There are a variety of tools, rubrics and processes available for analyzing quality in online learning.  Dominant among these tools are the Quality Matters Rubric (V. 5) and process, Online Learning Consortium’s Quality Scorecard for the Administration of Online Programs, the Blackboard Exemplary Course Rubric, iNACOL’s National Standards for Quality Online Courses (V2,) eCampusAlberta’s Essential Quality Standards 2.0, and Universal Design for Learning Guidelines Version 2.0.

This lesson reviews those tools in more detail; a PDF printout of much (but not all) of this information can be found at:

Elements that Impact Quality

Much has been written about elements that impact effective learning in online environments, and what constitutes “quality.”  All online courses are not the same, and a critical examination of pedagogy and design, as well as academic and other student supports, is needed to enable colleges and universities to effectively create systems and processes for instructional design and institutional support to enable students to have a quality learning experience online (Jaggars & Bailey, 2010).  A variety of tools have emerged throughout the field, including those specifically focused on the instructional design of online courses (some of which also include guidelines for delivery), those focused on designing instruction for students with diverse needs, and those focused on, or including, elements of institutional strategy and student support services (Blackboard, n.d.; CAST, 2011; eCampusAlberta, 2013; iNACOL, 2011; Online Learning Consortium, n.d.; Quality Matters, 2014).

Within a course-specific context, Smith, Jaggars & Xu (2013) organized these into four primary themes:  “(1) the extent to which the course interface is well organized and easy to navigate; (2) the clarity of learning objectives and performance standards; (3) the strength and diversity of interpersonal interaction; and (4) the extent to which technology is effectively used” (p. 7).  A wide variety of evidence supports each of these components, however social engagement in the online environment was heavily supported in being a critical component to student success – both learner to faculty (e.g., Arbaugh, 2001; Picciano, 2002; Young, 2006) and learner to learner (e.g., Bangert, 2006; Matthew, Felvegi, & Callaway, 2009; Balaji & Chakrabarti, 2010) (as cited in Smith Jaggars & Xu, 2013, p. 10).

Quality tools, guidelines and processes used in the field include engagement that is learner to learner, learner to faculty member, and learner to content as a critical piece.  However the other essential factors of course navigation, alignment of instructional components (i.e. objectives, assessments and activities,) the effective use of instructional technology, and academic and institutional supports and commitments are holistically viewed as impacting student success (Blackboard, n.d.; CAST, 2011; eCampusAlberta, 2013; iNACOL, 2011; Online Learning Consortium, n.d.; Quality Matters, 2014).

Play icon indicating proceed to next pageNow, let’s explore Quality Matters.



Blackboard. (n.d.). Exemplary course program rubric. Retrieved from

CAST (2011). Universal Design for Learning Guidelines version 2.0. Wakefield, MA: Author.

eCampusAlberta. (2013). Essential quality standards 2.0. Retrieved from

INACOL International Association for K-12 Online Learning. (2011). National standards for quality online courses version 2. Retrieved from

Jaggars, S., & Bailey, T. R. (2010). Effectiveness of fully online courses for college students: Response to a Department of Education meta-analysis.

Online Learning Consortium. (n.d.). Quality scorecard for the administration of online programs version 2. Retrieved from

Quality Matters. (2014). Higher ed program rubric Quality Matters. Retrieved from

Smith, Jaggars, S., & Xu, D. (2013). Predicting online student outcomes from a measure of course quality (57). Retrieved from Community College Research Center, Teachers College, Columbia University website:

Swan, K. (2003). Learning effectiveness online: What the research tells us. Elements of quality online education, practice and direction, 4, 13-47.