Sunday, March 20, 2016

What Netflix Taught me about Professional Development

Professional Development is my thing.

As a Technology Integrationist, I provide training to about 30 school districts in northeast Ohio. As a Google for Education Certified Trainer, I conduct Google professional development sessions all around Ohio and across the country. So it is safe to say I think quite a lot about training and what makes it good, what makes it bad, and what can make it better.

In addition to being a Google trainer, I am also a “Cord Cutter”. For those not familiar with the term, this means I am one of the growing population of people who has cancelled cable television and now gets all of our media through streaming services including Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, Google Play, iTunes, and such. Not only has this changed the method through which I get my entertainment, it has also altered the pace of how I view TV series with the ability to binge watch a show in a weekend.

Recently I was considering this and began to see a connection between my changing viewing habits and professional development. See below for an explanation of this insight, and some ideas for how we can learn from this to improve the professional development we provide as trainers, and the professional development we receive as learners.

Binge Watching

Netflix has a unique way of releasing television shows. This applies to shows that have already aired on regular TV, as well as the shows that Netflix creates specifically for its own network such as Daredevil, Orange is the New Black, House of Cards, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and others.

When Netflix is ready to release a new season of a show they simply release the entire season all at one time. Boom! 13 episodes. 22 episodes. However many episodes there are in the season, everything is available to watch at once.

This has lead to what many people call “binge watching”. Instead of having to wait a week (or more) between episodes of your favorite show, you can watch as many as you want as quickly as you can. It is not uncommon for someone to binge an entire season over the course of a week, or a few days, or even a single weekend.

(search frequency for “binge” in the United States “Arts and Entertainment” category)

While I have never been able to consume that much media in a weekend, I certainly take advantage of access to an entire series. I often tie my Netflix or Hulu viewing with a daily run on the elliptical machine, allowing me to knock off one episode per day of Jessica Jones, rather than spending the eight or nine months the season would normally have lasted.

And I love the binge option. It is great to have the freedom to watch a season at my pace and within my schedule.

However, sometimes I feel like something is missing.

Traditional Seasons

Before binge watching was such an easy option, the most common way to view a television series was one week at a time. Even if we recorded the shows to DVD (or videotape way back in the day) we still had to wait a week (or more) in between episodes to see what happened next. And of course this is still true for new shows on traditional network and cable television.

Although it can be frustrating to wait a week in between episodes of a favorite show, there are actually some interesting benefits to that arrangement. To illustrate this, let’s consider one of my all time favorite shows that I had to watch in week-by-week format when it first came out ... Lost.

Lost was a fantastic show full of mysteries, complex characters, lots of questions, and not many answers. It is a show that I became deeply invested in. I often wonder now, if Lost had been available all at once to binge watch, would I have become so connected to the show. Here’s why…

Since Lost only came out every week or so, I had lots of time in between episodes to think about the show I had just watched. In the week or two I waited for the next episode I did many things to dig deeper into the show:
  • I went online and read reactions from other fans in online forums. I would learn about their theories, their predictions, and bits of clues that I may have missed when I watched the episode.
  • I subscribed to and listened to Lost-themed podcasts. Again this exposed me to the ideas of other viewers, and sometimes even included interviews with the cast or writers for some inside scoop.
  • I debated and discussed the latest episode with coworkers, friends, and family. It was the “watercooler talk” at the office.
  • Sometimes I rewatched the episode to see something I may have missed the first time through.
  • And of course I thought a lot about the show and developed my own theories.
As a result I became much more involved in the show, remembered more from past episodes, got more out of new episodes, and to this day still consider its themes and stories.

Professional Development

So how do these two methods of consuming television shows relate to professional development?

First, I would argue that a lot of technology professional development is much like binge watching a Netflix TV series. That is, most PD is often “one and done”.
  • You may go to a tech conference for one or two days, consume a wide range of technology sessions, and then head home.
  • You may come to one of my Google Boot Camps in the summer for four or five days of intense Google Apps training, and then continue on with your summer plans.
  • You may watch one of my edtech webinars, and then go about your day.
Just like binge watching a Netflix show, there is nothing inherently wrong with this model. We are so fortunate to have so many high quality options for technology professional development, and many that are flexible enough to fit into our busy schedules.

However, I can’t help but wonder if we lose some benefits when we stop at “one and done”.

Just like watching Lost one week at a time, how much more investment and impact can we get by extending professional development over a period of time? What if we have time to process what we have learned, to share our ideas with others, to hear what others have discovered, to test out and apply the new concepts, to have a continuing thread of inquiry over a period of time, to have expectations to come back and build upon what we have begun? How much more would that transform our teaching practice?

Lately I have had the privilege to begin offering more and more such trainings. One example is a technology integration “course” that lasts over a period of four or more months. Over that period of time I get to meet with the participants multiple times in person, as well as connecting online.
  • The teachers learn about technology integration models, standards, and tools.
  • They develop a project for their students that integrates technology on a higher level.
  • They get feedback and suggestions for the group to help design the activity.
  • They conduct the project with their students.
  • They come back to share with the group how the project went, including the good, the bad, and how to improve the activity for the future.
This sort of extended PD builds relationships, a deeper understanding of the technology topics, a practical application of the concepts, and a strong foundation to build upon for future growth.

Extend don't just Binge

So how can we apply these ideas as providers of PD and/or as learners? Below are three options to consider for improving professional development.

1) Look for extended opportunities

When possible, look for or create professional development opportunities that carry on for a length of time. They could be in person, online, or a hybrid of both. Meetings could be weekly, monthly, or on some other recurring schedule. Common examples may be book studies, online courses, study groups, and more. Whatever the case, the focus should be on learning, practicing, reflecting, and building on what you have learned.

2) Share with your PLN

Another option, regardless of the PD you partake in, is to share what you learn with your Personal Learning Network (PLN). Just like the “watercooler talk” for Lost, share your new ideas with other educators on Twitter, Google+, Facebook, Edmodo, and other social networks. Not only will you help others with the resources you share, but many times they will help you stretch and grow with their perspectives.

3) Apply what you learn

Finally, there is nothing wrong with any form of PD as long as you do something with it. Go to that conference, attend that boot camp, watch that webinar. Just make sure you apply what you have learned. Challenge yourself to take the new ideas from the PD and apply them in your classroom, test them out, reflect on them, and then take those ideas into your next session. In effect you will be building your own extended course where you work toward your own personal learning goals.


As I mentioned before, I really am glad that Netflix allows me to watch a show as quickly or slowly or sporadically as fits my schedule. Likewise we are so fortunate to have so many professional development opportunities to fit our needs, interests, and lives.

I just want to encourage everyone to look for and to create professional development that gives us time to process what we have learned, apply the concepts in a practical way, reflect on the process, and build upon our growth.

Now if you don’t mind, season 2 of Daredevil is streaming on Netflix and I have some watching to do!

(Note: If you are looking for free edtech professional development, please feel free to check out my webinars at Just make sure to apply what you learn!)


  1. I enjoyed reading your post and thinking about my own practice of online entertainment and professional development. I also am a fan of binge watching on Netflix as well as binge learning in MOOCs. I've been jumping back and forth this weekend between the Netflix show Happy Valley and an online poetry course in Coursera. I find the ability to spend large chunks of time and focus on the course a luxury as well as the ability to dig deeper and go at my own pace. While I believe there is some connection between the model of binge watching and "one and done PD," watching is a passive activity while engaging in quality online learning is not.

  2. Eric, I too am a cord cutter, but I was just lured back by a deal with Direct TV that is so cheap that I couldn't resist. I do love your comparisons for PD--we have to now offer all the options for learning, because some teachers will only be able to get some of their PD via a binge.

  3. I would add one more thing to how you can apply these ideas as a provider... provide a series of PD sessions with credit through a University. Incorporate evidence of the planning and implementation of the ideas as part of the credit. This provides the incentive to actually go back and apply the ideas.

    1. Thanks for the great suggestion! We actually do that here at SPARCC by working with Ashland University. People can put together PD offerings, including any of our webinars, into their own self-made course. The details can be seen here:

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