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Quality Control for Distance Education

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Quality Control for Distance Learning and Courseware Design
FPeLearning Systems™
February 2014
Dale H. Eberwein Ed.D/ET

Quality Control for Distance Learning
Distance learning is transforming education. No longer saddled with face-to-face requisites, busy adult learners, post-secondary students, and primary education has transformed curricular dissemination into formats that, in some fashion or form rely on a digital interfacing. Several organizational entities have developed standards that reflect best practice recommendations for the creation and sustainability of distance instructional formatting and quality control of educational technology, as it aligns with pedagogy, has taken center stage in virtual instructional design architecture.
Wang (2008) forwarded specific parameters that any attempts at distance learning should follow if the end user (students) will glean benefit from the curricular exchange. According to Wang (2008) instructional designers need to adhere to benchmarking that appeases “the National
Education Association (NEA), the benchmarks of the American Distance Education Consortium (ADEC), the benchmarks of the American Federation of Teachers, and the benchmarks of the Quality Matters project” (p. 31). Each association provides benchmarking that best practice in distance education should consider if the final outcome is to be construed as achievable (e.g. performance outcomes on par or greater than a face-to-face interactive).
National Education Association
The National Education Association describes distance learning course design constructs that warrant consideration and may be described as follows:
1) Courseware development benchmarks: The development of minimum standards that use performance outcomes as the required measurement for satisfactory distance learning architecture regardless of available technologies at the student’s disposal. Course development must contain elements that compel students to analyze, synthesize, and evaluate learning components as part of his or her course interaction.
2) Pedagogical process: Reliance on communication as a means to clarify, interact, and query is paramount to student successful outcomes and includes navigation of course materials, blogging/threading as an interactive for student/student and student/teacher exchange. Development of credible research skill-sets also encourages students to provide valid topic development void of ethical dilemma.
3) Course Architecture: Course architecture should include a content overview, a self-efficacy assessment with available technology and personal motivation to participate in an online format, and familiarity with potential resources (e.g. digital libraries, digital repositories of specific knowledge, and alignment of resources with student access). Finally, academic expectations and schedules must be discussed, in advance, so that academic cadence may manifest and students can develop time-management strategies to fulfill course requirements.
American Distance Education Consortium (ADEC)
Wang (2008) discusses four defining principles developed by the ADEC that provides guidance for distance education:
1) Distance learning architecture must contain components for dynamic and operative learning. Wang (2008) further summates that contained within this benchmark are six developmental aspects to consider:
I. Specific context;
II. Needs, learning goals, and other characteristics of the learners;
III. Nature of the content;
IV. Appropriate instructional strategies and technologies;
V. Desired learning outcomes;
VI. Local learning environment. (p. 32)
2) Distance learning must contain components that lend sustenance to and for the learner.
3) “The provider of distance learning should develop and maintain the technological and human infrastructure so that learners and learning facilitators are supported in their use of technologies” (p. 32).
4) Distance learning must have administrative and organizational sponsorship.
American Federation of Teachers
Wang (2008) articulated that the American federation of teachers provides 14 benchmarks that provide guidance from surveys conducted with distance educators:
1) Faculty must retain academic control;
2) Faculty must be prepared to meet the special requirements of teaching at a distance;
3) Course design should be shaped to the potentials of the medium;
4) Students must fully understand course requirements and be prepared to succeed;
5) Close personal interaction must be maintained;
6) Class size should be set through normal faculty channels;
7) Courses should cover all material;
8) Experimentation with a broad variety of subjects should be encouraged;
9) Equivalent research opportunities must be provided;
10) Student assessment should be comparable;
11) Equivalent advisement opportunities must be offered;
12) Faculty should retain creative control over use and re-use of materials;
13) Full undergraduate degree programs should include some same-time same-place coursework;
14) Evaluation of distance coursework should be undertaken at all levels. (p. 32-33).
The Quality Matters Project (QM)
Developed in conjunction with 19 institutions of higher learning, lenses the need for peer-review and constant comparison analysis of online components so that evolution is encouraged to align with advances in information and communication technology (ICT). The quality matters consortium represents the most comprehensive foundation to-date for the development of value when distance education is the lens for discussion (Schwab, 2010). Designed as a faculty and peer review process, QM forwards a systematic distance instructional design rubric divided into eight categories that contain a total of 40 relevant components aligning distance education course developmental architecture with best practices in the field of distance education. The eight categories outline is as follows:
1) Course overview and introduction with transparency for students at every step of
the distance educational process.
2) Learning objectives must be clearly stated so all materials and objectives provide
clear detail on course objectives, assessment detail, and factors on student compliance (Schwab, 2010).
3) Assessment and measurement include measurements on effective learning,
evaluation of student progress as related to stated objectives, and designed to align with the learning process to include clear criteria for student work and participation Schwab (2010).
4) Resources and materials must be comprehensive and reflect the stated objectives of the course.
5) Learner interaction; should include methods to engage students in activity that
aligns with potential student achievement and tools that integrate distance learning platforms with student’s potentials for successful outcomes.
6) Course technology must be engaging and provide students with 24-7 access to
7) Learner support is developed through information systems backing by qualified
information technology specialists.
8) Accessibility should consider all student, however, ADA 508 standards that cater to accommodations necessary for the visually and hearing impaired should be a component to the design process.
Instructional Design Competencies
According to the International Board of Standards for Training, Performance and Instruction (IBSTPI), instructional designers dedicated to distance learning should possess the following competencies:
1) The ability to communicate effectively visually, orally, and in written form.
2) Designers must be able to develop programming based on research and theory pertaining to distance education.
3) Remain current with trends in distance education.
4) Read and develop data for collection and analysis for distance instructional design projects.
5) Understand and comply with ethical, legal, and political implications for distance instructional design.
6) Ability to conduct needs assessments for project-specific design solutions.
7) Develop project-specific designs that meet identified standards in the distance education industry.
8) Be familiar with analysis techniques to determine appropriate instructional content.
9) Ascertain potential alignment of existing and emerging technology and viability for incorporation into practice.
10) Able to align instructional design and the developmental process to coincide with the identified project.
11) Organize instructional programs and/or products to be designed, developed, and
12) Determine and design potential interventions as need occurs.
13) Plan potential non-instructional interventions.
14) Modify existing instructional materials to align with desired student outcomes.
15) Develop new instructional materials as needed.
16) Develop assessments for the determination the effectiveness of the programming.
17) Able to evaluate instructional and non-instructional interventions.
18) Make and take action on shortfalls to instructional design based on analysis of collected data.
19) Implement, disseminate, and diffuse instructional and non-instructional interventions.
20) Apply business skill-sets necessary to manage instructional design functions.
21) Maintain and manage collaborative efforts with team, stake holder, and management.
22) Plan and manage the instructional design project.
The IBSTPI advocates the aforementioned competency standards as best practice but admit that not all the standards remain attainable by one instructional designer. “The instructional designer’s competency in technology may only be as current as when he or she was last exposed to technology. Instructional design practices have often been guided by established taxonomies, such as those found in IBSTPI” (Bose, 2012, p.6).
Based on the aforementioned standards and competencies several constructs stand out as germane no matter what guidelines determine the architecture for the creation of a distance learning course of instruction. All standards recommended agreed on transparency of design, comprehensive student support at all levels of the distance learning process, institutional support of the project to include technical support with LMS interfacing, and open communications between students/ students and students/ teachers identified as critical to ensuring a successful outcome. Competencies of students, teachers, and instructional designers frame-worked the viability for distance learning programming and essentially this group must possess sufficient accolade to ensure curricular transfer for the programming to be successful.
According to Gibson and Dunning (2012), the comparison of annual growth rate as of 2008 provides that on-line and blending learning rose 17.5% faster than face-to-face academics, nationally. Roughly 4.6 million higher education students now enroll in at least one online formatted course of instruction. (Allen & Seaman, 2010). Gibson and Dunning (2012) summate that “in online instruction, the effectiveness of the learning experience is manifest, in part, in the course design (Yang & Cornelious, 2005). The investment in up-front planning of a course is critical to constructing a comprehensive plan of instruction” (p. 209).
By adopting the principles of quality matters in the design and execution of on-line curricular dissemination, institutions of higher learning may insure elimination of suspect architecture and develop programming that is transparent, provides needed student support, and develops accommodation for every learner. In adopting a peer-review process in the development of on-line curricular formatting, organizations assure the best practice potential that the field of distance learning has to offer. Alignment of curricular content with transparent learning objectives, expected outcomes, and technical support for educators, institutions insures that students will flourish in the distance educational environment. However, distance learning architecture can only be as sound as the competency displayed by the distance or on-line instructional designer’s ability to meet or exceed necessary components described by the IBSTPI.  
Allen, E. I., & Seaman, J. (2010). Learning on demand: Online education in the U.S., 2009. The
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Schwab, G. (2010). Assessing the quality of online courses: Quality matters. UMASS, Boston
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