learning in higher education began at least a half-decade ago when Web-based distance education started expanding at an exponential rate. Traditional quality measures associated with accreditation did not match the new climate of Internet-based teaching and learning (Parker, 2004). Multiple national and global pressures demanded that colleges and universities address issues of quality specifically related to distance Web-based courses and programs. Not the least of expectant stakeholders were state regulators and accrediting bodies. How could a teaching process so dissimilar to centuries of place-based, traditional classroom methods possibly embody quality education? In an attempt to address these questions, institutions and virtual consortia began developing quality evaluation instruments, best practice models, and guidelines for assessing quality in the online course. By applying a common set of criteria to courses under development, institutions could, if they chose, evaluate which courses were worthy of being added to their growing complement of Web-based offerings.
The Birth Of Quality Models
Educational delivery options have been growing steadily since the inception of the Internet in the 1990s. No longer tied to physical structures, public, private, and for-profit colleges are providing educational opportunities to “anywhere learners.” Eduventures reported over 350,000 students enrolled in fully online distance learning programs in 2001-2002, with growth rates anticipated of more than 40% annually (Newman, 2003). The increasing statistics may do little more than widen the divide between cyberspace learning enthusiasts and place-based diehards. The latter may never be convinced that the Internet can be an adequate substitute for the classroom as an effective means of learning.
E-learning proponents and skeptics alike have had great interest in determining whether online learning could hold up to face-to-face settings. Research exists to indicate that online learning is “the same as or sometimes even better than traditional classroom learning.” The most cited source is Tom Russell’s book, The No Significant Difference Phenomenon (as cited by Milne, 2001). A compilation of 70 years of research, Russell cites reports, summaries, and papers in which no significant difference was found in the use of technology in distance education.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Learning Outcomes: The achieved objectives; evidence that learning has occurred, performance has changed, and results have been attained. Also, a measurable change in knowledge, attitude, behavior, skill level, or a condition, status, or situation.
Learning Effectiveness: The degree to which learning outcomes have been achieved or that learning is effective.
Outcomes: The degree to which outputs meet the needs and expectations of the customer (from the Adams Six Sigma Web site: http://www.adamssixsigma.com/Glossary_of_terms/six%20_sigma_glossary_O.htm).
M-Learning: Any form of learning and teaching that occurs through a mobile device, such as cellular phones, PDAs, smart phones, tablet PCs, and similar devices (Andronico et al., 2003).
Student-Centered Learning Environment: An environment in which the instructor incorporates to a great extent the use of active learning strategies and student experiences.
Quality Assurance (QA): A set of activities whose purpose is to demonstrate that an entity meets all quality requirements. QA activities are carried out in order to inspire the confidence of both customers and managers, confidence that all quality requirements are being met (ISO 9000 2000 definitions. From the Praxiom Research Group Ltd Web site: http://praxiom.com/).
Pedagogical Practices: The learning activities that support the unit of content; the instructional approach such as active learning, constructivist model, student-to-student engagement; teaching to multiple learning styles, variety of assessments.
Constructivist: Relating to a learning environment where the learner interacts with objects and events, thereby gaining an understanding of the features held of such objects or events.
Process Activities: Series of linked activities that transform inputs into outputs (operations management definition).
Early Adopter: A minority of clients/users that are the first to perceive value in new products, services, or ideas, begin to use them, and become adept with them before the majority of eventual clients/users does. On a curve of total eventual users, the early adopter is succeeded by the fast follower, who is succeeded by the late bloomer (from the gotcha! Web site: http://www.sims.berkeley.edu/courses/is213/s99/Projects/P9/Web_site/glossary.htm#E-J).
Rubric: As used for quality in online learning, a structured evaluation tool that enables reviewers of online courses to provide feedback efficiently and consistently (Keinath & Blicker, 2003).
Total Quality Management: A management approach that tries to achieve and sustain long-term organizational success by encouraging employee feedback and participation, satisfying customer needs and expectations, respecting societal values and beliefs, and obeying governmental statutes and regulations (from the Praxiom Research Group Ltd Web site: http://praxiom.com/).