The Quality Difference in 2019 & Beyond

 by Deb Adair, Executive Director for Quality Matters

Deb Adair serves as the Executive Director of Quality Matters, and brings more than 25 years of experience in higher education, in faculty and administration, as well as non-profit leadership and management consulting to the role. Additionally, she currently serves on the boards of the Presidents' Forum Advisory Council and the Credential Engine Advisory Group.


If you are like me, you haven’t been able to resist the siren call of the prognosticators who write and speak about the future of education. We know 2019 and beyond will be a time of significant change for our industry and much of that change will revolve around technology-enhanced education. New opportunities to change the game for students are at once intoxicating and worrisome. We want to participate in seizing the moment for the betterment of student learning while building on what we know has always worked well and minimizing the unintended consequences. Of course, we all still have our “day job” to worry about.

So how should we be approaching 2019?  My mother’s advice about new encounters was, “First, be kind.” In this case, I would say, “First, pursue quality.”  Both pieces of advice are easier said than done. But here is why quality will matter more than ever in 2019:

Quality is a Market Imperative

The CHLOE 2 Report reveals a near-term future in which the growth of new online programs will outpace the growth of online enrollment. How will institutions differentiate their online programs from one another? How will institutions with more modest online enrollments compete with the scale, scope and resources of the mega-universities we are told are barreling our way with lower cost options to serve close to a half-million students — each? If your institution can’t compete on access/scale and can’t compete on cost, the quality of the academic programs will need to be the primary way to differentiate academic offerings. Certification of quality will be an important signal to the market about the difference between your programs and theirs.

Quality is an Institutional Imperative

A bonafide quality assurance (QA) process will become a critical change management tool to move innovation from exploration, pilot, and launch (stages that demand significant organizational resources) to Standard Operating Procedures that have significantly fewer resource demands. A QA process that is structured to move the organization forward in this way will create planned and systematic processes to evaluate against national standards, collect and use data to continuously improve, benchmark both process and results against peers, and systematically connect initiatives around quality goals in ways that efficiently use resources and effectively move the organization forward. If you are a QM member institution, you have the tools to implement this rigorous QA process.

Quality is a Public Accountability Imperative  

The QM Certification Mark is a key inter-institutional reference that matters to many stakeholders at state and national levels. Did you know, for example, that the American Dental Association has endorsed QM Standards for continuing education courses or that the Florida Fire College uses QM Certification as evidence for accepting courses towards licensing? Or that the Texas State Board for Educator Certification has identified QM Program Certification in the Texas Administrative Code as one of the few ways teacher education programs can be approved in the state? For the last six years, the Maryland State Department of Education has accepted official QM Certification of online courses created by publishers as a requirement for being endorsed for use by districts across the state. QM has recently been approved as an evaluator for K-12 Online courses (both publisher and locally developed) used by districts in the state of Missouri. We are now seeing major state university systems integrate QM Standards and/or Certification into their strategic plans to perform quality review of all of their online courses. How many of you had specific acknowledgment by accreditation teams about your use of QM to demonstrate the rigor of your QA initiatives?

As our field becomes increasingly competitive, the ability to provide evidence of meeting a national benchmark will become increasingly important. The QM Certification Mark provides that validation based on an unbiased, third-party evaluation of quality. It demonstrates quality equivalency in all courses and programs that carry it. Benchmarking what you offer against this standard, whether you are seeking certification of all your courses and programs or for a representative sample, is the kind of signal the market will require.

Quality is an Imperative for Both Faculty and Students

QM operates according to four principles — collaboration, collegiality, continuous improvement, and centered on research. QM’s peer review process is a cultural anchor for an institution’s faculty. Peer evaluation is well understood as part of every institution’s internal and external evaluation and QM’s principled approach represents a meaningful paradigm for faculty. What is exceptional is the insight peer reviewer participation provides for faculty. The opportunity to review and reflect on a peer’s course, especially a peer from another institution, is a rare experience that enhances both design and teaching. Through our exit surveys and the feedback we receive from faculty across the country, we know that the experience of serving on a QM review team is a superior professional development opportunity.

The impact of QM’s continuous improvement process on faculty also has a corresponding impact on students. Students care about quality, too. They need to know about the efforts their institutions are making to ensure a quality learning experience. It matters to them that they matter to you — how are you demonstrating this? Do you share your QM achievements, especially certification, with your students? Do you work with your institutional research team to help you better measure the impact on your students? As your institution begins to experiment with new teaching and learning approaches, students will need to understand how you are investing in maintaining the quality of their experience.

Quality Assurance is an Imperative for 2019 and Beyond

In 2019 and beyond, QM will look to partnerships with like-minded organizations to continue to develop resources and tools that extend beyond course design. For example, QM has partnered with the Virtual Learning Leadership Alliance to re-develop the iNACOL standards into the K-12 National Standards for Online Programs, Online Teaching and Online Courses and will be releasing these in 2019 to the community under a Creative Commons license. QM is paying close attention to developments in technology-enhanced education to ensure we can provide integrated tools for quality assurance once a critical knowledge base exists for new teaching and learning applications. You’ll be seeing more about our collaborations and partnerships to provide direction for best practice and the resulting evidence of achievement.

For the last twelve years, QM has focused on providing an integrated quality assurance process to our members. A membership with QM is not about access to the Standards or even using standards internally. It’s about the tools and resources to demonstrate, in a rigorous and unbiased way, that an internationally-recognized level of quality has been achieved at the course and program level. That’s what QM provides and that’s the level of accountability and a hallmark for differentiation that will increasingly be demanded in the future. We know that our 1300+ members have raised the bar for quality in the online community and we look forward to what we can achieve together in the new normal for technology-enhanced education.

Connect with Deb on Twitter: @debadair85.