Online teacher professional learning

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Category: Teacher professional learning

Suitable ages: Primary and secondary


Online professional learning helps teachers across Australia to improve their knowledge and skills in delivering STEM education. Online formats allow teachers to work at their own pace and interact with distant peers. Successful courses can reach teachers on a large scale at a relatively low cost per user.

Online professional learning courses have variable duration and formats, and may be free or paid. A common course length is approximately 20 hours. Examples include:

Benefits Limitations
Teachers can learn at their own pace Face-to-face interactions are more appropriate for some forms of teacher professional learning
Teachers can select from courses, and connect with peers, from across the country and the world Completion rates are low for some MOOCs
Many MOOCs are free to users


 There is evidence that this initiative type has a positive impact on student STEM engagement or achievement.

There is substantial evidence that online teacher professional learning in STEM can have positive effects on teacher knowledge and practice, and on student achievement. However, the wide range of types and quality of online teacher professional learning in STEM makes it difficult to say whether it is more or less effective than other forms of teacher professional learning.


  • Effects of On-Line Professional Development on Teachers and their Students: Findings from Four Randomized Trials by Laura M. O’Dwyer, Jessica Masters, Sheralyn Dash, Raquel Magidin De Kramer, Andrea Humez and Michael Russell. Four randomised controlled trials in the USA found that online professional learning courses improved teachers’ knowledge and instructional practices, and led to higher student achievement. Two of these studies focused on maths and two on literacy.
  • MOOC-ED Evaluation Final Report (available on the Friday Institute website) by Glenn Kleiman, Shaun Kellogg and Sherry Booth. This evaluation of three US-based MOOCs designed for teacher professional learning found positive impacts on teachers’ self-reported knowledge and practice. 96% of surveyed teachers said that participating in the MOOC had led them to make changes in their practice. Two of these MOOCs focussed on maths and one on literacy.
  • Book Chapter: Going to Scale with Online Professional Development: The Friday Institute MOOCs for Educators (MOOC-Ed) Initiative by Glenn M. Kleiman and Mary Ann Wolfi outlines design principles for online teacher professional learning. The study draws on a mixture of qualitative and quantitative evidence (available under the Research and Reports section).


Online professional development can be affordable and relatively easy to implement when using high-quality existing courses.

Implementation tips:

  • Ensure that the content, duration and format of the course matches the needs and goals of teachers.
  • Consider whether online learning can be complemented by face-to-face learning.

Industry involvement

Businesses can support teacher online professional learning in STEM by:

  • Funding teachers’ participation in online professional learning programs as part of a school-business STEM partnership.
  • Partnering with universities or other organisations to expand existing online courses.
  • Partnering with universities or other organisations to develop new online courses.

Case study: The University of Adelaide’s Digital Technologies Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)

The University of Adelaide’s Digital Technologies Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) offer free online professional development in Digital Technologies for Australian teachers. They are designed to assist teachers in preparing for and implementing the Digital Technologies learning area in the Australian Curriculum. Teachers learn content and are given practical examples to use in the classroom. The program has expanded to include some face-to-face learning and a National Lending Library to enhance schools’ access to digital equipment. As of September 2019, over 32,320 teachers have engaged with the MOOCs program. This has had an impact to date on an estimated 1.3 million students. The MOOCs are funded by the Australian Government Department of Education, Skills and Employment.