Online Blogucation

Hallmark #4: Curricula

We are continuing the series that explores the new set of outcomes from which online education will be evaluated. These outcomes represent elements of standardization and quality espoused by every regional (and now national) accreditor for implementation in December 2011.

As you may remember from previous posts in the series, we’ve looked at the following three Hallmarks: (1) Mission & Purpose, (2) Planning, and (3) Governance & Academic Oversight. Curricula is the 4th focus in the series of 9 Hallmarks of Quality for the Evaluation of Online Learning.

Hallmark #4: Curricula
“Curricula for the institution’s online learning offerings are coherent, cohesive, and comparable in academic rigor to programs offered in traditional instructional formats.”

From this statement, you may have immediately picked up on subjects revolving around the comparability of online programs to their on-ground counterparts. You may have also noticed reference to considerations of academic rigor, a concept which many have regarded as a characteristic of traditional education but a challenge (even an impossibility) for online ed (Sloan-C, 2010).

Even though this hallmark addresses the goals of coherence, cohesion and comparability between delivery modalities, you may be surprised to find that it also encompasses aspects of the student experience that you may not have originally gleaned.

For instance, consider that if your online courses and/or program would ever require an online student to come to campus, be it to take a test at a lab or to complete a special project, these expectations would have to be explicitly disclosed to the student upon their matriculation in an online program:

“Expectations for any required face-to-face, on-ground work (e.g., internships, specialized laboratory work) are stated clearly;”

While it is an effective (and expected) practice to inform students of such expectations ahead of time, this has not always been the case, and forecasting such needs will certainly layer implications to the administration of online programs.

Further, reflect on the implication that the general expectation will be that faculty and staff constituents of online programs would be well-versed in best practices of online learning, and that such knowledge would make itself evident and be reflected in the curriculum.

“The curricular goals and course objectives show that the institution or program has knowledge of the best uses of online learning in different disciplines and settings;”

We can begin to envision the initiatives that will need to be launched and the processes that will need to be evaluated in regards to the development of faculty and staff constituents and the observable manner in which such expertise will be infused in the development and deployment of the curriculum.

One may have initially considered the Hallmark of Curricula to be largely a faculty concern. However, there are also notable elements in the Analysis/Evidence that carry significant administrative responsibilities. Consider the following:

“Curriculum design and the course management system enable active faculty contribution to the learning environment;”

“Scheduling of online learning courses and programs provides students with a dependable pathway to ensure timely completion of degrees;”

“The institution or program has established and enforces a policy on online learning course enrollments to ensure faculty capacity to work appropriately with students;”

How will administrators go about ensuring that the Institution’s choice of course management system and the Institution’s policies and procedures concerning online course delivery will allow for “active faculty contribution”? Further, how will program administrators contend with the balance of administrative process regarding course offerings while planning for and delivering each online student a dependable pathway to program completion? With the great variance of online class sizes and faculty load, what will it mean for institutions to establish and enforce course enrollment policy that ensures faculty’s ability to address student needs? These, and many others, are the implied administrative responsibilities of the Hallmark of Curricula.

To complete our brief exploration of this fourth, in a series of nine Hallmarks of Quality, following are the remaining points of Analysis/Evidence as provided by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE, 2011):

“Curricula delivered through online learning are benchmarked against on-ground courses and programs, if provided by the institution, or those provided by traditional institutions;”

“The curriculum is coherent in its content and sequencing of courses and is effectively defined in easily available documents including course syllabi and program descriptions;”

“Course design and delivery supports student-student and faculty-student interaction;”

“Course and program structures provide schedule and support known to be effective in helping online learning students persist and succeed.”

Stay tuned for next week as we continue this series on the 9 Hallmarks of Quality in the Evaluation of Online Programs. We hope you enjoy exploring these along with us!

- Rachel Cubas, M.Sc -
Academic Trainer & Consultant
Assessment & Analytics Group, ATC Team


(MSCHE), M. S. (2011). Interregional Guidelines for the Evaluation of Distance Education Programs (Online Learning). Philadelphia: Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

Sloan-C. (2010). Class Differences: Online Education in the United States, 2010. Babson Park: Babson Survey Research Group.

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