IN SEARCH OF QUALITY: An Analysis of E-Learning Guidelines and Specifications

By Hirumi, Atsusi | Quarterly Review of Distance Education, Winter 2005 | Go to article overview

IN SEARCH OF QUALITY: An Analysis of E-Learning Guidelines and Specifications


Hirumi, Atsusi, Quarterly Review of Distance Education


Educational institutions across the country are adopting guidelines to help assure the quality of e-learning programs and courses. Corporations are also adopting guidelines, but their focus is on the interoperability and reusability of learning objects. While there are commonalities, there are also significant differences between how education and industry view quality and approach e-learning. This article analyzes education guidelines and industry specifications for e-learning published by professional organizations. Key factors within, as well as across both approaches are identified and discussed to inform those considering the adoption of standards and the establishment of a quality assurance system for e-learning.

In traditional classroom settings, good instructors can make up for flaws in the design of instructional materials by using their expertise to shed light on complex or confusing content matter, and their charisma to gain and sustain learners' attention. If students note a problem, the instructor can provide immediate feedback and clarify misconceptions in real time. In contrast, during e-learning, most key interactions, such as elaborations, clarifications, discussions, and feedback occur asynchronously through reading and writing, rather than speaking and listening. Online distance educators can also make up for faults in design, but at what cost?

If the quality of e-learning materials is poor, educators may have to spend exorbitant amounts of time explaining requirements, clarifying expectations, correcting errors, troubleshooting, and otherwise filling in gaps in design. Consider the additional logistical and technical challenges that accompany e-learning, and it is understandable why so many educators feel overwhelmed with the prospects of teaching online, and claim they can only meet the needs of 15-20 online students in one class. Otherwise motivated learners may become frustrated and disenchanted, having to deal with logistical issues rather than course contents, leave dissatisfied with their experiences, and tell others to avoid certain courses or programs. Without quality materials, learners may also not achieve specified objectives, fail licensing examinations, and perform poorly on critical job functions. In short, distance learners and educators are more dependent on the quality of the learning materials and services than are students and teachers in traditional classroom settings.

High-quality programs (a cohesive set of quality courses coupled with responsive student and academic services) are also necessary to demonstrate that e-learning is a legitimate form of education and professional development. Even with the growing body of literature that indicates that there is no significant difference in learner achievement in distance and traditional classroom settings (e.g., Johnson, Aragron, Shaik, & Palma-Rivas, 2000; Machtmes & Asher, 2000; Saba, 2000; Wetsel, Radtke, & Stern, 1994), distance education degrees are still perceived by many as being inferior in quality: "a good number of educators remain skeptical [of distance learning]. Believing that teaching and learning are inherently social processes, these educators consider 'same-time same-place' interaction central to a successful educational experience" (American Federation of Teachers, 2000, p. 5). Distance learning programs must demonstrate quality and graduate skilled and satisfied students to convince people that e-learning is valid.

This article is written for K-12, college, and university administrators who are interested in establishing or improving an existing system to assure the quality of e-learning programs and courses. Instructional designers, developers, and managers in government agencies, companies, and corporations may also gain useful insights by looking at quality from an educational perspective. The article begins by comparing industry and conventional interpretations of "quality.

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