Quality Matters: Caveat Emptor

Latin phrase "let the buyer beware"

Virtual learning opportunities pop up everywhere.  From individuals to institutions, unlimited education is offered:  webinars, webcasts,  podcasts,  online courses, mobile apps, and more.  The experience may be a freemium – either no financial charge with contact information as the price of registration; or the education may be a benefit  of a membership or subscription package.    In other online education offerings, there is a registration or enrollment fee; depending on the provider and length of the event, fees can be  less than 50USD to 1,000USD or more.

Education is an investment, however,  beyond the money expended.  These other expenditures, mainly time focused on the course and time away from other work and life activities, often represent the more valuable investment.  So return on the investment (ROI) really is important.

In online learning as with any education, quality matters.  Thus, the Latin advice:  caveat emptor (let the buyer beware).

How do you know if the education event or course is a quality opportunity?  There is no sure fire way to know before participation.  There are, however, a few questions to ask before hitting that registration button:

  1. Who is the education provider?  With a few clicks, you can learn about the organization that is hosting and sponsoring the course.   What is the purpose of the organization?   Is professional development a core service?  Is the provider a non-profit or for-profit company?  Is there a disclaimer regarding promotions and sales?  Is the seminar clearly a sales pitch?  Based on the findings, the potential participant can glean hints regarding potential quality.
  2. What are the credentials and experiences of the instructors?   Presenters and instructors bring a wide array of expertise and experiences to the learning venue.  From new trainers to seasoned professionals, there can be solid reasons to tap them as instructors.  In considering whether to take a course or not,  check out the instructors.  The course provider should present instructor background as a matter of practice.  If you only receive a name and current position, dig more deeply to see if you could benefit from this teacher.
  3. If the event is an online course, does the education provider offer a standards based program?   If a course is under consideration,  see if the course or the provider adheres to an established set of third party guidelines.  Here are three  guideline sources for consideration:
    1. ISO 9000 —  ISO 9000 refers to standards for quality management.  Even though these are not directly related to education, some training providers, e.g., Texas regional education service centers are certified in these standards and thus, are committed to high quality management and services;
    2. The Sloan Consortium  Sloan-C has published a “quality scorecard” for  online education course administration;
    3. iNACOL  iNACOL has established standards for online course design and development.

Online education that adheres to such third-party standards certainly should be expected to have  the quality seal of approval.

Quality does matter in online education.  Remember:  caveat emptor.   When answering the question — to register or not —  review the provider, instructor, and standards then  decide.