Online Learning: Expecting Quality

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Online Learning EOCCS
Today, the need to expand knowledge is being required with increasing frequency both professionally and personally. In the workplace, at school, and at home, we can benefit from the enormous, rapidly growing volume of online learning experiences that are offered by a seemingly unlimited number of providers on the web. Some courses provide fantastic learning opportunities – but some don’t.


By Anne Swanberg,
 
In this short article I am asking two questions that I think all providers – and consumers – of online learning should give thought to.

The first is, ”Why should we be concerned about the quality of online courses?” This can easily be answered by pointing to the development in the MOOC arena. Where appropriate infrastructure exists, online learning has become a readily available commodity, and Coursera, EdX, and FutureLearn have attracted millions of learners to their open online courses over the last three years. Having said this, the drop-out rate is, in fact, quite high, although the MOOC participants certainly enrolled with the intention of learning online. Perhaps they achieved what they were looking for before completing the course – or the course simply did not meet their expected level of quality.

Skeptics of the growing popularity of online delivery of education have been vocal in their concern about the quality of learning. Even after thirty years of delivering distance learning online, we are still in the early days of true online learning for the masses, and we are still seeking the best and the most efficient learning methods in this realm. Because our lives demand continuous learning, and the fact that this learning increasingly happens online, we should be concerned about the quality of the learning process and the outcomes from online learning experiences.

The second question I am asking is, Can the quality of an online course be measured accurately? One definition of quality is whether the learners actually experience what they expected when they enrolled in a course. This definition is based heavily on the individual learner’s previous experience with both learning in general and online learning in particular.

As we gain more insight and knowledge about how we approach an online learning situation and how we interact with the learning material, we may also draw up some common standards for what we assume to be “good” learning experiences in an online environment. For example, the structure of learning materials and how they are presented to the learners are important quality indicators. The user interface of the VLE/LMS also affects participants’ experience, as do the length, sound, and image in a video – all of which clearly indicate something about the quality of the course in general. Standards help to describe whether quality meets expectations, or rises above or falls below them. In addition to experience and the development of standards, benchmarking and peer assessment are also methods of measuring quality.

As we are constantly moving in the direction of online delivery, it is even more important to make sure that the online learning outcomes are of high quality. In 2016, EFMD Global Network has piloted a new certificate for online courses (including MOOCs) within the field of management education: EOCCS – the EFMD Global Network Online Course Certification System. A set of criteria and standards has been developed by an expert panel consisting of members of EFMD. The assessment of quality is based on standards and criteria measured through a self-assessment and a peer assessment method. The EOCCS process is open for regular certification since November 2016.

Watch Anne Swanberg's presentation on Improving Quality in Online Learningat the Online Educa Conference in Berlin.


Dr. Anne Swanberg is the Director of LearningLab, a competence centre for teaching, learning and ICT at BI Norwegian Business School, which has 20,000 students, among them 3000 online-course participants. She is also the Project Director of the EFMD Global Network Online Course Certification System (EOCCS), which is working to enhance the quality of online courses.