Letter Q with thumbs up
The letter "Q" with a thumbs up

The importance of quality

The first thing we need to establish is what do we mean by ‘quality’ and why does it actually matter when we are creating a reusable learning object (RLO).

“Confidence in the learning quality of a resource can also be fostered by more robust attention to quality control to ensure the validity of the content and the pedagogical approaches adopted.”
(Windle & Wharrad, 2010)

What do we mean by ‘quality’?

Experience tells us that ‘quality’ can be hard to define as it encompasses a range of factors that equally contribute to the learning experience and effectiveness of a RLO. The list below indicates the most prominent factors which can determine quality.

  • Conceptual and physical design.
  • Accuracy and relevancy of content.
  • Usability.
  • Accessibility.
  • Evaluation and feedback.
  • Copyright and intellectual property.

A high level of quality is usually achievable as a result of applying a good standard across these factors collectively (Jisc, 2014). Let’s explore some of these quality factors in a little more detail before we cover why it all matters – why quality is important.

Accessibility

Where accessibility is concerned, it is about acknowledging how learners learn differently and making necessary provisions for this. By example, it would include providing measures to suit the needs of hearing or visually impaired learners. This may not be an easy task to consider upfront but it should be appreciated that there is always more than one way to learn something. Sometimes a learner can be distracted or find a particular piece of learning difficult to take in if it is ‘dressed up’ too much; the learning aim concealed by a design that is pedagogically poor or technically challenging. This is also worth bearing in mind.

In an extremely basic sense, copyright exists to protect people’s work and ideas (known as intellectual property). It can be an intimidating subject for some but it doesn’t have to be. It is advisable to think cautiously about sources for specific text or media elements when putting together any learning tasks. This will avoid the risks copyright can enforce if others’ work is not respected by the laws that protect it. You wouldn’t walk into the kitchen of a restaurant, grab a plate of food, come out and then serve it to someone making out that you had cooked the dish. By the same principles, you should avoid any work which does not have any guidance or conditions which may permit your use of it. The best way to achieve this is by using sources which can safely be attributed or used freely by licenses such as Creative Commons via public domain.

Usability

It is important to mention usability as a factor in determining overall quality. Usability concerns itself with the effectiveness and efficiency of an E-learning resource. From the perspective of a learner, specific characteristics of usability include achieving things with an appropriate amount of effort, being easy to function and navigate, having content and controls which are suitably organised, as well as incorporating flexibility.

Some consider usability to be something that is applied during the implementation or physical creation of an online resource. However, as described by Benyon, Turner and Turner (2005), the impact of usability all stems from the design phase.

“Striving for a clear, simple and consistent conceptual model will increase the usability of a system.”
(Benyon et al., 2005)

Whilst considerations of accessibility, copyright and usability should not be an initial distraction in any ‘blue sky thinking’ phase, they should ultimately play a big part in firming up the specification during the design process.

Why is quality important?

It may seem a little obvious to state but, essentially, the main reason for this is to enable your learners to achieve the best possible learning experience from your RLO. This is quite a broad consideration, and covers all kinds of more detailed issues, but it always should be the goal in mind. A high degree of quality assurance, both from a pedagogical and technological perspective will ensure learners are engaged during their use of an online resource but equally satisfied that the resource has met their needs upon completion of the learning.

One of the most positive contributions to the quality of a learning resource is through the involvement of a variety of key stakeholders. As covered earlier in earlier sessions, the stakeholders (a community made up of subject experts, service users and prospective learners) play an important role in inputting a range of views which help shape the resource towards a concrete learning need. It is this “bottom up” approach to development that offers opportunities to build in levels of quality which can often be overlooked if resources are put together using more technology-driven methods (Windle & Wharrad, 2010).

Be prepared, however, for ensuring great quality will affect other constraints. The most notable of trade-offs, as illustrated below, being the cost and time of overall development.

Diagram showing quality versus cost and time

Stakeholders should be aware of this but it is simple in the sense that if quality is essential (which it should be if you want your resource to be effective) then there will be a cost and time implication.

Conflicting opinions

Quality is a much debated point when it comes to E-learning resources – particularly those that are available openly via the internet for access by all. Some view that the imposition of quality dictates a stamp of personalisation which should be left to learners’ interpretation to allow for a “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” type approach. Others, like us here in the HELM (Health E-Learning and Media) team, believe that it is important to provide methods of ensuring quality. This is to enable the learner to benefit from a resource which is well-defined and based on sound pedagogy. Furthermore, we feel it is important that this quality is derived from the community of stakeholders who have put their knowledge and experiences to the core. This is especially important when developing resources for healthcare.

Why is quality important for health care resources?

Healthcare is a complex, challenging and continuously evolving area. There are many demands, expectations, internal and external governing pressures, changes in culture, education, research and equipment all of which have influence in a bid to make a difference to the care people receive. As RLOs can be considered a part of that, primarily for education, it is vital that they uphold a high level of quality especially in terms of their accuracy and usability. A high quality learning resource is an effective one and will consequently encourage the ‘reusability’ aspect. There is also the very real prospect that a proportion of learners, who have studied using RLOs, may find themselves in a position where they have to provide immediate care to a patient whose life is at risk.

If we imagine, albeit an extremely exaggerated scenario, where such a situation could require someone to recall on knowledge gained from their online learning experiences then it would be inconceivable to consider any error of guidance in an RLO leading to a serious mistake in action. Again, whilst this is an over-the-top example, the fact remains that quality of E-learning resources has to be exceptional to prevent potential risks, issues and liability. They must always be highly accurate and updated in accordance with any change in practice procedures. These are the considerations for quality that stakeholders need to be prepared to ensure at any cost.

For us, the quality input into the RLOs we develop for the field of healthcare is unquestionable. Our target audience for these resources, as learners, is vast. There are practitioners, other healthcare professionals in the field of practice, students training to healthcare professionals, service users (alternatively known as patients), their carers and the wider general public all of whom access RLOs to undertake some type of learning.

That learning could be to improve knowledge and skills in a particular area, be it for research and development purposes or perhaps even for some simple comfort or reassurance. Such a large spectrum of learners requires resources to be built on principles of good quality otherwise learners will simply disengage from E-learning where quality is lacking. Very few will continue working through a resource which is inaccurate and difficult to use or follow.

For example, think about a story on your favourite celebrity in a magazine – what things make you consider the quality of this resource? You may identify reputation and trust amongst the things you would consider and it is true that these factors can play a part. If authors (or stakeholders), working with developers, produce consistently high quality resources then an inevitable level of trust will build. As a result, their resources will become relied upon for effective learning and therefore used time and time again.

References

  • Benyon, D., Turner, P., and Turner, S. (2005). Designing interactive systems: People, activities, contexts, technologies. Pearson Education.
  • Jisc (2014) Quality considerations [online]. Available at: https://www.jisc.ac.uk/guides/open-educational-resources/quality-considerations [Accessed 15 January 2016].
  • Windle, R. & Wharrad, HJ. (2010). Reusable Learning Objects in Health Care Education. In: Bromage, A., Clouder, L., & Gordon, F., Thistlethwaite, J., eds., Interprofessional E-Learning and Collaborative Work: Practices and Technologies. IGI-Global.

Discussion topics

Quality is a big and often debated topic when it comes to developing E-learning.

  • What does quality mean to you?
  • What do you think about the importance of quality for learning resources?

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This article is from the free online course:

Designing E-Learning for Health

The University of Nottingham