In 1997, Frank Mayadas, President of Online Learning Consortium (formerly Sloan-C), affirmed that any learner who engages in online education should have, at a minimum, an education that represents the quality of the provider’s overall institutional quality. Any institution, he maintained, demonstrates its quality in five inter-related areas – learning effectiveness, access, scale (capacity enrollment achieved through cost-effectiveness and institutional commitment), faculty satisfaction, and student satisfaction. These five have become OLC’s Five Pillars of Quality Online Education, the building blocks which provide the support for successful online learning. The intent of the quality framework, which is always a work in progress, is to help institutions identify goals and measure progress towards them.

The LEARNING EFFECTIVENESS pillar is concerned with ensuring that online students are provided with a high quality education. This means that online students’ learning should at least be equivalent to that of traditional students. This does not necessarily mean that online learning experiences should duplicate those in traditional classrooms. Rather it means that instructors and course developers should take advantage of the unique characteristics of online environments to provide learning experiences that represent the distinctive quality of the institution offering them. Effective practices that support learning effectiveness fall into (and can be explored under) the following categories: Course Design , Learning Resources. Faculty Development, Learner Characteristics, Pedagogy, Interaction (eg., with content, faculty, other students; development of learning communities, etc.), Assessment, and Learning Outcomes (eg. student satisfaction, retention, achievement, performance, etc.).

SCALE is the principle that enables institutions to offer their best educational value to learners and to achieve capacity enrollment. Institutional commitment to quality and finite resources require continuous improvement policies for developing and assessing cost-effectiveness measures and practices. The goal is to control costs so that tuition is affordable yet sufficient to meet development and maintenance costs — and to provide a return on investment in startup and infrastructure. Metrics may compare the costs and benefits of delivery modes by discipline and educational level; faculty salary and workload; capital, physical plant and maintenance investments; equipment and communications technology costs; scalability options; and/or various learning processes and outcomes, such as satisfaction levels and retention rates. These types of comparison enable institutions to: develop better strategic plans for market demand and capture; achieve capacity enrollment; develop brand recognition; and secure long-term loyalty among current and prospective constituents. Practices for scale help to leverage key educational resources while offering new online learning opportunities to students and faculty. Practices for scale help to leverage key educational resources while offering new online learning opportunities to students and faculty in these categories: Cost Effectiveness, Institutional Commitment, Leadership, Institutional Infrastructure, Technical Infrastructure, Methodologies (e.g. for conserving costs, resources, time, effort), Policy, Partnerships, Scalability, Marketing, Localness. and Global-ness.

ACCESS provides the means for all qualified, motivated students to complete courses, degrees, or programs in their disciplines of choice. The goal is to provide meaningful and effective access throughout the entire student’s life cycle. Access starts with enabling prospective learners to become aware of available opportunities through effective marketing, branding, and basic program information. It continues with providing program access (for example, quantity and variety of available program options, clear program information), seamless access to courses (for example, readiness assessment, intuitive navigability), and appropriate learning resources. Access includes three areas of support: academic (such as tutoring, advising, and library); administrative (such as financial aid, and disability support); and technical (such as hardware reliability and uptime, and help desk). Effective practices for measuring increasing accessibility may analyze and apply the results student and provider surveys, narrative or case study description, focus groups, or other means of measuring access. Larger-scale access implementation may also result from mission-based strategic planning in a variety of institutional areas: Technical Infrastructure, Academic Administrative Services (eg. registration, student loans, bursar, etc.), Student Support Services (eg. 24/7 help, readiness assessment, support social groups, etc.), Learning Resources (eg., library, tutoring, DLOs (digital learning objects), etc.), Course Design, Program Access (eg., basic information, variety of offerings, course previews, etc.), and Localness.

FACULTY SATISFACTION means that instructors find the online teaching experience personally rewarding and professionally beneficial. Personal factors contributing to faculty satisfaction with the online experience include opportunities to extend interactive learning communities to new populations of students and to conduct and publish research related to online teaching and learning. Institutional factors related to faculty satisfaction include three categories: support, rewards, and institutional study/research. Faculty satisfaction is enhanced when the institution supports faculty members with a robust and well-maintained technical infrastructure, training in online instructional skills, and ongoing technical and administrative assistance. Faculty members also expect to be included in the governance and quality assurance of online programs, especially as these relate to curricular decisions and development of policies of particular importance to the online environment (such as intellectual property, copyright, royalties, collaborative design and delivery). Faculty satisfaction is closely related to an institutional reward system that recognizes the rigor and value of online teaching. Satisfaction increases when workload assignments/assessments reflect the greater time commitment in developing and teaching online courses and when online teaching is valued on par with face-to-face teaching in promotion and tenure decisions. A final institutional factor — crucial to recruiting, retaining, and expanding a dedicated online faculty — is commitment to ongoing study of and enhancement of the online faculty experience. Categories: Institutional Rewards (eg., promotion tenure issues, recognition), Administrative Support (eg., recognition, course buyout, monetary supplement, etc.), Faculty Support (eg., professional development, design/technology support, 24/7 help, learning communities, etc.), Technological Infrastructure, Online Experience (eg., access to students, flexibility, interaction, etc.), and Opportunities for Research Publication.

STUDENT SATISFACTION reflects the effectiveness of all aspects of the educational experience. The goal is that all students who complete a course express satisfaction with course rigor and fairness, with professor and peer interaction, and with support services. Online students put a primary value on appropriate, constructive, and substantive interaction with faculty and other students. Effective professors help students achieve learning outcomes that match course and learner objectives by using current information and communications technologies to support active, individualized, engaged, and constructive learning. As consumers, students are satisfied when provider services-learning resources, academic and administrative services, technology and infrastructure support — are responsive, timely, and personalized. Effective practices may analyze and apply the results of student and alumni surveys, referrals, testimonials or other means of measuring perceived satisfaction with learning communities. Student satisfaction is the most important key to continuing learning. Categories: Access, Course Design, Technological Infrastructure, Academic Administrative Services, Student Support Services, Interaction, Localness, and Global-ness.