In the Driver’s Seat: Online Professional Learning Design Features in Action

Dive deep into online professional learning. Discover how research-backed drivers enable educators to learn content, shift mindset and effectively improve practice. Explore how platforms bring these drivers to life.

In the Driver’s Seat: Online Professional Learning Design Features in Action


From tracking fitness to mastering a new language, learning online has become an everyday activity for most people. And that’s no different for educators who are increasingly looking for online professional learning that is differentiated to their unique needs and offers the ability to learn when and where they want. But as teachers—and the coaches and administrators who support them—consider different tools and platforms, there’s a need for all stakeholders to understand what makes for a quality online learning experience.

The Learning Accelerator (TLA), in partnership with EdSurge, conducted a comprehensive review of the scientific literature on adult learning and uncovered six key drivers that make for quality online learning for practitioners.

The foundational driver is platform quality, which helps learners easily engage with content and functions. The next layer includes drivers that help solidify learning into practical application and change—rigorous content provided through active learning modalities to help educators reach mastery. To deepen learning and understanding, the top layer includes drivers that build connections and personalize the learning experience.

We interviewed platform providers to explore how these drivers are built into the products, and had conversations with platform users to understand how they navigate the learning experience. Read the vignettes below to get a glimpse of these drivers in action.

Want additional resources to take this further in your own school or district? Check out these resources:

  • A deep dive report into the research literature behind these findings
  • Assessment tool that supports school and district leaders in platform evaluation and evidence-gathering

From online shopping to getting a prescription filled, user experience matters—and people crave “user friendly” experiences. When it comes to platform quality, simplicity and intuitive functionality are usually key. For learning platforms specifically, this becomes even more critical, because the user experience, or in this case, the learner experience directly impacts the platform’s effectiveness.

Learn More About Platform Quality

Rigorous learning environments offer learners the opportunity to engage directly with strategies that are relevant to their practice. Key to providing this experience in asynchronous platforms is ensuring that content is both contextually relevant to the learner while also offering learners a roadmap on how to appropriately engage with it.

Learn More About Rigorous Content

Active learning requires the learner to engage more with content, not simply absorb it. Asynchronous platforms that promote active learning provide opportunities and strategies to support the transfer of learning from the platform to practice. That means learners have an opportunity to engage with the material and reflect on their own experience of the learning.

Learn More About Active Learning

It’s uncommon to learn something once, master it and then move on. More often, success comes from repeated opportunities to revisit concepts in increasingly complex ways. Many asynchronous learning platforms create opportunities for sustained learning, assessment and feedback to ensure users are reaching mastery. Such platforms layer in ways for learners to engage with and implement the feedback.

Learn More About Mastery Learning

The term “asynchronous platform” doesn’t bring to mind a vision of social interaction. After all, one of the selling points of these platforms is the opportunity to learn when and where a learner wants, regardless of whether peers are present. But the designers of these “anytime, anywhere” platforms are increasingly recognizing the need to build connections between peers, teachers, mentors, coaches and experts.

Learn More About Connection

From platforms that serve up movie recommendations based on interests to career sites that offer job opportunities tailored to a user’s profile—personalization holds varied connotations for the public. When it comes to education, the term is no different. Asynchronous platforms that personalize the learning experience tailor content to the learner’s specific needs and interests to increase relevance in the hopes of deepening understanding.

Learn More About Personalization

About the Project


This research was made possible by support from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI). TLA and EdSurge retain sole editorial control over all the content supported by CZI. Tools and platforms highlighted in this work were identified independently by TLA, and references to them in this research were made to illustrate key ideas surfaced; inclusion should not be construed as an endorsement or product recommendation by the authors or project supporter.

About The Learning Accelerator

The Learning Accelerator envisions a future in which each student receives an effective, equitable and engaging education—one that is informed by data and supported by technology—enabling them to reach their full and unique potential. Our mission is to connect teachers and leaders with the knowledge, tools, and networks they need to enact personalized and mastery-based practices to transform K-12 education.


Between July and October 2019, TLA conducted research on online adult learning and asynchronous learning platforms to identify the drivers that enable users to learn content, shift mindset and effectively improve practice. TLA reviewed more than 100 scientific studies on adult learning and created a landscape map of 65 asynchronous learning platforms spanning the fields of education, business and even fitness. TLA, in collaboration with EdSurge, then interviewed 12 education-specific platform providers to understand the pedagogical approaches baked into their products and 10 users to understand how they experience learning through the platforms.

This work is licensed under a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.

Learn more about EdSurge operations, ethics and policies here. Learn more about EdSurge supporters here.
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