Professional Learning - Learning Designs


Learning Designs

The Standard

Professional learning that enhances both educator practice and outcomes for each and every student integrates research on effective adult learning and uses flexible learning designs to achieve intended outcomes.

Learning Designs Defined

Learning designs refer to the professional learning structures and methodologies used to enhance the growth of educators and ultimately the academic and non-academic growth of students. While multiple designs exist, most share common features that support change in knowledge, skills, dispositions, and practice, such as active engagement, modeling, reflection, application, assessment, and ongoing feedback and support.

Learning Designs and Professional Learning

Effective learning designs incorporate and complement effective practices associated with all professional learning standards, from data and resources to leadership and learning communities.

Keys to Successful Learning Designs

Most professional learning occurs as a part of the workday, while other forms occur outside the school day. Whatever the setting, the most effective learning designs incorporate three key components:

Analysis and goal-setting
  • Learning designs must take into account such factors as:
    • Goals of the learning and the magnitude of the expected change;
    • Characteristics of the learners, their comfort with the learning process and with one another;
    • The learners’ familiarity with the content;
    • The educators' work environment;
    • Resources available to support learning; and
    • The intended outcome, drawn from analysis of student and educator learning needs.
Integration of research into models
  • Effective learning designs consider the theories, research, and models of human learning developed over the past century to shape the underlying framework for professional learning. The learning design, therefore, may take on any number of forms, depending on objectives, analysis, and resources. Examples of effective learning designs include:
    • Professional learning in face-to-face, online, and hybrid settings
    • Individual, team-based, and whole-school learning
    • Structured processes such as courses or workshops
    • Models that allow for adjustments as needed
    • Synchronous or asynchronous interactions
    • Live or simulated models and experiences
    • Print and non-print resources to present information, model skills and procedures, provide low-risk practice, and support transfer to the learning environment
  • Technology facilitates access to, sharing, construction, and analysis of information to enhance educator practice. It can greatly increase possibilities for personalizing, differentiating, and deepening learning, especially for educators who have limited access to on-site professional learning or who are eager to reach beyond the boundaries of their physical environment to join local or global networks to enrich their learning.
Involvement and accountability
  • Educators are responsible for taking an active role in selecting and constructing learning designs that facilitate their own and others' learning. When selecting and applying learning designs, educators must consider how to build knowledge, develop skills, transform practice, challenge attitudes and beliefs, and inspire action. Active learning processes promote deep understanding of new learning and increase motivation to implement new learning. Processes to accomplish this include:
    • Discussion and dialogue
    • Writing, demonstrations, inquiry, and reflection
    • Metacognition and co-construction of knowledge
    • Practice with innovative strategies, feedback, coaching, modeling, and problem solving


Use these guiding questions to engage members of the school and/or district community to identify strengths, areas for growth, and next steps to align the Learning Design standard across the school and/or district professional learning system:

  • Describe the learning designs currently in place for professional learning. How do the learning designs meet the needs of the adult learner? Do they reflect proven learning models developed and implemented elsewhere in similar contexts?
  • How are learning designs selected for each professional learning opportunity? How do those designs help achieve the intended learning outcomes?
  • What role does technology play in the learning designs within the school and/or district? How is technology over- or under-utilized?
  • Describe the level of involvement and accountability of educators in the development and implementation of appropriate learning designs.

Used with permission of Learning Forward, All rights reserved.