Virtually Developing: Exploring the Potential and Pitfalls of Online Professional Development and Adult Learning

During summer and fall 2020, Rosov Consulting engaged in a multifaceted study of 13 Jewish adult learning and professional development programs that shifted their offerings online due to COVID-19 (nine are part of the Jim Joseph Foundation Professional Development Initiative, four are from other Jim Joseph Foundation grantees). In the first stage of our research, they interviewed program providers about the challenges they faced in moving to online learning, the positive “silver linings” of the virtual experience, and the longer-term impacts of reimagining how they do their work. In the second stage, they explored the experiences of and impacts on program participants through a survey of more than 1,600 participants and follow-up interviews with 14 of them.

The programs included both those specifically for educators and Jewish professionals as well as general adult Jewish learning open to all. Rosov Consulting sought to understand the personal and professional impacts of online learning; the strengths and limitations of the experience, particularly as compared to in-person learning; and what facilitates and impedes learning through virtual modalities.

Virtually Developing: Exploring the Potential and Pitfalls of Online Professional Development and Adult Learning” (executive summary), Rosov Consulting, January 2021

Virtually Developing: Exploring the Potential and Pitfalls of Online Professional Development and Adult Learning” (full report), Rosov Consulting, January 2021

View a webinar on these learnings hosted by Jewish Funders Network with Mark Horowitz of Jewish Community Centers of North America (JCCs), Meredith Woocher of Rosov Consulting, and Stacie Cherner of the Jim Joseph Foundation. 

Zooming Toward the Future: The Challenges, Strategies, and Opportunities of Distance Learning

To help the Jim Joseph Foundation and the field better understand how pivoting to distance learning has unfolded for Jewish education and professional development organizations, Rosov Consulting interviewed nine program providers from the Jim Joseph Foundation Professional Development Initiative (PDI) cohort, along with five other Foundation grantees that operate in overlapping fields. The interviews explored the initial choices organizations made and how those choices evolved over time. We investigated the challenges that programs faced when moving online, whether and how they were able to address those challenges, the positive “silver linings” of being forced to reimagine how they do their work, and which dimensions might continue once people can gather in person again.

This report synthesizes the key themes we heard in these conversations, categorized into the challenges programs have faced in the pivot to distance learning, the strategies to overcome them that have proved most effective, and the opportunities (both predictable and surprising) that have emerged from the crisis. We conclude by sharing organizational leaders’ perspectives on how they envision the “new normal” in a post-COVID world.

Zooming Toward the Future: The Challenges, Strategies, and Opportunities of Distance Learning, Rosov Consulting, September 2020

Virtual Engagement Research

Supported by the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Foundation and Jim Joseph Foundation, the Benenson Strategy Group surveyed 1,001 American Jews nationwide, ages 18-40, from June 29 – July 15, 2020. The research objectives of this projects were to:

  • Assess how Jewish young adults are responding to the ongoing pandemic and how they are engaging (or not engaging) with virtual programming from organizations right now.
  • Understand what kinds of virtual programming Jewish young adults are seeking out right now, and why: what appeals to them about certain programs and/or organizations, what kind of needs they fill, and what it is about a program that makes it worthwhile or meaningful.
  • Identify how organizations can enhance and expand virtual Jewish programming to best meet the needs of young Jews today.

Virtual Engagement Research, Benenson Strategy Group, August 2020

Access the data files to Virtual Engagement Research from the Berman Jewish Databank

Read Emotion Before Content: Evidence Based Recommendations for Designing Virtual Jewish Engagement, by Rella Kaplowitz, Stacie Cherner, and Lisa Narodick Colton, in eJewish Philanthropy

Has Remote Learning Set Back Jewish Day School Students?

In July 2020, 16 Jewish day high schools fielded a survey to their students about their experience of remote learning since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The survey was developed with support from the Government of Israel’s Ministry of Diaspora Affairs as part of work for Unit.Ed—a day school initiative in Europe and Latin America. It was originally fielded in Jewish communities such as Milan, Paris, and Buenos Aires. Subsequently, it was slightly modified for students in North America. North American data were collected and analyzed by Rosov Consulting with the support of the Foundation and in partnership with Prizmah: Center for Jewish Day Schools. After data analysis was complete, interviews were conducted with school leaders at the schools whose students had responded most positively in order to learn about their educational practices during this period.

This bulletin focuses on student responses to the question: “Do you feel that remote learning has set your education back in some way?” Possible responses, on a four-point scale, were: “Not at all,” “A little,” “Somewhat,” and “Very much.” Students were asked to explain their responses to this question in their own words; 1,112 did so.

In total, 1,383 students responded to the North American survey. All of these respondents were enrolled in 9th through 12th grade during the 2019–2020 academic year. Ten of the participating schools are Modern Orthodox; six are Community or Conservative high schools.

Has Remote Learning Set Back Jewish Day School Students?Rosov Consulting, August 2020

The Future of Jewish Learning Is Here: How Digital Media Are Reshaping Jewish Education

Among the many ways in which the internet has irreversibly changed our lives is how it has enabled access to information with unprecedented speed and ease. By changing how we engage with information, it has also changed how people relate to information and how they negotiate its various meanings. Social media have accelerated this process by creating new ways to connect people through sharing information. These changes have influenced our communities, our politics, our consumption patterns, how we spend our leisure time, and even our definitions of “friend” and “like.”

Learning online does not look exactly like learning in classrooms or schools, summer camps or seminaries. Nor should we expect it to. And yet, people are learning online, and this report makes the case for understanding online engagements as educational. The question it answers is, “How are people learning online?” Combining leading research about secular online learning and new data about Jewish online learning, The Future of Jewish Learning Is Here offers a substantive, richly illustrative, and intimately informed account of Jewish learning online. It accounts for when, where, and how it happens, what people are learning, and how they are engaging with information alone and in relation with others. Jewish educational online media enable learners to:

Jewish educational online media enable learners to:

  1. Connect with others around Jewish learning
  2. Access Jewish knowledge beyond Jewish institutions
  3. Learn in sync with the rhythms of the Jewish calendar
  4. Utilize different platforms for different ends
  5. Integrate online learning and offline practice

Together, these key findings represent a portrait of Jewish learning online, with the understanding that learning online is more diffuse, less coordinated, more generally self-directed than learning in schools and other formal settings. The Future of Jewish Learning Is Here: How Digital Media Are Reshaping Jewish Education offers insights into how and what people learn online, as part of a larger conversation about what Jewish education looks like in the 21st century.

The Future of Jewish Learning Is Here: How Digital Media Are Reshaping Jewish EducationMarch 2019
(view as single pages)

Read a series of blogs in eJewishPhilanthropy on insights from the report:

Add comments and feedback on the report here:

Smart Money: Recommendations for an Educational Technology and Digital Engagement Investment Strategy

The Jim Joseph and William Davidson Foundations have been working diligently over many years on the demanding and pressing issues of Jewish engagement and learning. It is universally accepted that digital media engage youth and adults and can deliver educational outcomes. Yet the Jewish community can do much more to harness these powerful, ubiquitous, engaging Ed Tech tools efficiently in the service of Jewish engagement and learning. Lewis J. Bernstein and Associates present the following report advising the Foundations on making strategic Investments in Ed Tech and Digital Engagement in service of their missions.

Educational technology (Ed Tech) is broadly defined to include: digital technology, internet connectivity, and digital content in the service of a full range of educational and learning objectives. It is designed for use by teacher/instructors, educational institutions, and student/learners.

This report is a result of months of Ed Tech audits, over fifty interviews, and the Principles’ collective experience in the field. Smart Money is presented in two sections: 1) set of Recommendations for the foundations to consider and 2) a Landscape Report of the trends and tools used in Ed Tech.

Smart Money: Recommendations for an Educational Technology and Digital Engagement Investment Strategy, March 2017

Introductory Blog to Smart Money, by Kari Alterman, William Davidson Foundation, and Josh Miller, Jim Joseph Foundation