naeyc – National Association for the Education of Young Children
Promoting Excellence in Early Childhood Education

Early childhood professional development is a continuum of learning and support opportunities designed to prepare individuals for work with as opportunities that provide ongoing experiences to enhance this work. These opportunities lead to improvements in the knowledge, skills, practices, and dispositions of early childhood professionals.


Professional development programs encompass both education and training programs:

  • Education programs help learners to “…have a deep foundation of factual knowledge, understand facts and ideas in the context of a conceptual framework, and organize knowledge in ways that facilitate retrieval and application.” Education programs are broad based: They include experiences specific to a primary area of inquiry (e.g., child development, early childhood education, or related fields including elementary education and early childhood special education) as well as subjects of general knowledge (e.g., mathematics, history, grammar). Education programs typically lead to an associate’s, baccalaureate, or graduate degree or other credit programs provide the foundations for a lifetime of professional practice expanded upon through experience and ongoing professional development.  Education programs also may include continuing education programs that lead to the aware of continuing education units (CEUs), but not college credits.
  • Training programs are specific to an area of inquiry and set of skills related to an area of inquiry (e.g., a workshop series on positive discipline for preschoolers). Completion of training participation can lead to assessment for award of the Child Development Associate (CDA) Credential or another type of credential, CEUs, clock hours, or certification.

Note: In some instances participants who successfully complete a training program are awarded credits that can lead to an associate or baccalaureate degree. Also, credentialing programs can be linked to education and training, or credential can be awarded through direct assessment of knowledge and skills.

In the early childhood field there is often “crossover” regarding professional preparation – or preservice programs—and ongoing professional development- in-service programs. This field is one in which entry-level requirements differ across various sectors within the field (e.g., nursing, family support, and bookkeeping are also fields with varying entry differ across center-, home-, and school – based settings. An individual could receive professional preparation (preservice) to be a teaching staff member in a community-based organization and receive subsequent education and training as part of an ongoing professional development system (in-service). The same individual could also be pursuing a degree for a role as a teacher in a program for which licensure is required—this in-service program would be considered preservice education for the certified teaching position. Therefore, the labels preservice and in-service must b e related to the position in the field, and not based on the individual’s professional development program.


i Adapted from National Research Council. 1999. How people learn: bridging research and practice. Committee on Learning Research and Educational Practice. Donovan, M.S., J.D. Bransford, & J.W. Pellegrino, eds. Commission on Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 12.


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