Redefine PD with the 80/20 Principle

By: Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

A very significant part of Educational Technology Leadership is devoted to professional development, new systems implementation, and the long term planning of support.

Every year as the semester starts-up, administrators around the world are planning for professional development (PD). There is pressure during those initial weeks to try and rapidly develop the faculty within new areas, to help everyone review all current requirements, and to re-train in areas of concern. Many of these areas rely highly, or solely, upon technology; technology is often the center of the professional development process.

Year after year, group after group, and plan after plan, results tend to be the same. There is never enough time to meet everyone’s agenda, teachers feel rushed, and confidence among many is low but silenced. So why do organizations follow this same pattern?

After many years of asking this question, and proposing options, the answers seem to come down to:

  • This is the only fair way to expose EVERYONE to EVERYTHING.
  • The goal is not mastery; the goal is introduction; mastery comes later.
  • Large groups working together help to create future support groups; the process is team building.
  • Support and resources for PD are easier to manager in mass; the first week or two of the new year shift support to critical needs.

Everyone is 100% and 100% is Wrong

The Pareto principle (80/20) is taught in economics, business, marketing, etc., because when tested, it tests true.

The Pareto principle (also known as the 80/20 rule, the law of the vital few, or the principle of factor sparsity)[1] states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. (https://www.wikiwand.com/en/Pareto_principle)

For example:

  • 20% of the customers create 80% of the revenue
  • 20% of the software bugs cause 80% of the crashes
  • 20% of the features cause 80% of the usage
  • 20% of users create 80% of the technology support tickets.

80/20 is often seen as a negative metric, when in fact, is a great opportunity to improve PD outcomes.

Following the 80/20 rule, any given PD item needs to be mastered by only 20% of the organization in order for the entire organization to benefit.

As an example, an international school wanting to implement a new system like Google Apps for Education only needs to formally train 20% of the end-users in each user group (Administrators, Teachers, Students, etc.). This 20% can then work with the remaining 80% to achieve the desired results; results which are often very niche and vary by division and department.

In another case, consider a school purchasing Microsoft Surface Laptops for their staff. Only 20% of the end-users need to have the full training on the hardware and software in order to fuel the future deployment.

The optics of 100% are not really fair when the majority of the 100% are not actually gaining the information and skills need for mastery. In education there is always pressure on students to reach mastery. That same expectation should be placed on everyone, and embedded in every initiative. Organizations working towards a good introduction, are not working towards their full potential.

Words to Actions

Randomly selecting 20% of a group to master a new PD initiative is a mistake. That would only work if the entire group were known equals. New and existing staff should be surveyed to identify their current knowledge and aptitude. Identifying aptitude is essential. New initiatives tend to have a limited experienced population within the organization; but aptitude is around every corner.

Years ago I took the 80/20 approach when switching a very large campus to Apple. I made certain all required hardware and software was available for 20% of the staff before summer. I selected the staff based-on their current familiarity with Apple and their ability to work with their colleagues.

The switch went very well, and after about three weeks the technology support issues declined by 75% from the previous year. The switch to Apple while following a 80/20 implementation plan reduced the non-Apple issues as well as the issues with the new hardware.

Recently, using an 80/20 plan, I sent a core group of people for training on a new school information system. Those people were tasked at training, and evangelism, within a hostile environment.

Knowing the system was actually in competition with other plans, a final meeting was held to determine if the school would continue with the new information system. The option was on the table to remove the new and bring back the old. The old was rejected. I do not believe this would have been possible without the core 80/20 group.

Keep in mind during each of these difficult transitional experiences the remaining 80% were not always happy. They new change had arrived, they were being delayed access at different stages, and they were not being trained or equipment immediately. This was noise. And noise should never dictate a plan or process.

The optics of 80/20 do not look as “nice” compared to working with 100%. However, the outcomes will be fair, balanced, and better. Most importantly, those suffering in silence will have a smaller more agile group for support.

Take a chance. Make a change. Go for 80/20.

More 80/20 Resources

About Tony DePrato

Tony DePrato has a Master’s Degree in Educational Technology from Pepperdine University and has been working as a Director of Educational Technology since 2009. He has worked in the United Arab Emirates and China where he has consulted with schools in both regions on various technology topics. In 2013, Tony DePrato released The BYOD Playbook a free guide for schools looking to discuss or plan a Bring Your Own Device program. Tony is originally from the US, and worked in multimedia, website development, and freelance video production. Tony is married to Kendra Perkins, who is a librarian.
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