Effective Professional Learning Design

Evidence has shown that job-embedded professional learning is more effective in improving teacher practice than the more traditional externally provided professional learning opportunities. With more professional learning being delivered internally by teachers within education settings, there is a need for teachers to better understand and be aware of learning design and its impact on the learning itself.

Learning design involves assessing the professional learning you are planning to provide, and making careful decisions around the integration of theories, research and learning models to improve its effectiveness. An understanding of learning design can help you to develop new professional learning, enhance existing professional learning, or evaluate professional learning to see if it will meet your learning needs. 

Learning Design Anatomy

The Learning Design Anatomy, developed by Learning Forward, provides a framework for understanding the elements of effective professional learning design. The Learning Design Anatomy features four concentric circles, with ten elements of learning design embedded within them. 


Logic Sequence

The logic sequence represents the causal links that lead to improved student outcomes. The logic of the Anatomy and the relationship between the concentric circles can be read as a long sentence:

There is also a strong alignment between this logic sequence and the High Quality Professional Learning cycle.

Context’ refers to the factors in the broader operating environment that impact on educator learning, i.e. geographic, economic, political, and social factors. These are important considerations when identifying a professional learning need. A relatively minor element of a teacher’s practice in one context may be a much higher priority in another.

Educator Learning’ refers to the impact of a learning design on the knowledge, skills and understanding of participants, as well as their readiness to engage in changed practice. A learning design that is appropriate for the content and matches your preferences should be a consideration when selecting and undertaking professional learning.

Implementation’ refers to the application of new learning through revisions to practice and trialling, and the implementation of new ideas and approaches. This is identical to the applying professional learning stage in the HQPL cycle.

Student Outcomes’ are the end goal of the logic sequence and represent the positive impact that effective engagement with professional learning can have on learning, learner engagement and wellbeing. To determine this, one must undertake the evaluation phase of the HQPL cycle. The evaluation may also encompass the impact of the professional learning on oneself and one’s colleagues, in addition to learners.

Components and Elements

The Learning Design Anatomy is made up of three components, with ten elements situated within them. These provide a structure that can be applied by teachers when planning their professional learning offering for their colleagues. There is no hierarchical structure to the components and elements, and a user may find some more relevant than others depending on their context. 

Ensuring the environment matches the purpose of the professional learning is critical to its success. Environments should engage participants while taking into account any underlying conditions that affect the learning. The two elements embedded in the Environment component are: 

  • participants
  • conditions.

An understanding of the behaviours and learning requirements of the participants contributes to designing a learning environment that will resonate with them. If the learning environment does not take the learners’ needs into account, they will not engage with the professional learning. You should particularly consider the learning needs that are unique to adults.

Understanding the unique conditions of the environment in which learning will take place is paramount. The conditions can include support from leadership, prior knowledge of participants, learner data available for analysis, and workload constraints. Ethical or strategic purposes, goals, or objectives may influence how participants engage with learning, so understanding the local context and what the learning design can provide should be clear from the outset. 

Delivery relates to the ways a learning design enables participant engagement. It includes what they can expect to learn, how they will participate, and the interactive supports that you will use to enhance knowledge transfer, deepen engagement and support application of learning. Delivery consists of the following elements:


Structure deals with the practical elements of learning, such as the amount of time it takes, location, and sequence of events. Structural decisions may be intentionally open, allowing the user to manage their own learning, or could follow a deliberately sequential approach. The right structure can provide helpful processes and discipline for forms of professional learning such as action research and professional learning communities.

Effective delivery of professional learning means providing the necessary information to enable users to easily navigate and participate in the learning environment. This could be an intuitive layout on a website, providing pre-reading, or coordinating ongoing support from lead practitioners or expert teachers in the case of job-embedded learning. 

The aesthetics of a learning design elicit a sensory response. You will need to make decisions about the visual, auditory, and physical construction of the professional learning to enable engagement. Examples of aesthetics include multi-modal tools used in online professional learning (e.g. videos, quizzes), and decisions about seating and on-screen resources in face-to-face professional learning. 

Content refers to the knowledge, attitudes, skills, aspirations, and behaviours (Killion, 2008) that will be the target of the professional learning. Successful learning design will feature a selection of content that both meets the needs of and extends the participants. Your content must align with the purpose and context of the professional learning. Think about what material needs to be presented to meet learning intentions, how you will make use of prior expertise, and what content participants should know before attending the professional learning. 

Features are the practices associated with the delivery of, or mode of participation in, professional learning. These include the approaches to professional learning such as face-to-face, remote, online, collaborative, or self-directed. You may choose to combine some of these modes of participation when designing your professional learning. Choose the modes of participation that will help you best achieve the intended outcomes of the learning. 

Tools are used to enhance knowledge transfer, deepen engagement and support understanding of the content aims. They are the elements of learning design that encourage participation. Examples include templates, proformas or schematics, polls, and other interactive elements. 

Action refers to the translation of learning into practice and can be achieved through tailored support or agile design. The elements of Action are:


Transference concerns the design’s ability to directly support the application of learning in context. It relates to the ease with which participants can implement their learning into their practice. It may be supported through tailored materials and resources embedded within the learning for use back in education settings. Alternatively, it might occur through a combination of elements within the learning design, e.g., examination of student data to determine needs and approach. 

Flexibility refers to the degree to which educators are supported to reflect on and evaluate their learning for application in a variety of situations and contexts over time. Flexible learning designs accommodate variability in application and support participants to reflect, review and reassess their learning. You should consider how the learning may be applied in a variety of contexts and address the diversity of such applications. 

Effective professional learning design should remain cognizant of the HQPL cycle as a guide to implementation. Design should begin with reflection on the context of the audience, and the intended impact of the learning. Having a strong learning goal in mind will help define how teachers can implement the learning, and what student outcomes should emerge as a result.