Quality Distance Learning Doesn’t Happen by Chance

This post is provided by guest blogger, Dianna Doyle, graduate student at the University of St. Francis in Joliet, Illinois MS in Training and Development program.

Based on research, McClary (2013) identifies four components of a quality distance learning course: course design, content, instructor, and support systems.

Course Design

McClary {2013) cites research that identifies eight instructional design principles that contribute to quality.

  1. Equitable use involves ensuring content is available to all learners.
  2. Flexible use involves offering content in multiple formats.
  3. Making content simple and intuitive takes some strategic planning, such as selecting a single learning management system so students will have a common platform across courses.
  4. Perceptible information refers to presenting information in different ways. Perceptible information involves accommodating accessibility and providing means for alternative access for the benefit of students with different learning modalities.
  5. Tolerance for error provides students the opportunity to easily correct errors.
  6. Low physical and technical effort allow students to dedicate more cognitive focus on content and the learning process as opposed to the learning environment itself.
  7. Community of learners and support incorporates group learning and employs technology to facilitate those interactions at a distance.
  8. Instructional climate should foster interaction which is a vital element in the instructional process to engage students in a meaningful way.

Course Content

Ensuring the course is up-to-date and relevant means that every module of content in the course should revolve around specific course objectives. There should be no ambiguity in the students mind regarding how content applies to objectives. Reusing content is an efficient means by which to develop online programs as long as they are updated periodically.

Course Instructor

The instructor is actually a critical component of quality, with the instructor having an impact on student involvement in the course and learning as measured by objective performance, course grades, and student satisfaction. This makes it critical that distance learning courses be taught by instructors who are passionate about their subject, approachable, and able to encourage engagement in the distance medium.

Support Systems

Finally, McClary explains that quality distance learning courses require robust support systems in the areas of academic support, administrative support, and technical support. Administrative support involves things such as financial aid, advising, and registrar services. Academic, administrative, and technical support services should be evaluated regularly as a part of the course evaluation and data should be made available to the appropriate stakeholders to ensure accountability and ongoing improvement.

These recommendations are useful to students, instructors, course designers, and administrators. Implementing the eight course design recommendations will ensure quality. Course content should be clearly related to stated objectives. Course instructors need to not only be passionate about their subject matter but also able to encourage engagement of students. Managing, supporting, and evaluating distance learning courses requires ongoing administrative involvement which should also undergo regular evaluation.


McClary, J. (2013, Summer). Factors in high quality distance learning courses. Online
Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 16
(2), 1-8.

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