High-quality adult online education means different things to different people. Students, administrators, teachers and academics, managers and the folk in IT all have different ideas of what quality looks like.
From the adult learner’s perspective (which is admittedly reductionist), high quality education might be relevant, engaging, multi-modal, well-written, inspirational, accessible and any other range of things. From an IT person’s point of view (again, a hugely reductionist way of referring to the complexity of perspectives), it could be secure, interopable, user-friendly and cost-effective. And from an academic, facilitator or teacher’s perspective? Academically rigorous, safe, interesting, scaffolded, engaging, interactive, appropriately assessed, referenced and peer-reviewed. C-suite Managers and a board of directors might view high quality in economic terms such as return on investment, or impact.
So which of these perspectives or interpretations on quality is the most important?
Obviously there is no absolutely right answer to this question, but it essentially boils down to what context you are operating in and where you attach your wagon.
In Australia, the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA) is a national agency that is tasked with the development and robust quality assurance and regulatory framework with an emphasis on tertiary student outcomes and the quality of the student experience. What a mouthful. What this essentially means is they ‘assure’ quality through 7 year audits that focus primarily on attempting to determine whether the higher-education institution is teaching and supporting what they are say they are supporting and teaching. In this day and age, that’s providing students with a laundry list of qualities that generally revolve around work readiness. And then they look at the quality of the student experience. Whatever that means.
I think that literally everything we do as a contributor in the provision of education has an impact on the experiences of the student and how they will view their education, as well as making a contribution to their feelings towards the institution that has provided it to them. That applies to the choice of systems, governance procedures, the website, the help and guidence provided by the technical support staff, the enrolment assistants who help a student when they first contact the institution, the certificates and congratulatory emails, the speed as which a staff member reponds to a question and how the alumni officer interacts with the student 6 months after they complete their studies. The online environment only intensifies the need for an institution to acknowledge the importance of these events on the learner’s attitude towards the institution and their learning.
So what happens if you don’t have a TEQSA around to help you contextualise and intepret what high-quality education looks like for your adult learners?
Start by defining what high-quality means to you and your audience, and then put into place a plan and the people that will help you create and sustainably deliver online programs that tick all your specific boxes.
Your future self will thank your current self for the clearer path towards a successful online program.
(Further reading: In The Conversation, Patience Wukambo on quality in higher education and the need for greater emphasis on the social and human development side of education rather just employability)