5 Things You Should Know About Quality And Compliance In Online Education

Paul Haddad's Insight Into Quality And Compliance In Online Education

The number of students enrolled in online courses has dramatically increased over the past three or four years, but given that more students are choosing to study online, what measures should be put in place by learning institutions to ensure that a high standard is maintained? To get an insider’s perspective, I talked to Open Colleges’ quality and compliance manager, Paul Haddad. His job involves providing technical support and training to trainers and assessors, program managers and heads of portfolio by conducting regular quality reviews and internal audits to ensure practices remain compliant and at a high level of quality. So what exactly is quality and compliance in online education?

At its most basic, in the Vocational Education and Training (VET) sector, a business can be deemed ‘compliant’ if it adheres to all the legislative requirements set out in the Standards for Registered Training Organisations (RTOs).

But ensuring quality in online education requires more than just following a set of standards, so here are some of the most important things you should understand about quality and compliance in online education.

1. Quality And Compliance Are Even More Important In Online Education

Although online education is sometimes thought to be a replacement of face to face training, Haddad points out that online education is a completely different form of learning specific to individuals who just learn better at their own pace and in their own environment.

“Some think a face-to-face course can be converted to online by simply making hard copy materials available through a website or platform PDF’s, and lectures as recorded videos or podcasts. But online education brings the best of both worlds and delivers it in a way tailored to the individual so that they can learn and grow at their own pace.”

With this in mind, quality and compliance are all the more important in online education, because it means combining technology and a different way of thinking to what’s normal.

“Looking at quality and compliance means that you are sometimes paving the way, and if you were to have a narrow mindset with a focus only on compliance you could find yourself challenged each time the regulator conducts an audit on your business.”

2. Compliance Should Not Be Confused With Quality

Although quality and compliance go hand in hand, they are not one and the same. Haddad points out that a fear of not being compliant often causes individuals to put ‘blinkers’ on and try to just meet the standards.

“I have seen this occur often and it takes time to adjust peoples thinking to be focused on quality first,” says Haddad. “When an individual is so caught up with trying to write ‘compliant’ assessments they often forget the practicality and the friendliness in their instructions.”

For instance, you could have an assessment tool that in theory ticks all the boxes in relation to compliance, but if the students attempting the assessment are unable to complete the assessment well or produce assessment evidence that is poor, then you are not only ‘non-compliant’ but you have no ‘quality’ in that assessment tool.

“Quality and compliance can be a bit of a balancing act at times, but it’s an art when they are balanced proportionately and something to be proud of when the results are clear.”

He notes that when you place quality before compliance you’ll often find that compliance is met, because the standards were written with the intent to provide quality student graduate outcomes. Quality means always improving and always going above and beyond the standards.

3. Student Feedback Is Vital

One of the most important ways measure the quality of an online course is to get student feedback, because students are the customers and the voice of the business.

“Understanding your students is vital to knowing how best to service them. Quality is tied in with ensuring your delivery to the students is the best it can possibly be.

No quality assurance process would be sound without hearing from the customer, so make sure the student voice can be heard, by using suitable surveys, for instance, and can be listened to.”

4. Your Data Can And Should Be Used To Track Quality Outcomes

Haddad explains that one advantage of online programs compared with face-to-face programs is that you are in no short supply of data and records, which are the bread and butter of auditing and monitoring.

“The best way in my opinion to measure results of an online program would be keep your data organized and visual and always available”, he says. “Here at Open Colleges we keep an eye on statistics for just about everything. We have TV dashboards strategically placed across the floors with data specific to the teams nearby.”

In regards to the monitoring aspects and ensuring it meets its objectives and learning outcomes, it’s important to firstly understand your targets. Some of the metrics used to track quality outcomes are:

  • Net Promoter Score.
  • Completion rates (i.e. individual module completions).
  • Graduation rates.

But more importantly, quality and compliance benchmarks:

  • Validation completions.
    Validation is a quality assurance process used to check assessment tools meet compliance and quality standards.
  • Moderation completions.
    Moderation is also a quality process but aims to focus on the marking of assessments by our trainers and assessors to ensure this is up to standard.
  • Course review.
    Annual schedule for each course where it is reviewed in its entirety and improvements are formulated and executed.
  • Industry consultation.
    Ongoing consultations that must occur with industry to ensure best alignment to trends and workplace standards.

5. No Course Is Perfect

Haddad adds that it’s important to have structure to your reviews and documented outcomes, because when audited, the focus is often on trails of evidence. If you can demonstrate that you are constantly reviewing and improving your practices, you portray to the regulator that you can be trusted.

“It is important to make it clear from the start that the reviews will pick up areas to improve. No review should come out perfect. Having this expectation clear up front to all management and reviewers will save a lot of headaches”, he says.

“Be open and honest with your reviews and document the mistakes, accompanied with the resolution.”

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