Effective Practices in Professional Learning Course Design: Course Content

Based on direct input from learners via end-of-course survey data, Michigan Virtual’s Instructional Product Development team gleaned the effective practices outlined in this blog in order to improve their course development and better meet the needs of the educators whom they serve.

In this third post in a short series of three blogs about designing effective professional learning, Senior Instructional Designer Rosalie Dunlap shares how Michigan Virtual’s Instructional Product Development team is adjusting and modernizing their professional learning courses based on direct input from learners.

Michigan Virtual’s Instructional Product Development (IPD) team designs courses for both student and professional learners. In order to ensure courses are designed effectively and meet standards of quality course design, courses designed by Michigan Virtual must go through a Quality Matters (QM) course review process. The review process is thorough, extensive, and intended to help organizations focus on quality assurance and continuous improvement of their online and blended learning courses. 

The IPD team also solicits feedback from learners through an end-of-course survey. The team regularly reviews this feedback and takes learners’ experiences into consideration when designing courses. 

In addition to their regular review of course feedback, Senior Instructional Designer Rosalie Dunlap decided to dig into this learner feedback more strategically. She was specifically interested in finding out what else she and other Michigan Virtual course designers could do to help meet the current needs of professional learners as well as how they could improve course design.

Analyzing Learner Feedback, Improving Course Design

In order to better support professional learners, Rosalie constructed an extensive process to review and analyze learner feedback from several professional learning courses. Open-ended survey responses were gathered and analyzed on an individual course basis. Responses were categorized as either “satisfied” or “unsatisfied” comments, grouped in terms of commonality, and then analyzed by the percentage of learners that made each comment in order to look for trends. 

Data from an additional user experience focus group study exploring the learner’s perspective specifically in regards to social emotional learning (SEL) modules within Michigan Virtual courses were also collected and analyzed. Learner feedback from this focus group study provided Rosalie and the IPD team with even deeper insights into the learner perspective and user experience related to their SEL modules within Michigan Virtual courses. 

Based on her 12 years of experience in instructional course design and trends found within learner feedback, Rosalie outlined the following effective practices in regard to course content for professional learners. 

As you explore the sections below, consider how these effective practices can not only be particularly helpful to designers of online professional learning courses but also have some key takeaways for teachers who are creating or modifying their own online course content and educators who are evaluating the content of online courses.

Course Content Effective Practices

Course Content. Learners prefer: 

  • content that is clear, concise, and well organized       
  • content that is directly applicable to their practice           
  • content that is informative and relevant           
  • content that includes examples of how to implement the concepts and ideas being addressed           
  • when various perspectives are illustrated through videos, scenarios, stories, and examples

Resources Included Within Courses. Learners prefer: 

  • resources that are directly applicable to their practice
  • when they can download/save a list of resources for future use
  • resources that can be shared directly with their students/clients           
  • that when a resource link opens outside of a Learning Management System, it is an optional part of the learning experience       
  • not to pay for external resources

Instructions and Feedback. Learners prefer:

  • succinct instructions to help them understand what actions need to be taken        
  • informative and comprehensive feedback after interactions.
  • everything the learner should interact with looks clickable and includes clear instructions 

Content Delivery Methods. Learners prefer: 

  • when a wide variety of content delivery methods are used 
  • when courses prompt them to reflect on their practice   

Discussion Boards. Learners prefer:

  • when discussion board topics are directly applicable to their practice           
  • when discussion boards allow them to see what other educators are doing in their practice           
  • getting feedback on their ideas from their peers   

Videos. Learners prefer: 

  • videos that are short, engaging, and easy to understand       
  • videos that model how learners should do or use something       
  • videos that have a play button and a thumbnail so learners understand they must click to start the video           

Voiceover. Learners prefer:            

  • a natural, “real person” voice for narration and tend to tune out or mute a robotic-sounding voice           
  • having all the voiceover content available in text
  • voiceover length that does not exceed 20-30 minutes per module           

Presentations. Learners prefer:

  • less text and information on each slide, as it is easier

Interactions. Learners prefer: 

  • when all content is visible at all times
  • interactive activities   

Final Thoughts

By deeply analyzing feedback from professional learners on Michigan Virtual course design, Rosalie has equipped the rest of the Instructional Product Development team with considerations as to how they can design more effective professional learning. 

While the research gleaned many key takeaways and will help the IPD team better meet the needs of the educators they serve, it is important to keep in mind that learners’ needs shift over time. It will be essential for Rosalie and her team to keep a constant pulse on what learners appreciate and prefer, as well as what they don’t, and what their specific needs are in terms of their professional learning. 

In demonstrating a willingness to continually improve, Michigan Virtual will position itself as an innovative thought leader committed to creating quality learning experiences for Michigan educators.  

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 Instructional Designer Rosalie Dunlap 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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