from home economics to political science.  Thus, the role of professional development is extremely critical in adult education. 

But what type of professional development do they need?  What is most likely to impact changes in their instructional practices?  This document provides one of the most thorough research literature reviews on professional development and teacher change in adult education that one is likely to find.  The document draws on the K-12 and adult education research literature to examine two topics:  (1) what is known about what makes teacher professional development effective, and (2) how teachers change as a result of professional development. 

The document can be used in a variety of ways at the state and local levels.


  • To inform policy decisions related to professional development design (e.g., longer term, more job-embedded models), pre-service and in-service requirements, and funding and support for instructional staff and their professional development.
  • To weigh the benefits of annual conferences offering a variety of workshops compared to more intense regional sessions with follow-up activities and increased instructor collegiality.
  • To explore and/or expand blended distance learning technologies as methods to bring instructors from different programs together for professional development, reducing teacher travel and allowing teachers to participate in learning online combined with face-to-face workshops or conference calls for collegiality.


  • To inform the design of local professional development by moving toward longer term, job embedded activities that are focused on student learning and built around teacher collegiality and reflection and away from a predominance of single-session workshops.
  • To examine current pre-service training for new instructors to determine if the format, design, and content should be adapted/expanded to reflect the research findings.
  • To consider current provisions that foster or support participation in professional development, particularly for part-time instructors, and make necessary adjustments.
  • To examine program policies, such as instructor prep time, to ensure that program’s working conditions promote change in instructional practices
  • To begin conducting local research on teacher effectiveness and teacher change related to professional development.

Expert 2:  This review of the research on professional development is a must-read for policy makers and professional development providers in the ABE field.  It provides a thorough, well-written overview of broad types of professional development which include: traditional, job-embedded, and standards-based reform initiatives in the K-12 and ABE fields.  The authors highlight key features of quality professional development that may lead to positive teacher change. One key feature is the analysis of what constitutes effective professional development and the conditions under which teachers are more likely to learn from their professional development participation and make changes in practice that improve student achievement.  As the ABE field increasingly moves towards standards-based reform, this research review offers much needed insight into some of the critical professional development, programmatic, and job-related supports needed for teachers to successfully adopt and adapt these reforms.

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