Creating quality online learning through strategic planning practices

The Covid-19 pandemic demonstrated the value of e-learning – but designing quality online courses is a skill to be honed

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2 Dec 2022
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As universities seek to boost student enrolments, it’s clear that providing quality, online-only courses will be crucial in attracting the best talent and keeping up with student needs.

At the Times Higher Education World Academic Summit, Darcy Hardy, associate vice-president for academic affairs (US) at global edtech company Anthology spoke to educators about the importance of incorporating e-learning into their institutions’ long-term strategy and vision.

Hardy revealed figures from a survey of students and university leaders undertaken by Anthology this year, showing that 80 per cent of students prefer at least some courses to be completed online, and 41 per cent prefer fully online courses over hybrid or face-to-face teaching.

At the same time, Hardy warned that 60 per cent of university leaders believe their institution lacks some of the digital learning tools needed to be successful.

Elaborating after the event, Hardy explains: ​​“How do you ensure that what you're offering online is high-quality, engaging, interactive with great outcomes? It always comes back to how the programmes are designed.”

Prior to joining Anthology, Hardy spent 30 years working in academia at the University of Texas, where she helped to build and run a 15-campus consortium for online learning. She believes many institutions carry a misunderstanding of the labour and skills involved in designing online courses.

As leaders face pressure to counteract falling enrolment rates, they tend to invest in marketing, she explains, often “not recognising that one of the best ways to draw students in is to provide the convenience and flexibility of online learning, which means they need more technology on their campus to be more effective”.

“They think they're doing the right thing, but there does seem to be a disconnect between what the students expect or want and what leaders are planning,” she adds.

Education leaders should also recognise that the transition made to adopt emergency remote learning during Covid-19 “is not the same thing” as implementing quality online courses.

“For online learning to be effective, you need instructional theory and instructional design as part of the development of the course,” Hardy explains. “It’s the institution’s responsibility to make sure faculty and teachers are supported.”

Anthology is a global edtech company that supports more than 150 million users across 80 countries. The company’s mission is to provide dynamic, data-informed experiences to the global education community so that learners and educators can achieve their goals.

When meeting with education leaders, Hardy references the Anthology Quality Learning Matrix, which outlines 24 elements needed in an e-learning strategy, from “vision and strategy” to alumni engagement.

“It's not a linear process, that’s why the vision is so important,” Hardy explains. “Talking about your institutional vision helps educators to be honest about what they can accomplish. Once you have that, then you can sit down and start building a strategy on how you're going to get there and put the pieces in place.”

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