Modernizing Professional Learning, Modeling Effective Practices for Student-Centered Learning

Based on direct input from learners via end-of-course survey data, Michigan Virtual’s Professional Learning Services team has modernized their professional learning for educators while modeling effective practices for student-centered learning.

In this first post in a short series of three blogs about designing effective professional learning, Senior Professional Learning Specialist Anne Perez shares how Michigan Virtual’s Professional Learning Services team has adjusted and modernized their professional learning for the educators with whom they work. 

Michigan Virtual’s Professional Learning Services team primarily delivers professional learning in two ways: designing and facilitating online learning courses, as well as working with educators through personalized coaching services, synchronous training, and conference presentations. 

However, once the COVID-19 pandemic struck, turning education upside down and causing schools to close their physical doors, the Professional Learning Services team was forced to immediately adjust their professional learning delivery in several ways. 

When enrollments in their four facilitated blended learning courses skyrocketed from two course completions in February of 2020 to 983 course completions in April of 2020, members of the Professional Learning Services team made some adjustments to meet the current needs of teachers.

They redesigned the four blended learning courses to be unfacilitated in an effort to both support the flexible schedules teachers had during remote teaching and accommodate the significantly higher number of enrollments. 

At the same time, they updated the content to reflect tools and strategies that better supported the instructional designs they were using.

In the same way, adjustments were needed to the team’s in-person trainings and coaching services as working with educators in these formats was no longer an option during the pandemic. 

However, the Professional Learning Services team realized that they couldn’t simply take their in-person professional development (PD) and replicate it in an online format—they needed to make some additional adjustments to their online PD courses to meet the changing needs of the educators they serve.

Necessary adjustments to meet the changing needs of educators

Based on actual course enrollment data, the Michigan Virtual Professional Learning Services team observed an upward trend of increased enrollments in their shorter professional learning courses worth 1-2 SCECHs vs. those that were worth 3-4+ SCECHs—even if there were more courses in the series. 

Consequently, they worked to break apart some of their longer courses into several series of shorter, more manageable courses to meet this immediate need. 

As the topics of blended learning, personalized learning, choice, and technology—topics they already addressed and offered course content on—became instantly even more relevant, they worked to ensure the information they provided included the most updated research and resources. 

As a result of school closures related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the actual in-person component of blended learning (which incorporates both virtual and in-person learning) was removed, triggering the need for emergency remote teaching. For this reason, the Professional Learning Services team worked to help teachers determine how they could adapt in-person learning in a synchronous online learning environment. 

They spent more time focusing on the actual elements of blended learning while giving teachers suggestions as to how they could incorporate the elements into whatever format they are teaching in. 

Three key takeaways

Interestingly, despite things returning to more familiar educational settings, Anne explained that many school districts and intermediate school districts continue to request virtual PD. Likewise, many conferences are still offering both an in-person and virtual option. 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Anne also admitted that according to their end-of-course survey data, learners appreciate the flexibility that unfacilitated online PD courses afford them, noting they enjoy working at their own pace around their own schedules and are able to complete their learning without having to step away from the classroom to do so.

Based on this input from learners via end-of-course survey data and in order to continue to meet the changing needs of educators, Anne outlined three key takeaways that Michigan Virtual’s Professional Learning Services team has strived to implement as they modernize their professional learning offerings. 

As you read, consider how these same approaches to modernizing professional learning for educators are just as important to keep in mind as effective practices for student learners—and ways to make learning student-centered.

#1: Teachers need to experience and reflect on quality online learning in order to understand the student perspective 

  • Rather than providing a full-on lecture, provide more of a “lecture burst” style of disseminating information. 
  • Especially in an asynchronous setting, providing clear directions is crucial. 
  • Make sure to build in time for reflection. 

Anne’s team felt so passionately about the importance of teaching educators how to be reflective practitioners that they designed a course—”Being a Reflective Teacher During the Pandemic”—to help them hone that skill. In the course, teachers drive their own learning based on self-reflection which helps teachers build their self-efficacy.

They also designed and facilitated a virtual “Moving Forward” workshop to help educators and school administrators reflect upon what has been going well, what they might want to continue, and what they should consider improving.

#2: Incorporate effective practices 

By designing professional learning that incorporates these effective practices—practices that are just as effective for student learners—adult learners get a chance to experience it for themselves, and will hopefully be more likely to implement these effective practices in their own classroom. 

Make it meaningful and relevant

  • As much as possible, target the very specific needs of professional learners (elementary vs. secondary educators, educators teaching synchronously vs. asynchronously) rather than delivering the same PD regardless of learners’ specific needs. 
  • Provide relevant examples based on the LMS or technology learners already use to help make a connection to what is possible in their own classroom. 
  • Make sure to consider what educators will need to know or have in place in order to implement the educational strategies discussed. 

Offer choice in content and learning style 

  • Playlists made up of a variety of media within courses offer educators choice when exploring new content. 
  • To prevent learners from losing access to the content provided within playlists, create a PDF of the playlist content for learners to download after completing the course. 

Model practices and showcase examples

  • Make sure to consider accessibility: font size, color contrast, verbal feedback vs. written feedback. A resource developed by Stoo Sepp, Mona Wong, Vincent Hoogerheide, and Juan C. Castro-Alonso has some great tips for how to present information effectively in online courses. Check out the clever visual demonstrations generated from using the sliders to really understand each tip!
  • Consider not only including a playlist made up of a mix of different media to showcase or model examples but also dividing content into smaller chunks.
  • For synchronous instruction, consider modeling Jamboard and Padlet.
  • For asynchronous instruction, consider modeling Flipgrid.
  • Mentimeter can be used to increase collaboration.

Provide flexibility with time throughout the design 

  • Allow teachers to choose how much time to spend exploring topics, and acknowledge that it will differ from learner to learner. 
  • Consider offering both facilitated and unfacilitated learning opportunities. For example, some learners may want F2F interaction and facilitated discussions while others want the flexibility to simply read and digest material at their own pace. 

Create opportunities for learners to connect

  • Offer both synchronous and asynchronous options for learners to connect.
  • A discussion board can be a great asynchronous option. 
  • For synchronous learning, save time for sharing ideas with other learners.

#3: Know your target audience and seek feedback regularly

It is so important to know your audience. Understand who is going to be receiving your PD and tailor it to them as much as possible. Make the learners feel as if the PD is directed specifically for them! 

  • Create surveys and review feedback. 
  • Use feedback to understand what learners like, dislike, and find challenging.
  • Use feedback to inform future learning opportunities and course development.  

Final Thoughts

By modernizing their professional learning, Michigan Virtual’s Professional Learning Services team is also modeling effective practices for student-centered learning

They are showcasing and modeling for teachers the practices they hope teachers will implement in their own classrooms. 

By experiencing PD that is personalized, incorporates voice and choice, and acknowledges their individual learning preferences (and is adjusted for them), the hope is that professional learners walk away with an increased sense of empathy for the student learner. 

The goal is to also encourage professional learners to use some of these effective practices with their own students and make their classrooms more student-centered. 

Designing Effective Professional Learning Blog Series

In this blog series, Michigan Virtual Professional Learning Specialists and Course Designers provide insights—based on direct input from learners via end-of-course survey data—into how to design effective professional learning for teachers and school leaders. 

It is our hope that these blogs are helpful to designers of online PD courses or professional learning experiences, school leaders and teachers looking to make learning more student-centered, school leaders and teachers who are evaluating online courses or course content, and/or teachers who are creating their own online course content. 


A special thanks to Michigan Virtual’s Senior Professional Learning Specialist Anne Perez for sharing her knowledge and expertise which informed this blog. 

Picture of Christa Green

Christa Green

Christa received her master’s in Curriculum and Instruction from Kent State University, as well as a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration. She taught middle school language arts and social studies for seven years before coming to work for Michigan Virtual in 2018. As a research specialist with the Michigan Virtual Learning Research Institute, Christa enjoys using her passion for education, curriculum, research, and writing to share and shape best practices in online and blended learning with other educators within and beyond Michigan.

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