There are times when we hear or read something questioning the value, legitimacy, or quality of online courses. For a truer verdict, here’s how a reliable college or university deploys quality online courses.

Getting started

First, at many institutions an instructional designer teams up with a faculty member. Sometimes an instructional technologist is also called upon. Each member of the course design team brings specific expertise to the course development process.

While the faculty member is seen as the subject matter expert (they have a master’s or doctoral degree in physics, English, nursing or whatever subject is the focus of the course), the instructional designer brings a focus on educational pedagogy, learning sciences and exemplary practices in instructional design. Together, they develop a learning experience that is rigorous and meets the standards set forth by the institution.

“That feedback loop is further strengthened when the course goes live...”

What are those standards?

Today, an array of quality frameworks exist that colleges and universities use to ensure online courses are developed with the highest standards. These frameworks are often developed at the institutional level, at the state or system level like the California State University system or the State University of New York System, or they are developed by an association or organization to support a broader audience of colleges and universities. Many of these frameworks include a process for peer review where trained reviewers look at courses they didn’t develop to provide feedback for improvement.

That feedback loop is further strengthened when the course goes live and the learning management system (LMS) allows the capture of certain types of data. Through these learning analytics, the faculty member and other student support services personnel can more easily address curricular barriers to completion, enhance the learning experience, as well as mentor and advise students in real time. All of this supports retention and completion efforts while also supporting continuous quality improvement efforts.