The must-know changes in distance education policy

A lot has changed in online learning practices in just a few short years—and accreditation policy is no exception

distance-program-policyDid you know that when offering online courses, collaboration options for students are a requirement? Or that faculty participation in designing the implementation of an online learning program is mandatory?

These are just a glimpse of some of the most recent (within the last two years) updates to distance education policy standards set forth by regional and national accrediting organizations in the U.S.

And as many institutions begin implementing online programs, it’s never been a more critical time for administrators and leaders to become well-acquainted with the hallmarks of quality required for both new, and currently in-place, distance-ed programs.

“The immense growth of distance education in higher education and resulting abundance of policies and guidelines has impacted the preparation of accreditation reports in many capacities, “explains Suzanne Keil, an instructional technology student and author of the study, “Distance Education Policy Standards.

The list of new or updated policies can be broken into five main categories: institutional context and commitment, curriculum and instruction, faculty and faculty support, student support, and evaluation and assessment.

[Policies listed in this article reflect the most current updates to online learning programs, ranging from January 2012-December 2013. For a full list of updates since 2011, as well as which accrediting institutions mandated these updates, read the full report. Note: Though each of these policies was mandated by a specific accrediting commission, all of these policies are incorporated in similar language into other commissions’ requirements]

Institutional context and commitment

Why accrediting commissions believe it’s important: Institutional mission should be reflected in distance education programs through planning and goals to ensure success of the program and dedication to this success from the institution, say accrediting commissions.

Most recent updates to policy:

  • Distance education programs are consistent with the mission and educational objectives of the institution.
  • Programs are integrated into the regular planning processes of the institution.
  • The institution provides sufficient resources—financial, human, physical, and technological—to support its distance education programs.
  • Operation of programming is incorporated into the governance system of the institution.
  • The programming be reviewed as part of its comprehensive evaluation.

(Next page: Curriculum and instruction; faculty)