Designing Professional Learning

  • This resource was created to help teachers and other staff who want to lead professional learning in their schools, PLCs, departments or at the district level. Understanding what constitutes high quality professional learning is imperative in designing learning experiences that lead to improved teacher practice and student outcomes. 

    Benefits of well-designed professional learning include collaboration, focused conversations data and student progress, on opportunities for reflection on teaching practice, feedback on and evaluation of the learning, and an increased sense of individual and collective efficacy.


    Adult Learning Theory

    According to Malcolm Knowles and his theory of andragogy (adult learning), adults learners differ from children in these 6 ways:

    • Need for Knowledge: Adults need to know “why” they should learn. 
    • Motivation: Adults are driven by internal motives. They will learn if they want to learn. For instance, a compelling answer to the “what’s-in-it-for-me” question is a powerful internal motivation. 
    • Willingness: For adults, the willingness or readiness to learn comes from perceiving the relevance of the knowledge. They want to know how learning will help them better their lives, and they learn best when they know that the knowledge has immediate value for them. 
    • Foundation or Experience: Adults bring with them rich reserves of experiences that form the foundation of their learning. They analyze, rationalize, synthesize, and develop new ideas or tweak old ones through the filter of their experiences. As an instructional designer, you should tap into their well of experiences to help them make connections, perceive relevance, and derive inspiration. 
    • Self-Direction: Adults are self-directed individuals who want to take charge of the learning journey. They are independent beings who want to feel in control. 
    • Orientation to Learning: Adults learn best when they “do.” They find relevance in task-oriented learning, which they can align with their workplace realities. Besides, task-oriented learning exercises their problem-solving ability that in turn, gives them the confidence that they can conquer their challenges with their newly-acquired knowledge.


    Learning Design


    Elements of effective professional learning:

    • Active Engagement
    • Verbal Discourse
    • Collaboration
    • Modeling
    • Data Analysis
    • Feedback
    • Reflection
    • Support


    Method of delivery and targeted audience

    • learning can occur in a variety of settings, face to face, online or hybrid
    • learning can target an individual, a team, a school, or a district
    • methods of delivery may be influenced by the audience
    • content and outcomes must be tailored to address the needs of the targeted audience


    List of guiding questions for planning of professional learning:



    As part of the continuous cycle of improvement, any professional learning should be evaluated for its impact on learner's new knowledge, skills or behavior. This data helps improve planning and designing future professional learning and gauge the district learning system.

    There are multiple ways to evaluate professional learning and this article and this article by Dr. Guskey explain individual elements of evaluation and how to include them to the planning process.