Study: Network aids professional growth

The Discovery Educator Network (DEN) from Discovery Education contributes to the professional growth of educators, according to a study released by Dr. Ilona Holland, independent researcher and faculty member of the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Nearly 90 percent of educators said the DEN “tremendously” or “very much” contributed to their professional growth. With more than 150,000 members worldwide, the Discovery Educator Network is one of the largest and most active professional learning communities for educators.

“The evaluation of the DEN demonstrated the dedication and active involvement of its members, in particular the Leadership Council, and the intrinsic value of the educators’ network,” said Holland. “A vast majority (89 percent) of the respondents stated that the DEN had a major impact on their professional growth. Nearly all reported that their use of technology had improved as a result of their involvement. The DEN clearly meets a need among educators through providing an opportunity for participants to share successes, receive meaningful and relevant support from each other as well as staff, and participate in a nurturing community of practice that helps them keep abreast of current educational advances.”

When asked what was most important to professional growth in their field, educators referenced building a network of colleagues, having access to great resources, getting new ideas about how to integrate technology, and being able to keep up with current trends. Respondents said the DEN had helped them in every one of these areas. As one educator said best, “The ability to connect with others in the same professional position, to share ideas and strategies [is key to professional development]. We all can learn so much from each other, and it helps immensely to have such a great collective brain to connect to when I need help or ideas.”

In addition to providing professional development, respondents reported that the DEN had an extremely beneficial impact on how they used technology. Nearly all respondents (96.7 percent) reported that their technology use had improved and increased in some way as a result of their involvement with the DEN. “Personally and professionally, I am more excited about learning than I ever have been. I attribute it to my participation in the DEN,” shared one respondent. Educators said the DEN has helped them effectively use products and technology, improve their instructional practice, and develop curriculum that was engaging and exciting for students.

Almost all educators reported facing challenges when integrating technology into their work and over half (59.5 percent) reported that the DEN had been able to help them with those challenges. The most common challenge faced by members was getting “buy in” from others in their districts. An educator remarked, “Many colleagues feel comfortable approaching me for information about technology use because they know that I was recently a non-user. I give all of the credit for my change to my participation in the DEN community.”

Respondents were very active users of social media in their daily lives and many respondents frequently used social media to interact with the DEN, with two-thirds using it to interact with the members at least once a month and over half using it at least once a week. “This connection through social media has by far been the best professional development I have had as a teacher in my 22 years of teaching,” commented one educator. DEN members found social media useful for connecting with like-minded colleagues and sharing resources.

“It has been absolutely amazing to witness the growth of the DEN from its inception six years ago,” said Lance Rougeux, vice president of learning communities and instructional implementation for Discovery Education.“The community is constantly adapting to meet the needs of its members and our most active participants, STAR Discovery Educators and DEN Leadership Council members, are the driving force of all the positive changes and growth. The results of the research study are testimony to the fact that the DEN community is powerful because it is mission-based – connecting educators to their most valuable resource, each other.”

As a member of this professional learning community, educators have access to a wide range of technology training resources, an expansive library of teacher-generated projects and tools, and in-person and online activities.

The study presents the results of an online survey conducted in March 2011 with 231 members of the DEN Leadership Council. The survey was conducted to determine how the DEN has affected their professional development, and their use of technology in their work. To download a full-length version of the study, visit