August 16, 2018

Quality assurance in e-learning: two developments

Have you just seen Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris and can’t wait to get there? If you can get it organized in a week, The European Association of Distance Teaching Universities is holding a European seminar on quality in e-learning in Paris on June 17:

Although initiatives in quality assurance (QA) in e-learning have been operational for some years now, a challenge remains that many are restricted to specific universities. The QA agencies only recently included QA in e-learning on their agenda and are searching for expertise for setting the specific criteria and indicators.

I am somewhat surprised to hear this, since QA standards for e-learning have been around for some time. For instance, the Ontario Postsecondary Education Quality Assessment Board, which accredits all postsecondary programs in Ontario, has now published the guidelines it’s been using for some time to accredit institutions offering online distance education: Review Guidelines: Review of Capacity to Deliver Online Degree Programming.

I believe it is important that there are standards that agencies such as PEQAB can use to stop fly-by-night distance education operations that are looking to make a quick buck, or to rein in public institutions that haven’t thought through how they will support off-campus students, but in our study of the institutions for our book, Managing Technology in Higher Education, we found that the institutions that were using e-learning best did NOT use formal QA methods, but relied on a combination of program reviews, ensuring adequate resources were available for e-learning, hiring professional instructional designers, systematic training for faculty, project management and teamwork. Furthermore, over-reliance on formal QA methods can stifle innovation and bog down an institution in stultifying bureaucracy.

For further examples of quality assurance guidelines, go to: E-learning quality assurance standards, organizations and research

E-learning quality assurance standards, organizations and research

I am surprised how often academic colleagues argue that there are no quality standards for e-learning. Well, hello, I’m sorry, but there are and some of them are damned good. However, I was surprised to find while doing some research for a client that there is no single source where one can go to compare different quality standards for e-learning. So I’m starting a list here, and would appreciate it if readers could direct me to ones that I may have missed. (For more detailed information on some of these, see comments below).


Barker, K. (2002) Canadian Recommended E-learning Guidelines (CanREGs) Vancouver BC: FuturEd/CACE (also available in French)

Barker, K. (2001) Creating quality guidelines for online education and training: consultation workbook Vancouver BC: Canadian Association for Community Education

BC Ministry of Education (2010) Standards for K-12 Distributed Learning in British Columbia v3.0 Victoria BC: BC Ministry of Education

Ontario Postsecondary Education Quality Assurance Board: Review Guidelines: Review of Capacity to Deliver Online Degree Programming Toronto ON: Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities


Quality Matters


JISC (2009) Effective Practice in a Digital Age Bristol UK: JISC

JISC (2004) Effective Practice with e-Learning Bristol UK: JISC

Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (1999) Code of practice for the assurance of academic quality and standards in higher education: Section 2: Collaborative provision and flexible and distributed learning (including e-learning) – September 2004 Gloucester, UK


e-xcellence in e-learning: The European Quality benchmark for online, open and flexible learning, developed and offered by the European Association of Distance Teaching Universities (EADTU)


The 2008 report “E-learning quality: Aspects and criteria for evaluation of e-learning in higher education” is part of an ongoing endeavour by the Swedish National Agency of Higher Education to develop knowledge about what constitutes quality in e-learning, and how such quality may be assessed within the framework of a national quality assurance system.

New Zealand

Marshall, S. (2006). E-Learning Maturity Model Version Two: New Zealand Tertiary Institution E-Learning Capability: Informing and Guiding E-Learning Architectural Change and Development Project Report. Wellington NZ: New Zealand Ministry of Education


Basic Standards for E-Learning Sites (

E-standards for Training (

Commonwealth of Learning

Quality Assurance Microsite:
Knowledge Series: ODL Policy Development:
Perspectives on Distance Education: Towards a Culture of Quality:
Quality Assurance Toolkit: Teacher Education:
Quality Assurance Toolkit: Higher Education:

Organizations focusing on quality assurance in e-learning

The European Foundation for Quality in e-Learning (EFQUEL) has in my view a very enlightened approach to quality assurance. EFQUEL’s web site is well worth exploring.

JISC is the UK university IT network organization and has an excellent e-learning programme that includes quality standards, research and innovation.

International organizations

epprobate is a new international quality label for courseware, an initiative of three organisations: The Learning Agency Network (LANETO), the Agence Wallonne des Télécommunication (AWT) and the e-Learning Quality Service Center (eLQSC). epprobate has reviewers and partners in over 30 countries, and launches at the end of March 2012. For more information click here and here

Online education services for students

There are also other conditions beyond management and teaching that contribute toward high quality e-learning systems. Flexible transfer of credits that recognise qualifications taken online as well as face-to-face, and government web sites that provide accurate and reliable information about the quality online programs available within their jurisdiction, are also essential components of a high quality e-learning system. For examples, see:

BC Transfer Guide

Education Planner


eCampus Alberta

Contact North

Research on quality assurance

Probably the best coverage of quality issues in both formal (for-credit) and ‘post-traditional’ (open, non-credit) online learning are the two papers published by Academic Partnerships:

Butcher, N. and Wilson-Strydom, M. (2013) A Guide to Quality in Online Learning Dallas TX: Academic Partnerships

Butcher, N. and Hoosen, S. (2014) A Guide to Quality in Post-traditional Online Higher Education Dallas TX: Academic Partnerships

If you use the category search on “quality and quality assurance” on this site, you will find over 100 articles or postings about this topic on this site. I have selected just a few below:

Maxim Jean-Louis’s Another perspective on quality

My posting In search of quality in e-learning

My posting on What do instructors need to know about teaching with technology?

Kidney, G., Cummings, L. & Boehm, A. (2007). Toward a Quality Assurance Approach to E-Learning Courses International Journal on E-Learning, Vol. 6, No. 1, pp. 17-30. Chesapeake, VA: AACE.

A special issue on e-learning quality from the Journal of Educational Technology and Society:

Jung, I. and Latchem, C. (20112) Quality Assurance and Accreditation in Distance Education and e-Learning New York/London: Routledge


It is one thing to have a set of standards for e-learning; it’s quite another to implement them. Even rarer are studies that attempt to measure the impact of a quality assurance process on actual quality of teaching and learning. Nevertheless there are many articles in academic journals on this topic. If you know of one that was particularly helpful or informative, please let me know – a single site on quality and quality assurance research would be really useful – especially if the references are of high ‘quality’, however defined!

For a discussion of the limitations of quality assurance in e-learning, see Chapter 6, ‘Quality Assurance’ in Bates, A. and Sangrà, A (2011) Managing Technology in Higher Education, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

For an excellent example of what happens when quality assurance standards are not followed see:

Smithers, M. (2012) eLearning at Universities: A Quality Assurance Free Zone? Learning and Educational Technology in Higher Education, February 19