Professional Development Institute (PDI)

The Challenge

Twenty-two years ago, Connie Ryan founded the Professional Development Institute (PDI) to help solve a problem that still plagues the education sector today. Like many others, she had spent years juggling two full-time roles: teacher and mother.

“Trying to find time for continuing education was always a struggle,” says Ryan. “If I wanted to renew my credential and earn a higher salary, I had to leave my family and go to class in the evening or on the weekend. It was inconvenient and difficult to do as a busy working mom.”

Bridging the learning gap

Today, approximately 77 percent of K-12 teachers are women, and many have to balance the same demanding set of career and child care responsibilities. Others—men and women alike—have a similar problem for different reasons; perhaps they need to care for a sick or elderly relative, or maybe they live in a remote area that is several hours’ drive from the nearest professional development classes.

Today, approximately 77 percent of K-12 teachers are women, and many have to balance the same demanding set of career and child care responsibilities. Others—men and women alike—have a similar problem for different reasons; perhaps they need to care for a sick or elderly relative, or maybe they live in a remote area that is several hours’ drive from the nearest professional development classes.

The result is a learning gap between teachers who have the time and opportunity to develop their skills and those who—through no fault of their own—do not. Over time, this gap can widen to the point where new employment opportunities and career progression can feel out of reach.

“Continuing education is vital for teachers who want to improve both their pedagogy and their earning potential,” says Ryan. “But it’s often so difficult to fit into an already busy schedule that they effectively decide to put their career aspirations on hold. That’s why I started PDI in the first place—to give every teacher access to the continuing education they need, regardless of their personal circumstances.”

Offering a viable alternative

PDI needed to provide an alternative to traditional courses that require learners to attend in person or at fixed times. Technology was the answer, and PDI started by building a basic system that enabled it to deliver online courses.

PDI needed to provide an alternative to traditional courses that require learners to attend in person or at fixed times. Technology was the answer, and PDI started by building a basic system that enabled it to deliver online courses.

“As the number of learners grew, and as the use of computers and the internet became more pervasive in the education sector, we began running into the limitations of our first system,” says Ryan. “We started looking for a new platform that could help us deliver much richer, more engaging course materials and really make the quality of our content stand out.”

At the same time, PDI wanted to ensure that its online courses would be recognized and approved by school districts across the U.S. and began looking into getting its courses approved by the University of California San Diego (UCSD) Extension.

“UCSD Extension sets very high standards, not just in terms of the quality of the course material but also in terms of administration,” says Ryan. “For example, we needed to be able to report on a weekly basis which learners had completed their courses, and it was hugely time-consuming to pull together that data manually. We wanted a technology platform that could help automate our processes and therefore, help us scale the business without multiplying the administrative burden.”