Four Pillars of Online Course Quality

The rapid growth of online education, coupled with instances of lax academic integrity and cases involving questionable instructional quality, has put the entire industry under the microscope. As a result, today’s distance education programs are looking to not only prove the quality of their programs, but improve them as well.

Florida State College at Jacksonville (formerly Florida Community College at Jacksonville) Open Campus has borrowed a page from the corporate sector to create a continuous process improvement plan based on elements of the ISO9000 and TQM quality assurance programs.

In the recent online seminar, Ensuring Online Program Quality with the eQuality Model, Richard Schilke, EdD., associate dean for online Liberal Arts and Sciences at the Open Campus, outlined the school’s system for measuring and delivering quality in its distance learning programs.

The eQuality program looks at quality from four different perspectives, which the Open Campus calls the four pillars of program quality, and has qualitative and quantitative assessments for each.

  1. Quality Courses – The quality checks in this area ensure the courses provide a sound learning environment, implement best practices in online learning, meet college requirements for academic rigor, and reflect all official curriculum requirements.

  2. Quality Instruction – The quality checks in this area ensure sound instructional approaches and techniques for reducing the transactional distance in online courses.

  3. Quality Support – The quality checks in this area focus on those elements outside the courses that make the teaching and learning experience easier and more fulfilling, including, technical support, student advisement, faculty training, and staff training and development.

  4. Quality Administration – The quality checks in this area examine the policies, procedures, guidelines, and other interactions between the institution and the staff, faculty, and students. The goal is to minimize the organizational barriers to student success, student satisfaction, and faculty satisfaction. This pillar is by far the most complicated to manage and improve, Schilke says.

“The most successful quality programs ensure they provide their stakeholders with the right tools to succeed,” says Schilke. “In online learning this means giving your faculty, staff, and students the technology, knowledge, and skills to do their respective jobs as effectively and efficiently as possible.”