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Can Online Coursework for Early Childhood Teachers Change Their Teaching Practice?

Fri, April 4, 12:25 to 1:55pm, Convention Center, Floor: 200 Level, 204B


Perspective & Objective

Among the growing number of professional development programs for early childhood teachers, most focus on curriculum, workshops, and/or coaching (e.g., Bierman et al., 2008; Raver et al., 2008). Far fewer studies have systematically tested the effects of coursework on teacher-child interactions or child outcomes (Dickinson & Caswell, 2007; Hamre et al., 2012). Although coursework, when well-designed, can engender changes in teachers’ practice (Hamre et al., 2012), it can be challenging to scale up standardized courses for broad use (LaParo & Scott-Little, 2009).

Online coursework offers a unique opportunity to solve some of the implementation and scaling difficulties. An online learning experience, properly designed, permits high-quality implementation of a course while incurring neither the high costs associated with hiring full-time instructors nor the problems of ensuring consistent implementation (Donohoe, Fox & Torrence, 2007). To date, however, there is little information available on the extent to which early childhood teachers will engage in online coursework and whether these experiences can lead to meaningful changes in their practice.

Methods & Data Sources

Participants included 69 early childhood teachers enrolled in a series of two online courses during one academic year and 25 teachers randomly assigned to a control group. Teachers were diverse in terms of educational background and ethnicity.

Teachers took two online courses over one academic year, each 14 weeks long. The first course focused on enhancing teachers’ use of emotionally supportive interactions as well as supporting teachers’ use of effective strategies for managing behavior, time, and attention in the classroom. The second course focused on both general instructional strategies (e.g., feedback) as well as interactions that foster early language and literacy development. A variety of strategies were used to create engaging and effective online learning experiences, including activities in which teachers had to “tag” exemplar behaviors within videos.

Videotapes of teachers’ practice were collected in the fall, winter, and spring and coded using the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS: Pianta et al., 2008). Teachers completed surveys after each course session and at the end of each full course. The website hosting the online course recorded their completion of online activities.


We report here on results from the first course. Results from both courses will be presented in the final paper. Teachers completed, on average, 78% of all online activities. Teachers reported being very satisfied with the course, and levels of satisfaction were comparable to those found during an in-person version of the course (Locasale Crouch et al., 2013). The most often reported barrier to participation was conflict with other professional or personal commitments.

Teachers who took the course, compared to those in the control group, made significant changes in their observed teaching practice with effect sizes (Cohen’s d) ranging from .12 to .82.


This study is among the first to report on the efficacy of online coursework for changing instructional practice among early childhood teachers. Given the increasing focus on online learning (e.g. MOOC’s, Coursera), these results suggests that these approaches are promising.