The Evolution of Excellence: Professional Development’s Role in Online Education Quality


Dr. Georgianna Laws, IELOL 2020 Alumna, OLC Center for Professional Learning Facilitator, Lead Consultant and CEO, Geo Laws Consulting

| No Comments | | Leave a comment

In this blog post, we’ll delve into the vital role of professional development in upholding quality assurance in online learning. I will explore several key areas: the origins, development, and significance of online education, the individuals tasked with ensuring its quality, and the crucial impact of professional development in enhancing and unifying these aspects.

Before diving in, I want to share a bit about , which echoes that of many in the Online Learning Consortium community—my commitment to eLearning is deeply rooted in my own experiences.

  • As a graduate student, online education allowed me flexible access to complete my master’s program from halfway around the world and my doctoral program from halfway around the country. Online education also gave me access to numerous professional development opportunities from institutions near and far, including the Online Learning Consortium, where I completed the IELOL program and earned a certificate in Online Teaching & Course Design, as well as mastery in the Quality Scorecard for the Administration of Online Programs (which happened to be the research instrument for my doctoral study). These online learning experiences not only gave me a learner’s perspective but also highlighted the significance of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
  • Beyond being in the learner seat, my involvement extended to both visible and behind-the-scenes roles in online education. I’ve worked extensively in areas such as curriculum and program development, instructional design, media and web development, student advising, teaching, faculty development, conference planning, research, leadership, consulting, and advocacy. This diverse range of experiences has given me unique insights into the quality of online education, an understanding I’m eager to share with you in the upcoming OLC Center for Professional Learning “Applying Quality Rubrics to Courses and Programs” workshop and other workshops that my colleagues and I facilitate.

Now, returning to our blog post, let’s start by examining the key role of professional development in ensuring quality in online education, beginning with a longitudinal look at the etiology of online education.

  1. The Origins and Evolution of Online Education

To be able to fully appreciate the value online education offers, and put quality in perspective, we need to take a step back and reflect on how and why eLearning got started in the first place. We know that education is the primary conduit to a competent and antifragile workforce (Blaug, 2001; Taleb, 2012).

  • Informal Education: Society 1.0, which was centered around hunting and gathering, and the agrarian-based Society 2.0, both relied on an informal apprenticeship model for skill development and education (Blaug, 2001; Scholarly Community Encyclopedia, 2024).
  • Education 1.0 and 2.0: Society 3.0 emerged with the advent of Industry 1.0, marked by mechanization as well as the use of steam and waterpower, followed by the mass production and electricity of Industry 2.0. This new era introduced formal education systems. Education 1.0 was characterized by lecture and memorization techniques, while the subsequent Education 2.0 embraced the Internet as a key tool for learning. (AECT, 2021; Ahmad et al., 2022; Blaug, 2001; Scholarly Community Encyclopedia, 2024).
  • Education 3.0: In Society 4.0, an information-based era defined by the automation, computers, and electronics of Industry 3.0, we witnessed a shift towards the knowledge-based model of Education 3.0. This development was driven by the evolving needs of a society deeply integrated with technological advancements (Ahmad et al., 2022; Blaug, 2001; Scholarly Community Encyclopedia, 2024).
  • Education 4.0 and 5.0: In our current era, Society 5.0 has evolved through Industry 4.0, which integrates physical, digital, and virtual environments using cyber-physical systems, and Industry 5.0, characterized by mass customization and cognitive systems where intelligent machines collaborate closely with the human brain. This progression fostered the development of Education 4.0, an innovation-driven approach embracing smartphones, online testing, artificial intelligence, and big data. Subsequently, Education 5.0 emerged, focusing on humanism and ethics, reflecting the changing priorities from production and efficiency to enhancing societal function and value (Ahmad et al., 2022; Blaug, 2001; Scholarly Community Encyclopedia, 2024).

Now that we established the link between education, society, and industry, let’s explore why quality online education is needed side by side with traditional, face-to-face education as well as in-between hybrid learning models.

  1. The Importance of Online and Blended Education

Online Education: The demand for online education, both historically and currently, is largely fueled by the need to overcome access barriers and to reach for affordability convenience, and flexibility (Charles, 2022; Kentnor, 2015). Online education’s main strength lies in its capacity to overcome geographical limits, appealing to a wide array of students. This includes remote learners in distant or rural areas, international students seeking resources not available in their home countries, working professionals who value the flexibility of balancing education with work, non-traditional students like older individuals, parents, or those resuming education, and lifelong learners pursuing personal growth or continuing education through the diverse and convenient offerings of online courses.

Blended Education: However, online is not a catch-all solution; healthcare fields, including surgery and nursing clinical skills, as well as laboratory-based sciences such as chemistry and biology, are challenging to teach fully online due to the absence of physical presence, hands-on practice, and limited access to specialized equipment and facilities, which can impede effective teaching and learning. Furthermore, disciplines such as performing arts, which entail substantial in-person interaction, and fields like fine arts and branches of engineering that heavily rely on physical resources also present significant difficulties for online teaching and learning. In these situations, hybrid education can he a solution, where hands-on practice, access to specialized equipment and facilities, and in-person interaction can be offered in person, while the online learning experience can provide theoretical knowledge, supplemental resources, and asynchronous learning opportunities to complement the in-person components of the course. This blended approach allows for a more comprehensive and well-rounded educational experience, addressing both the challenges of teaching these disciplines online and the need for hands-on and in-person interaction in certain fields (Kazui, 2022).

The Importance of Quality Online Education: After online education become a well-established part of mainstream American higher education (Allen & Seaman, 2004; Allen et al., 2016; Quality Matters, 2017), the competition to attract online students intensified (Fredericksen, 2017; Herron, et al., 2016; Legon & Garrett, 2017; 2018; Legon et al., 2017). This competitive landscape highlighted the necessity of distinguishing online programs not only through brand and cost, which may initially attract students but don’t guarantee their retention and progression, but also through quality, a key factor in attracting, retaining, and graduating students (Charles, 2022; Irele, 2013; Palloff & Pratt, 2005; Prabowo et al., 2022; Quality Matters, 2017). The 2020 COVID-19 pandemic starkly highlighted the importance of quality in online education (Otto et al., 2023). As institutions were compelled to shift all teaching and learning to online platforms, this sudden transition thrust online education into an accelerated phase, revealing significant quality gaps in the hastily established online offerings.

Now that we reviewed the importance on online education and the need to infuse it with quality, let’s explore the sources of quality in online education and the quality change agents.

  1. Who Drives Quality in Online Education

This reflection on the origins and importance of online education naturally leads us to another key question in the modern landscape of digital learning: who is responsible for quality in online education?

  • If you ask institutional leaders, they will likely tell you it is the chief online education officer, or COEO (Legon & Garrett, 2017, p. 8), a role focused entirely on managing and upholding the quality of online education (Fredericksen, 2017; Fredericksen, 2018; Laws, 2021; Legon & Garrett, 2017). What sets the COEO apart from other higher education executives in the presidential cabinet is that this professional oversees the institution’s online division, which, in its fullest expression, can be a microcosm of the entire organization, requiring a broad understanding academic and student affairs, and encompassing the full spectrum of the online educational experience, from student recruitment to graduation, and extends to continuing education and alumni relations (Geo Laws Consulting, 2023; Laws, 2021).
  • If you ask a COEO who is responsible for quality in online education, they will likely tell you it is the dedicated online education staff—from instructional designers to wrap-around student support service providers, and, of course, the faculty.

When it comes to elements of quality, COEOs focus on the quality of online course design, online teaching, comprehensive online student services, and the overall management of online programs. Reflecting these critical needs, each of these key quality dimensions is captured in the Online Learning Consortium Quality Scorecard suite (2024), as follows:

OLC Scorecards for program-level quality review:

OLC Scorecards for course-level quality review:

  1. Professional Development for Quality in Online Education

No matter your role in the online education realm – be it a faculty member, instructional designer, online program director, student services professional, COEO, or anything in between – you are integral to ensuring quality in your area of influence. Understanding and defining quality can be challenging, often perceived as a “black box” – complex and enigmatic (Adair & Diaz, 2014, p. 5). However, there’s no need for you to start from scratch, when you can leverage the Online Learning Consortium’s (OLC) 25 years of experience in offering professional development to professionals like you.

The OLC Center for Professional Learning provides a variety of workshops specifically on quality assurance. I’ve experienced these workshops as a participant, developer, and instructor, and each role has contributed to my professional growth. I warmly invite you to join me and the many online professionals who have enhanced their skills and advanced their careers through OLC’s professional development opportunities.



Adair, D. & Diaz, S. (2014). Stakeholders of quality assurance in online education. In K., Shattuck (Ed.), Assuring quality in online education: Practices and processes at the teaching, resource, and program levels (pp. 3-17). Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing, L.L.C.

AECT. (2021). History of distance education. Retrieved from

Allen, I.E., & Seaman, J. (2004, November). Entering the mainstream: The quality and extent of online education in the United States, 2003 and 2004. Retrieved from

Allen, I.E. and Seaman, J. with Poulin, Strout, T.T. (February 2016). Online report card: Tracking online education in the United States. Retrieved from

Ahmad, I., Sharma, S., Singh, R., Gehlot, A., Priyadarshi, N., & Twala, B. (2022). MOOC 5.0: A Roadmap to the Future of Learning. Sustainability, 14(18), 11199.

Blaug, M. (2001). The economics of education and the education of an economist. Edward Elgar Publishing.

Charles, C. N. (2022). The perception of quality in online learning and its impact on retention (Order No. 29163184). ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global (2659167116). Retrieved from

Fredericksen, E. (2017, June). A national study of leadership for online learning in U.S. higher education. Online Learning Journal 21(2). 

Fredericksen, E. (2018). A national study of online learning leaders in U.S. community colleges. Online Learning Journal 22(4), 383-405.

Geo Laws Consulting. (2023). Why focus on COEOs? Retrieved from

Herron, J., Lashley, J., Salley, W., & Shaw, M. (2016). The chief online learning officer: Competencies, roles, and trajectories. UNBOUND: Reinventing Higher Education. learning-officer-competencies-roles-and-trajectories/ 

Kazui, İ. Y. (2022). Investigation of the effectiveness of hybrid learning on academic achievement: a meta-analysis study. International Journal of Progressive Education, 18(1), 426-439. doi:10.29329/ijpe.2022.426.14

Kentnor, H.E. (2015). Distance education and the evolution of online learning in the United States. Curriculum & Teaching Dialogue, 17(1/2), 21.

Prabowo, H., Ikhsan, R. B.,  & Yuniarty, Y. (2022). Student performance in online learning higher education: A preliminary research. Frontiers in Education, 7, 916721.

Irele, M.E. (2013). Evaluating distance education in an era of internationalization. In Moore, M. G. (Ed.), Handbook of distance education, 3rd ed. (p. 504). New York: Routledge.

Laws, G. (2020, September 18). Updated history of quality in distance education [Infographic]. Retrieved from

Legon, R. & Garrett, R. (2017). The changing landscape of online education (CHLOE). Quality Matters & Eduventures survey of chief online officers. [Quality Matters and Eduventures Report]

Legon, R., Garrett, R., and Fredericksen, E. (April 21, 2017). Online education institutional leaders: How are they addressing regulation, quality assurance, and innovation? 2017 Quality Matters Regional Conference. Retrieved from

Legon, R. & Garrett, R. (2018). CHLOE 2: The changing landscape of online education: A deeper dive. [Quality Matters and Eduventures Report] 

Online Learning Consortium. (2024). OLC quality scorecards. Retrieved from

Otto, S., Bertel, L.B., Lyngdorf, N.E.R., Markman, A.O., Andersen, T., & Ryberg, T. (2023) Emerging digital practices supporting student-centered learning environments in higher education: A Review of Literature and Lessons Learned from the Covid-19 Pandemic. Educ Inf Technol.

Palloff, R. & Pratt, K. (2005). Foreword. In K. Shelton & G. Saltsman. (2005). An administrator’s guide to online education. Greenwich, CT: Information Age Publishing, p. vii.

Quality Matters (2017, May 31). Press release: Online learning goes mainstream. /qm-eduventures-chloe 

Scholarly Community Encyclopedia. (2024). MOOC 5.0. Retrieved from

Taleb, N. N. (2012). Antifragile: Things that gain from disorder. Random House.

Leave a Reply