This post is co-authored by Anthony Burke, Matisse Strong and Rory Green (Postgraduate Learning Design).
Quality online education needs to be viewed as central to the institution’s core business. Quality standards for online teaching, learning design and student support need to be developed and clearly articulated at a senior institutional level; these standards need to include staff development and training, to ensure consistency of quality across all areas, as well as being subject to regular review via a continuous quality improvement framework, to ensure that they are updated and improved over time.Dr Cathy Stone, Opportunity Through Online Learning: Improving student access, participation and success in higher education (2016)
A high-quality, consistent experience is a contributing factor to student success, and our students deserve the same quality of learning experience in their online learning environments as they do on-campus. Below, we introduce the Postgraduate Learning Design Quality Framework, including the challenges the framework aims to address and how it supports quality in online learning here at UTS.
A research-informed approach to design
The Quality Framework was developed to support high quality digital learning design at scale as the Postgraduate Learning Design (PGLD) team and our programs continue to expand. Our goal was to create a practical framework that can be used in three ways:
- A resource to guide the design and development of learning products
- An evaluation tool for learning products
- A professional development resource for learning designers and teaching staff
In developing the framework, the team drew on key guidelines like the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education‘s National Guidelines for Improving Student Outcomes in Online Learning, but also a broad and deep range of frameworks and resources from within and outside UTS, including:
- UTS frameworks, including Enhancing Courses Guide; UTS Indigenous Graduate Attribute Curriculum Framework; the LX resource collection Guiding principles for your Canvas course; UTS WIL Quality Framework; UTS Social Impact Framework
- PGLD resources, including 60+ guides, templates and resources; designing for OPM; PGLD style guide; Microcredential guide
- 25+ learning quality frameworks from universities, accreditors and professional bodies from around the world including ACODE, Quality Matters, TEQSA, UDL and the National Microcredentials Framework
As you might expect, there are a lot of similarities across these industry and institutional frameworks. The frameworks that stood out from this analysis were those that sequenced standards in a way that made it clear when and where to apply them, as well as those that contained authentic examples which showed what standards looked like in practice.
The 4 Learning Design Principles
The framework has its foundations in four Postgraduate Learning Design Principles, established when PGLD first formed in 2016 to complement the UTS Model of Learning and the learning.futures strategy. The principles are:
The learning experience is informed by and connected to the world beyond the university. Students are introduced to experts in their field and engage with industry case studies to solve authentic workplace and world problems. Assessments also draw on these authentic contexts.
Learners can see the connections between the activities they’re working on, the assessments they’re preparing for and the learning outcomes they will draw on as graduates. We foreground the essential activities and resources, so it’s clear what learners need to do and which content is optional.
Learning requires active attention and participation. We design activities where learners relate ideas and concepts to their own experiences and to new situations. They analyse, apply and create – and learning is consolidated by regular feedback and reflection.
We learn from each other as well as from experts and teachers. Learners share their opinions, expectations and interpretations. They contribute skills and provide feedback for each other as they would in a work situation.
The PGLD Quality Framework
The framework design was iteratively refined across 2022 through consultation workshops with the learning designers in our team. Its sequence is aligned to the learning design process, and supported by authentic examples showing the standards in practice.
The framework design consists of 42 quality standards organised into 4 focus areas, which address structural components of our online learning experiences:
- Subject Overview – focuses on the outcomes, structure and orientation of a subject
- Assessments – covers graded summative assessment tasks
- Learning Activities – covers all ungraded formative tasks
- Learning Content – covers all other resources such as readings, videos and page text
These areas are sequenced in the order our learning designers would approach the co-design process: starting from learning outcomes and delivery requirements, which then guide the design of meaningful assessment, aligned with formative learning activities and learning content. By organising the framework this way, we are able to give our team explicit guidance and support no matter where they are in a learning design project.
Explore the framework with us!
The PGLD Quality Framework is not only for learning designers, but is intended to be usable by academics or anyone involved in the design and delivery of quality online learning. We’ve developed a Sharepoint site of resources to support the Framework, including a resource page for each of the 42 standards.
The site’s ‘Why is this important’ and ‘Learn More’ sections explain how the standards benefit learners, how they may address important UTS strategy and policy, and how they are backed by guidance from IML and LX.lab resources, as well as other relevant research in the field of digital pedagogy. The ‘How Do I achieve this’ and ‘Examples’ sections provide useful prompts, tips and inspiration for incorporating the standards into practice.
The framework will continue to develop and evolve, and we’re currently collecting feedback from collaborators across the university. We hope to improve the framework and resource site with additional examples, techniques and other resources over time.
Please contact Mais Fatayer if you would like join us at the next Learning Design Meetup on Tuesday 21 March, where we will explore the framework together. In this interactive session, we’ll discuss and share how it might be useful in your own learning design, evaluation and professional development process. To be part of ongoing discussions on all things Learning Design, please join the conversation in the UTS Learning Design Meetup Teams channel.