Nearly 60 percent of educators teaching preschool through 12th grade say they have taken some form of professional development (PD) course online, a new survey reveals — and their top three reasons for doing so were to learn how to use digital devices, learn how to use the educational software that runs on them and improve their classroom management skills.

The survey of 589 educators was conducted by the Education Technology Industry Network (ETIN), a division of the Software & Information Industry Association. According to the survey, 75 percent of educators who say they’ve taken a professional development course online did so because they were personally interested in the topic and wanted to increase their knowledge in that area. Only 28 percent said it was for a job requirement, and 46 percent said they enrolled in an online PD course to receive continuing education credit.

“Educators have an increasing number of professional learning options to choose from,” says Nycole Stawinoga, education policy and program manager for ETIN. The survey suggests that many educators, especially younger ones, are choosing online options for teacher development. “Educators with less than 20 years of experience working in an educational institution are more likely to enroll in an online professional learning course than educators with more experience,” Stawinoga notes.

Classroom Management, Educational Software and Language Arts Among Top Priorities

Thirty-four percent of survey respondents say they’ve taken an online course to learn more about classroom management or using educational software. Thirty-three percent report that they’ve received online training in the use of digital devices such as Chromebooks or tablets.

Reading and language arts were a high priority for online professional learning in particular, with 30 percent of educators having received online training in the use of literacy tools (such as the Samsung Literacy Lab). Twenty-seven percent of educators say they’ve received online training in the use of student assessments.

Sources of Online Training

The top sources for online teacher development were educational institutions and online communities such as edWeb or Edchat Interactive, Stawinoga says, with 60 percent of educators having received online training from these sources, and only 29 percent having received online training from an ed-tech vendor. More than two-thirds of educators told ETIN that they participate in online professional communities, and nearly 60 percent of those who do said they receive continuing education credits through these communities. The most popular tools used to teach online professional learning courses were videos (cited by 76 percent of respondents) and discussion forums (73 percent).

A separate survey in 2014 from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation found that a lack of time was the top barrier to effective professional learning for educators. In that survey, 44 percent of principals and 43 percent of school district leaders said there was not enough time built into teachers’ busy schedules for professional development. Online learning helps address this barrier by allowing educators to take online courses and workshops at their convenience so they’re better able to balance their professional learning with other priorities. In fact, a majority of educators from the ETIN survey who’ve taken online PD courses report that the courses they took were self-paced (55 percent).

Ongoing teacher development isn’t just essential in grades K-12. Find out here why it’s also critical in higher education.