The search for evidence-based features of effective teacher professional development: a critical analysis of the literature

Christa S.C. Asterhan*, Adam Lefstein

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Scholarly efforts to identify core design features for effective teacher professional development have grown rapidly in the last 25 years. Many concise lists of design principles have emerged, most of which converge on a consensus of 5–7 presumably ‘effective’ features (e.g. collaborative tasks, active learning, focus on content). The proliferation and convergence of reviews create the impression that this consensus is based on strong evidence from large-scale, replicated, and rigorously controlled research studies. We critique the empirical foundation on which conclusions about evidence-based design features for teacher professional development have been based, by the same evidential standards that have been adopted within this field of scholarly work. We conclude that the empirical foundations for these lists are problematic and that claims to methodological rigour are misleading as they are based on flawed inferences. We further argue that the ambition to identify general features of effective professional development is also problematic, and reflect on why, despite its weaknesses and potentially adverse consequences for research and practice, we as a field continue to herald this consensus. We call for greater focus on the development, testing, and refinement of theories about teacher professional learning in order to advance understanding, policy, and practice in the field.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)11-23
Number of pages13
JournalProfessional Development in Education
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


  • Teacher professional development
  • critical review
  • effective design
  • evidence-based policy


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