Visions of Quality Assurance in Online MBA Programs- A Delphi Study

Concurrent Session 1

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

This presentation describes a study designed to provide insight into what aspects of quality assurance are most important for AACSB-accredited online MBA programs from the perspective of three groups of stakeholders- administrators, faculty and instructional designers.  Expert panelists from across the U.S. were surveyed using a three-round Delphi methodology.


Glori Hinck DC, EdD is an instructional designer/technologist for the University of St. Thomas E-Learning and Research Center (STELAR) in Minneapolis, MN. This role involves online and blended course design and development as well as faculty development and support related to academic technologies and online learning. Glori earned an MET and EdD in educational technology and a certificate in online teaching through Boise State University and a certificate in instructional technology from the College of St. Scholastica. For her doctoral dissertation she studied quality assurance in online MBA programs. Glori has over a decade of teaching experience, both online and face-to-face, and has created and taught a wide variety of courses from physiology and chiropractic technique to social media professionalism and online course design. Glori is also professional development faculty for OLC.

Extended Abstract

The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) is an organization that provides specialized accreditation for business programs (AACSB, n.d.a).  AACSB accreditation is known for challenging business programs to pursue excellence and continuous quality improvement. MBA programs are placing a greater focus on online learning as they recognize the potential benefits in using technology to bring together students, faculty, and practitioners to create and share knowledge (AACSB, n.d.b). Increasing numbers of MBA programs are offering online learning options and online MBA programs accredited by the AACSB have undergone significant expansion in recent years growing from zero programs in 1989 to more than 222 programs reporting that they offer entire MBA programs online in 2014 (Brooks & Morse, 2015). With this rapid growth, it is important to ensure that quality assurance measures keep pace and adequately address the unique parameters involved in online delivery so that the reputation of the online MBA degree does not suffer.

The AACSB first recognized and reported issues with online learning in 1999 (AACSB, 2007) but the AACSB standards did not begin to specifically address online learning until 2015 (AACSB, 2015), and then, only to a limited degree. Relying solely on accreditation standards alone may not adequately address the unique quality assurance needs of online learning. Implementation and focus of assessment may need to differ between the online and face-to-face environment.  Each phase of an online program or course needs to be assessed on an ongoing basis to guarantee success; accreditation processes are typically based on multi-year cycles with a focus on programmatic rather than course-level assessment. For example, AACSB accreditation is extended on a 5-year cycle.

The purpose of this study was to investigate stakeholder perceptions of the future of quality assurance in fully online AACSB-accredited MBA programs. Data was gathered from stakeholders across a range of business colleges with the goal of determining areas where consensus exists and those where it does not. Both within group and between-group data was analyzed to determine if the views of these three groups of stakeholders differed related to quality assurance.

This research was guided by three primary questions:

  1. How should quality be assured for online MBA programs within the next 3-5 years?
  2. Does the quality assurance vision differ between various stakeholder groups including program administrators, faculty, and instructional designers?
  3. What are the potential implications of stakeholder views on implementation of quality assurance programs and future direction of AACSB standards?

The Delphi methodology was used to survey a non-random, purposive group of expert administrators, faculty, and instructional designers identified from AACSB-accredited fully online MBA programs to determine their views on how quality should be assured. The study began in Round One with 22 panelists generating 72 essay responses in response to the initial open-ended question, “How should quality be assured for online MBA programs within the next 3-5 years?” These responses were coded and used to create 46 item statements that were then categorized into one of seven major themes. These Round One statements and themes were used to create the questionnaire that panelists completed in Rounds Two and Three. The questionnaire consisted of two parts. In Part I of the questionnaire, panelists were asked to rate the importance of each of the 46 item statements on a scale of 1-5; in Part II of the questionnaire panelists were asked to rank the importance of each theme compared to the others. The following themes were created based on the responses of the expert panel through the Delphi process and summarize panelist views related to quality assurance in AACSB-accredited online MBA programs.  Themes are presented in order of panelist ranked importance.

  1. Academic Integrity and Rigor- Deliver a highly demanding curriculum with rigorous grading standards and implement rigorous systems to ensure the academic integrity of assessments.
  2. Course Content, Design and Delivery- Allocate adequate resources and utilize technology appropriately so that relevant, practical, and innovative course content based on consistent learning objectives can be delivered online.
  3. Faculty Qualifications, Development and Support- Provide faculty with training and support, establish faculty proficiency in online teaching, and staff online courses with qualified, willing faculty.
  4. Quality Frameworks- Establish quality standards for online course delivery and develop processes and systems, including a structured internal review process, that encourage and maintain quality.
  5. Accreditation- Accredit online programs through AACSB and measure Assurance of Learning (AoL) the same across all modes of instruction within MBA programs.
  6. Learner Support- Provide online student support services.
  7. Evaluation- Provide the same level of quality in both online and on-campus courses including assessment of learning goals and outcomes.

The following recommendations for quality in online MBA programs are based on the themes identified in the current research, open-ended comments provided by the expert panelists, and a review of the literature.

  • Identify and implement systems and processes to ensure the academic integrity of online courses and programs. Train faculty and instructional designers to address academic integrity in the online environment, in the context of both course design and delivery.
  • Structure courses and programs to have equivalent quality standards, admission requirements, learning objectives, course content and academic rigor regardless of delivery modality while carefully considering how to successfully translate the face-to-face curriculum for online delivery.
  • Allocate adequate and ongoing resources for online course design, delivery and maintenance.
  • Develop a common online course template specific to the program that can be customized by the individual faculty member.
  • Implement academic technologies that support the objectives and assessment strategies of the program and minimize superfluous use of technology.
  • Implement a continuous quality improvement program with ongoing evaluation of online courses and programs. Such a program can be developed and administered through internal, external, and/or peer review processes in a manner that is best supported by the culture of the institution.
  • Provide faculty development, training and support related to technology, the learning management system, and online course development and teaching for both full-time and adjunct faculty members.
  • Establish uniform standards for faculty qualifications and credentials for online teaching and assign faculty who are comfortable with technology and willing to teach online to these courses.
  • Explore expansion of the AACSB standards to more completely encompass online learning.
  • Provide comprehensive online student support services and clearly communicate the demands and expectations of online learning.

Findings in this study were limited related to the use and impact of quality assurance programs such as the Quality Matters rubric, the Online Learning Consortium five pillars of quality framework and scorecard, and the California State University Chico Rubric for Online Instruction (Chico, 2016; Maryland Online, 2014; OLC, 2015). Further examination may better reveal the extent to which external programs, scorecards and rubrics are used to guide quality assurance in online business schools. As history indicates, bodies such as the AACSB may have a delayed response in making changes to accreditation standards and may not be able to keep up with rapid educational advances such as those occurring in online education. Institutions will need to implement their own quality assurance measures rather than relying on the mandates of accreditors. Additional research will help determine how to best approach the need for quality assurance that is responsive to a rapidly changing educational product.

During this presentation participants will learn how quality is viewed by expert online MBA educators and will be provided with specific recommendations for quality in online MBA programs.  They will have the opportunity to discuss their own visions of quality assurance for online courses and programs with their peers.  Session materials including slides will be posted on the conference website.


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