Professional Learning and Development (PLD) in Higher Education: The experiences of teacher educators in Vietnam
A key challenge for educators in Vietnamese higher education (HE) lies in the implementation of top-down national educational reforms. Professional learning and development (PLD) is viewed by the government as a primary means to enhance lecturers’ capacity to implement national educational initiatives. However, the nature of PLD for lecturers and its roles in supporting HE reforms in developing countries like Vietnam remain under-investigated. This study explores the practices of PLD for English as a foreign language (EFL) lecturers who are teacher educators within higher education, and the social, cultural, and political contexts within which these occur. The study employs a mixed-methods research methodology with a focus on qualitative approach and the use of Cultural Historical Activity Theory (CHAT) as the framework of analysis. A case study across three tertiary institutions provides the basis for an analysis of the phenomenon of PLD for EFL lecturers in Vietnam involving academic leaders and EFL lecturers. Complementary data collection methods were used: a questionnaire, individual semi-structured interviews, observations of PLD sessions, and relevant document review. Data were analysed both deductively and inductively to explore the roles of PLD in the educators’ personal and professional growth, and their capacity to enact mandated initiatives in the selected institutions. The findings indicate that PLD is a complex, political and culturally situated phenomenon that plays a key role in supporting the professional aspirations of lecturers. The study foregrounds the lecturers’ PLD experiences, the implications of PLD, and the influence of government and institutional policies and initiatives on the lecturers’ PLD. This study proposes a model of PLD that raises critical questions about how HE institutions and policy makers might provide a supportive PLD environment to better foster lecturers’ capacity to bring about changes at both personal and institutional levels. This model shows that PLD needs to be viewed across diverse forms including formal, collaborative and informal PLD. For PLD to be effective, consideration should be given to ensuring lecturers experience it as: (1) needs-based, relevant and meaningful for their learning and applicable to their teaching contexts, (2) encouraging them to be active and self-regulated learners, (3) promoting reflective and experiential learning, and (4) based on negotiated understandings of the purpose and function of PLD among all involved stakeholders. The study contributes to an understanding of PLD requirements for EFL teacher educators in an Asian context, and may be relevant to PLD for tertiary lecturers in a wider international context.