Monday, 19 August 2013

Don’t worry, we’ve got it covered.

Quality of ODL has been a major part of my thinking for many years.  More recently I have been reading posts that imply that we have reached the stage where everybody knows about quality and it is just a case of establishing or embedding systems within our organisations.  This concerns me but there again, I have often been told that my concerns over quality were silly; ‘don’t worry, we’ve got it covered’.  I am not sure whether our learners would agree.

Label to show epprobate expert satusBecoming UK and Ireland National Partner for epprobate has focused my mind even more upon quality.    I became an epprobate quality reviewer because our thoughts on quality are similar, I became a head reviewer because I enjoy leading reviews and working with like-minded people.  Epprobate have now kindly labelled me a “Quality Expert”, although I never think of myself as this.  I suppose my concentration upon quality issues has raised my knowledge to a good level, so perhaps if I compare my knowledge to those in the day-to-day struggle to produce and support ODL, I do have a level of expertise.  Even so, I feel that this is not for me to decide.  It is the same with any expertise; others can judge your ability only when you apply your knowledge.

And yet it seems that this is the test that many organisations fail to acknowledge.  

That organisations are tested is without question.  For education there are the government inspections of teachers, assessments of courses, peer reviews and CPD.  For industry there are similar standards although the testing may not be so obvious.  Even so if one wishes to be a member of a particular professional association, there are standards that must be met, accreditation to be passed and CPD to be undertaken.  There are also organisations that champion reviewing the quality of ODL, often this is an internal process encouraged by external support, the process may add external reviews of the internal system or it may externally review the ODL as a separate process.
Banner displaying Quality Online Learning
Have we done enough; is it really time to put away the quality banner?

Since 2005 (at least) quality has been in the foreground of ODL issues, building to a crescendo in 2010/11.  Since then it has gone a bit quiet.  With all the recent focus on quality it may seem that we have the subject covered, the learner can trust that we now have ‘got it right’ we don’t need to be assessed in any other way. But is this really true, it may be for some but is it true for everyone?  It would seem that quality no longer needs to be in the mainstream of an ODL professional’s thinking.  It can drift into the background since everyone has ‘got the message’.
Perhaps they don’t see quality as an issue that will interest their prospective students?
But none of this shows when the learner is seeking a new course.  It seems as if we expect the learner to take the quality of any given course as – well – given.  Few, if any, courses have quality descriptors on their marketing (yes, advertising a course is marketing) and I have not yet seen an ‘Amazon’ style satisfaction rating, based upon the learner’s opinion.

Why not?

Why don’t we listen to our learner’s opinions of our courses?  As they are a large part of the learning environment that we have worked so hard to create, their opinions should equally be part of the assessment of that environment, since it is difficult for us to see that environment from their viewpoint, we are too possessive.

Quality still needs to be discussed; if for nothing else for the fact that it is an expensive part of ODL, (many managers would see the financial implications here) but it may be more expensive if it is missing (many learners would see the financial implications here).  Do we work towards building a Quality Culture throughout the organisation or do we already have it and if so, how relevant is it to ODL? 

Is quality of ODL so different that we need to consider it as a separate issue?

I think so.  I think that any new product should have its quality considered, both as a part of the overall quality systems and separately, to make sure that all new aspects are covered.  Now I am a Quality Expert – certainly I have been a Quality Champion for many years – I think that we should not lose our focus on Quality in ODL; that it should rise to the top of the agenda again.
Picture of man asleep over homework, on a very late night night

I believe that getting the quality right in our courses is the ultimate proof that we care; for our content and our technology but most of all for our learners. 

I hope to encourage this discussion with a new course “Understanding Quality in ODL” soon to be released.  This will be a joint effort with epprobate and will be based upon the principles of Guided Social Learning, which I have discussed before in this blog.  But before you dismiss this course as yet another ‘white paper’ in disguise, be aware that I expect that you will have some experience of online learning, writing or presenting, definitely some experience as an online learner and that you are prepared to argue contentious issues. It will not be an easy read.

We plan to have the course available by the end of September. In the meantime if you wish to know more or register an interest, email me at  I look forward to hearing from you.

By the way: the course will be free – interested?

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