Home Online learning The Evolving Conversation About Quality in Online Learning

The Evolving Conversation About Quality in Online Learning

Digital forms of postsecondary education were suddenly thrust into the national conversation in the spring of 2020, as almost all educators and students moved to what became known as emergency remote instruction. All of this happened with an absence of the careful design process that typically occurs in preparing a course for online delivery, and largely without the extensive training that most colleges and universities either require or offer to online instructors. This report focuses on the current state and the evolving debate about the quality of remote learning: who gets to decide its parameters, and what is the general sentiment about online learning as it stands. Intended for college and university leaders and faculty of all institution types, this resource is designed to help higher ed professionals navigate this challenging time and better support students and campus communities, both online and off.

Topics Include

  • Did institutions’ reactive responses to the pandemic with the implementation of remote learning, along with subsequent iterations, help or hinder the importance of agility in higher ed in the long term?
  • How much did the shift to remote learning fundamentally reshape perceptions and behavior about digital learning in higher ed?
  • Who decides how quality is defined in remote learning and what are the parameters and criteria to judge this different modality?


Table of Contents


The Recent Past and Steady State

The Catalyst

Has the Nature of the Typical Student Changed?

Current Perceptions of Online Learning

The Quality Question: Who Judges Excellence in Online Education?

Embracing Online Learning—Today and for the Long Term

Next Steps: Toward a Holistic Approach to Online Learning

Further Reading

About the Author

About Inside Higher Ed

Number of Pages: 35 (3.67 MB PDF)


Date Released: March 31, 2022


About the Author: Kristi DePaul is a regular contributor to Harvard Business Review, and her writing has appeared in the Horizon Report and research reports sponsored by the Barbara Bush Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Digital Promise, and Microsoft for Education, among others. DePaul leads Founders, a remote content agency that serves K-20 education, training and professional development organizations. She is a graduate of Penn State University’s Bellisario College of Communications and the H. John Heinz III College of Public Policy and Management at Carnegie Mellon University. A native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Kristi lives with her family in Tel Aviv, Israel.


This report was made possible in part by the financial support of NC-SARA.



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