The Equitable and Sustainable Application of Quality and Innovation

Online, blended, and digital education are driven by the inherent quality of the offerings, with quality defined across five connected dimensions—learning effectiveness, scale, access, instructor satisfaction, and learner satisfaction. Institutions and organizations demonstrate quality through the equitable and sustainable application of these dimensions as aligned to their articulated mission, vision, and values. Furthermore, these five indicators of quality are embedded into the cultural values of an organization, creating transparency around how it prioritizes quality in ways that are inclusive of all stakeholders present within its community.

These five dimensions are the building blocks of quality in online and blended learning, providing institutions and organizations with a way to assess and iteratively improve their efforts at macro and micro levels as they progress towards a more equitable and impactful educational future.

Learning experiences are intentionally designed to result in learners equitably meeting articulated outcomes or objectives that result in them gaining meaningful and impactful competencies and skills. These outcomes align with the mission, values, and overall strategy of the organization to provide quality learning opportunities, prepare learners for future work, and forward lifelong learning. Learning effectiveness leverages the unique affordances of online, blended, and digital models/environments to facilitate inclusive, academically rigorous experiences and center learner engagement. Learning effectiveness requires the development of community within the educational experience, where instructors and learners work together to make progress towards measurable outcomes. The community also includes instructional designers, who play an integral role in designing and supporting effective learning experiences.

Learning effectiveness can be evaluated through the assessment of learner readiness; use or demonstration of skills via assignments, class activities, and assessments; grading rubrics that highlight progress toward clear learning objectives/outcomes; course grades (midterm and final); learner and instructor self-assessments, reflections, and evaluations.

Learner success encompasses a sense of belonging, equitable access to critical support services, substantive and inclusive learning experiences through interaction with peers and instructors, and, in many cases, their assessment that they are receiving a good value for their education. Intrinsically motivated milestones identified by the learner also affect satisfaction and will differ depending on their unique personal and professional goals and desired learning outcomes. Learner success also means that learners feel that an educational experience has been rigorous, meaningful, culturally inclusive, valuable, supportive of their overall well-being, and aligned with their current and future career goals.

Learner success can be evaluated through the use of learner self-assessment and reflection; learner exit interviews or pre/post graduation surveys; persistence metrics; career placement and advancement records; and exit surveys. Learner success can also be measured through the implementation of climate surveys and focus groups, as well as ensuring representation of learner voices in key committees and organizational groups.

While instructor goals and needs will vary, instructor success can be tied to learner engagement, opportunities for professional development, the ability to contribute to decisions that impact them/their learners, and organizational support and recognition of their work. All instructors (adjuncts, tenure-line/tenured faculty, graduate teaching assistants, lecturers, visiting instructors, trainers, faculty developers) should have access to ongoing training and instructional technology to effectively engage with their learners through high-impact teaching practices in ways that facilitate success. Instructor experience also means that those who teach find the online and blended teaching experience personally rewarding and professionally beneficial. A final administrative factor — crucial to recruiting, retaining, and expanding a diverse community of dedicated instructors — is a commitment to the ongoing study of and enhancement of inclusive online and blended instructor experiences. Positive instructor experiences can also be cultivated when professionals collaborate within supportive networks, utilizing their specific expertise to advance common objectives.

Instructor experience can be evaluated through the use of professional development opportunities; additional credentials earned; instructor evaluations (program or organizational assessments, learner evaluations of their instructor, evaluations, etc.); final grades; instructor self-assessments and reflections; new courses designed and taught; and research and publications, among other measures. Organizations should also recognize and support success within these dimensions, to include formal recognition as aligned to the mission and culture of the organization (i.e. promotion, tenure).

Scale means that organizations sustain academically rigorous, outcomes-aligned online, digital, and blended education for the broadest numbers of learners that they serve without sacrificing the quality and integrity of the teaching and learning experience. Scale allows organizations to increase enrollments, retention, learner success, and career advancement while maintaining high-quality standards. Scaling quality within an organization often occurs incrementally within a phased approach that is measured over time. Rather than building niche or boutique services, organizations should instantiate quality by designing strategic priorities and a breadth of programming that might have the greatest impact on communities served in totality, all while ensuring that policies are inclusively serving all learners. Tuition and enrollment costs are balanced between cost-effectiveness for learners and the adequate resourcing of the different facets and components needed to support the entire digital learning lifecycle, such as robust academic and technical infrastructure.

Scale can be evaluated through analysis of cost-effectiveness; enrollment and retention; learner persistence and success; programmatic breadth; and career advancement after graduation.

Access refers to the process whereby organizations actively center inclusive and equitable practices and remove obstacles and barriers to all learner populations engaging in high-quality online and blended education. This means addressing the needs of marginalized populations (including, but not limited to, BIPOC, Latinx, LGBTQ+, poverty-affected, people with disabilities, and first-generation) through the dismantling of endemic discriminatory practices that limit the success of our learners. It further means that learning environments, experiences, and services should follow principles of universal design to proactively eliminate physical, sensory, and cognitive barriers, making spaces, products, and experiences intuitive and accommodating for a wide range of users, including those with disabilities. An active commitment to dismantling the digital divide for prospective and current learners is also central to access, both locally and globally. Access should be facilitated throughout a learner’s life cycle, (i.e. from admission to graduation or from hire date to exit survey), with the organization facilitating an environment where all learners can thrive, personally and professionally.

Access introduces prospective learners to pathways to academic success through effective success coaching, marketing, branding, and basic program information. Learners can engage with a quantity and variety of available program options (including receiving clear program information), leveraging seamless access to courses (for example, readiness assessment, intuitive navigability, universal design for learning) and appropriate learning resources (i.e. learning technologies, research). Multiple areas of support contribute to equitable access, including academic support (i.e. tutoring, advising, library, career services); administrative support (i.e. financial aid, and accessibility services); and technical support (i.e. IT help desk, LMS support). Access can be evaluated through internal or external assessment of practices that measure the extent to which organizations remove barriers to learner and instructor success, facilitate high-quality online education, and address the needs of all learners.