Teacher Professional Development in Rural Contexts and the Potential of Technology: A Comparative Study

Helen Coker, Morag Redford

Research output: Contribution to conferenceOtherpeer-review


Professional Learning enables teachers to learn and develop throughout their career. However, for teachers working in rural settings opportunities are not always as accessible as for their urban counterparts. While rural contexts often have strong local communities, professionals working in rural contexts can be both geographically and professionally isolated (Hargreaves et. al., 2015, Bartlett et. al., 2017). The current developments of broadband, across Europe, provide opportunities for rural teachers to engage with alternative forms of professional learning and to connect to professional communities that were previously too far away to enable participation.
This research compared the experiences of a range of professionals working in rural settings to explore the ways in which technology is currently influencing access to professional learning. Technology and education have the potential to be transformative factors for rural development (Chinapah and Odero, 2016) as digital cultures have the potential to overcome the challenges of geographically dispersed professional communities (Green and Reid, 2014). Digital connectivity can enable access to professional learning opportunities (Tieken, 2014). However, digital spaces mediate the learning experience in different ways to face-to-face spaces (Coker, 2016). Professional learning opportunities online might be very different to the traditional opportunities offered in face-to-face contexts. Social Media such as Twitter or Online Forums may offer alternative ways for professionals to engage with their own learning and development.
In many countries, an urban-rural digital divide exists (Phillip et. al., 2016). Work developing the digital infrastructure is ongoing across Europe (European Union, 2016). In Scotland, the current roll-out of broadband has seen an increase in connectivity from 4% of the Highlands and Islands (a large rural area) in 2013 to 86% coverage in 2017 (HIE, n.d). Rural professionals in these areas have not had access to reliable or consistent connectivity until very recently. Exploring their experiences of professional learning can help us to understand the challenges faced when rural communities become connected. Comparing the experiences of different professionals highlights a range ways in which digital connectivity enables professional learning.
Comparing three professional sectors – Education, Health and Business – the current study explored the experiences of a range of rural professionals in relation to professional learning. Using the agency framework (Priestley et. al., 2015) to analyse the experiences highlighted factors which influence engagement with both technology and professional learning.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2018
EventEuropean Educational Research Association Conference: Inclusion and Exclusion, Resources for Educational Research - Bolzano Free University, Bolzano, Italy
Duration: 4 Sept 20187 Sept 2018


ConferenceEuropean Educational Research Association Conference
Abbreviated titleECER 2018
Internet address


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