Strategies Used to Evaluate Online Education

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Evaluation is the process of determining the merit or worth of something (Gusky, 2000). Evaluation has a long history not only in education in general (Hogan, 2007; Worthen & Sanders, 1973), but also in the practice of instructional design, distance education, and online learning over the years (Ely & Plomp, 1996; Gagné, 1987; Moore & Anderson, 2003; Reiser, 2001; Seels & Richey, 1994). Online educators (i.e., instructors, instructional designers, administrators) in particular have had a specific interest in evaluation because critics have questioned the merit or worth of online education from its inception. Among other things, critics have questioned whether online education is as good as traditional face-to-face education (Allen & Seaman, 2017; Jaschik & Lederman, 2014).) This skepticism sparked hundreds of media comparison studies starting in the late 1990s by supporters and critics alike (see Bernard et al., 2004; Means, Toyama, Murphy, & Bakia, 2013; Means, Toyama, Murphy, Bakia, & Jones, 2009; Meyer, 2002, 2004; Phipps & Merisotis, 1999). These studies sought to compare student outcomes between online and face-to-face courses. The majority of these studies showed that there is no significant difference between online learning and face-to-face learning. Despite this, online educators continue to try to show that online education is as good as face-to-face education (McDonald, 2002). To complicate matters further, during the last decade, there has been an increased focus on accountability at all levels of education (Rasmussen, Davidson-Shivers, & Savenye, 2011). Because of this skepticism and increased need for accountability, as well as a general desire to create high-quality learning experiences, online educators have grappled with the best approaches to evaluate online education and in turn, create, and deliver high-quality online education. In the following chapter, we describe some of the different ways that online educators evaluate online education.