J16.2 Effective Strategies to Engage Atmospheric Scientists in Online Professional Development: Meeting the Demands of a Rapidly Changing Workforce

Tuesday, 14 January 2020: 10:45 AM
258C (Boston Convention and Exhibition Center)
Morgan Brown Yarker, Yarker Consulting, Cedar Rapids, IA; and M. D. S. Mesquita

Careers in the atmospheric sciences is currently experiencing a major shift. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (2018) states that while jobs in the field is expected to increase over the next 10 years, “...the best job prospects for meteorologists is expected to be in private industry.” Yet, Serrato et al. (2019) found that students report feeling unprepared for a career in private industry and professors report uncertainty about how to prepare their students for jobs in this sector. Therefore, it is imperative that students and recent graduates are educated in concepts and skills that are in high demand for jobs in the private sector. However, adjusting curriculum at universities and other educational institutes is a complicated and lengthy process, regardless of available resources. Therefore, informal education initiatives can fill an immediate need: professional development for current atmospheric science students, recent graduates and early career professionals.

Informal professional development (PD) can provide professionals with opportunities to gain a wide range of knowledge and skills that can be applied in a variety of settings. Most importantly, informal PD can provide freedom for professionals to choose the content or skills that they are most interested in and apply it directly to current projects, which allows them to learn through practical, real-world experience. This is especially important as new technology develops-such as A.I.- and as new career paths emerge that value different skills sets than was previously common- such as innovation and entrepreneurship. Additionally, informal PD has the benefit of being more accessible than formal education because it is relatively low cost to the professional, especially when the PD is made available online.

Informal, online PD resources already exist for atmospheric scientists in a variety of places, the most notable is MetEd (https://www.meted.ucar.edu/index.php), which is excellent for independent study. However, there are instances where more guidance and support is required, especially when learning how to apply complex technology and strategies to unfamiliar scenarios. For this reason, M2Lab.org was developed in 2013 with the goal to make quality science education accessible. It provides free PD courses for scientists about complex topics (like how to set up and run a regional climate model and applications for Bayesian statistics) using robust educational strategies. There are currently 9 courses offered at M2lab.org and over 1200 registered participants worldwide. Over the years, research has been done to modify and refine these strategies and ultimately develop new, state-of-the-art methodologies for providing effective online PD for atmospheric scientists. Our research indicates that:

  • Learning is enhanced by by increasing peer-to-peer discussion about the material (e.g., Yarker, 2013)
  • Learning complex content online can be done in a variety of ways, but is most effective when the learner applies new information to real-world scenarios (Walton et al., 2015).
  • Increasing peer-to-peer discussion through the use of social media generates a community of learners that improves the overall experience for the participants (Yarker & Mesquita, 2015).
  • Online learning communities increases participant motivation to stay engaged with the material (Yarker & Mesquita, 2015).

As a result of these findings, courses at M2lab.org have been continually evolving and future courses will be using a newly developed methodology, called Ycomm, to encourage the building of online learning communities through a structured intrinsic and extrinsic reward system. Our presentation will discuss the Ycomm methodology and how M2lab.org will incorporate it into a new course about Entrepreneurial Meteorology, which is designed to meet the demands of our changing workforce and provide atmospheric science professionals with the skills and knowledge to build their own startup company, or apply it to a career in private industry. Ultimately, the lessons learned from M2lab.org can provide a basis for further development of informal PD that can address the needs of a changing workforce and increase the success of professionals in our field.


  1. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor (2018). Occupational Outlook Handbook, Atmospheric Scientists, Including Meteorologists. Accessed 12 December 2018, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/atmospheric-scientists-including-meteorologists.htm
  2. M2lab (2019). M2lab: Because we care about education. Accessed 8 August 2019, www.m2lab.org
  3. MetEd (2019). Teaching and Training Resources for the Geosciences Community. Accessed 8 August 2019, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/atmospheric-scientists-including-meteorologists.htm
  4. Serrato, A., Yarker, M.B., Mesquita, M. d. S., Mateika, B. (2019). A Case for Entrepreneurial Meteorology. External Abstract, Preceding of the Annual Meeting of the American Meteorological Society. DOI: 10.13140/RG.2.2.14782.13127
  5. Walton, P.J., Yarker, M.B., Mesquita, M. d.S. & Otto, F.E.L. (2015). Helping to Make Sense of Regional Climate Modeling: Professional Development for Scientists and Decision Makers Anytime, Anywhere. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. 97(7). DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1175/BAMS-D-14-00111.1
  6. Yarker, M. B. (2013). Teacher challenges, perceptions, and use of science models in middle school classrooms about climate, weather, and energy concepts [Doctoral dissertation].
  7. Yarker, M.B. & Mesquita, M. d.S. (2015). Using Social Media to Improve Peer Dialogue in an Online Course about Regional Climate Modeling. International Journal of Online Pedagogy and Course Design. 8(4), 1-21. doi:10.4018/IJOPCD.2018100101
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