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As we delve into the specifics of our “A Blueprint for Your Online Program’s Success” blog series, we’ll start with our first pillar—quality programs. As education in the 21st century continues to evolve, institutions must focus on creating exemplary online classroom programs or risk falling behind. The first step in doing so is by creating the foundation for quality programming.

What does quality online programming entail? While the detailed answer far extends the space of this blog post, a few key elements include:

  1. Providing the right organizational structure
  2. Promoting accessibility and learner equity
  3. Delivering appropriate rigor
  4. Tracking chosen methodologies to ensure desirable outcomes and results

Providing the right organizational structure

There are a number of factors that can affect an institution’s ability to develop the appropriate organizational structure for virtual classroom programming to flourish. One non-negotiable Dr. Joshua Kim, Director of Online Programs and Strategy for Dartmouth College, sees is around staffing. Dr. Kim is unequivocal, imploring “Hire instructional designers.”

Dr. Patrice Torcivia Prusko, Director of Learning Design, Technology, and Media for Harvard University Graduate School of Education, also notes the importance of cultivating a meaningful, effective working relationship between instructional designers and faculty, expounding, “[Develop] a relationship of trust…Taking the time to get to know the faculty member, what they care about, how they approach teaching, what they love about teaching, what maybe some challenges they’re having in the classroom are…Building that foundational level so that you can see what they really need.”

Dr. Prusko also encourages the need for intentionality, thinking through how one should best use a given space or technology for student engagement—not including new tech just to be additive, as this can often have the effect of being less helpful to learners.

Dr. Rozalind Jester, Assistant Vice President of Strategic Innovation and Online Learning for Florida Southwestern State College adds, “When you’re choosing technology, choose technology that connects the student with the instructor.”

Promoting accessibility and learner equity

Ensuring learners have equal access, both to the learning materials and modalities, but also to the experience within the learning process, is essential to a quality online program.

Working to accomplish just that, Dr. Prusko reminds institutional leaders, “Part of that process is really thinking about keeping equity at the center of design and thinking about what does it mean to design for those learners who are at the margin. And if we design for the learners at the margin, we’re really designing and creating a better experience for everyone.”

Dr. Prusko also clarifies, “This is everything from thinking about accessibility related to captions and alt text and some of the things that we’re all very familiar with [to] what does it mean to think about accessibility in a truly inclusive way [outside technical standards].”

Delivering appropriate rigor

While online classroom programming has, at times, had a reputation for being a less rigorous avenue of education in the past, the reality is that opportunities to deliver equally scrupulous learning exist within the online space.

The Higher Learning Commission (HLC) drafted its own distance learning standards and practices in 2021, and much additional codifying of online education tenants, especially around regular and substantive interaction (RSI), have been developed over the past few years to address this misperception.

Continual assessment of the effectiveness of particular technologies, student engagement practices, structuring, and more are necessary in order for evidence-based proof that online programming offers equally as rigorous educational opportunities as in-person and hybrid learning. Providing this evidence becomes further possible through institutional tracking and shared data insights.

Tracking chosen methodologies to ensure desirable outcomes and results

Tracking the methods and outcomes of virtual classroom programming is essential for institutions to identify what is working and what needs modifying within their own online classroom platform. It can also cumulatively provide the foundation for data-supported research which can inform industry-wide best practices.

Properly tracking and analyzing the specifics within virtual classroom coursework, as well as how this feeds into overall institutional goals, also allows key stakeholders to make informed decisions about programmatic ROI. As the economics of higher education continue to shift, it is more important than ever to not only be able to identify key trends in learning achievements, but also recognize and leverage data points to support financially viable avenues forward.

These key insights can also help institutions better appeal to key emerging student populations, offer practical programs which translate students into successful alumni, and increase online student engagement like never before. And speaking of students, the focus of Pillar II is the student experience.

Increased learner engagement and institutional ROI

Eager to start laying the foundation for quality online programming that will empower a new era of learning while also elevating an economically viable path forward for your institution? Talk with our team today, and let’s transform your institution’s online programming!

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About Jess
Jess Sandlin is a Strategic Consultant for Class. Having served in a number of capacities over 15 years in education, he is passionate about bringing informative solutions to decision makers to improve the overall student experience.