What is the role of standardization in online learning?

by Brittany Whittemore | March 23, 2018

Estimated time to read: minutes

We hosted a webinar with Eduventures’ Principal Analyst Howard Lurie and our own Dr. Scott Moore. Before we recap the conversation, I want to share what was unique about this event: the format.

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To keep the audience engaged, we ditched the voice-over PowerPoint format that most webinars have and went with a live, unscripted, video panel discussion which we think made it a better learning experience.

The audience was as engaged as the panelists, asking questions and providing thoughtful remarks, like:

“How do you define/benchmark excellence in online learning?”

“Excellence vs. Standardization? The big divide, in cost, for me, is single faculty/ID supported vs. faculty working in multi-person design teams. I can't afford the latter, but can get a measure of design excellence in the former, with delivery being the customizer.”

"Thank you, Dr. Moore. Although I am about to retire, I hate hearing about standardization and applaud excellence and innovation.”

OK, the last one was just for us, but it was a great experience for all. (You can watch the recorded webinar at the bottom of this post.)

The topic: Online learning should not be standardized.

As a former faculty member and dean at Babson College and University of Michigan Ross School of Business, Dr. Scott Moore understands the complexity of academia.

At Extension Engine, he meets with higher education leaders every day and is very familiar with the most impressive examples of online learning.

All this to say, he is a huge supporter of the importance of teaching and a relentless advocate of high-quality, student-centric online learning experiences.


If you stopped by the Extension Engine offices recently, you might have heard Dr. Moore passionately describing his “malaise,” which stemmed from his recent discussions with some higher education leaders who are primarily focused on standardization in online learning.

“I have been in a couple of large rooms with lots of leaders of online learning as well as many one-on-one discussions — think CIOs, CTOs, heads of Centers of Teaching & Learning — and all they talk about are standardization, adoption rates, faculty impediment, and limited budgets!

Not one comment about enabling excellence or anything related.”

What does Dr. Moore mean by “standardization”?

Great question. In this webinar, his definition of standardization in online learning is as follows:

Standardization  Genericizing the overall educational technology stack (all the applications that a school uses to deliver services internally and to students), where the focus is on enforcing a standard technology for the entire institution, regardless of school or program

An example of this would be when an institution identifies a learning management system (LMS; think Blackboard, Moodle, etc.) and then enforces the use of this technology across all programs, boxing diversified programs into the same experience.

The bottom line: Online learning cannot be the same across 4,000+ disciplines.

If not standardization, what should online leaders be focused on?

They should focus on excellence.

And I know what question is coming next: “Well, how do you define excellence in online learning?” For us, it’s easy:

Excellence — A learning experience should be based on not only the learning outcomes and experience of students but also those of faculty and staff — for each individual program. It incorporates the unique pedagogies, needs, and desires of each program, not simply one standard experience across the university as a whole.

Dr. Moore uses two other terms to clarify excellence:

Flexibility — The school’s ability, resilience, and fluidity to apply the needed tools for each individual program in a way that supports their attempt at excellence

Integrability — A technology stack’s ability to integrate other technologies (third party, external software) in an unobtrusive way, camouflaging  the fact that the experience is composed of separate pieces of software and allowing the data streams of the separate software pieces to be treated as one

Excellence will be defined differently for each institution depending on the pedagogy, desired student experience and outcomes, their brand, and what makes them unique.

And, what did Eduventures have to say?

Why don’t you hear from him firsthand. He came prepared with some compelling data from the 2018 Quality Matters and Eduventures Changing Landscape of Online Education (CHLOE) report.

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Brittany Whittemore

Brittany Whittemore is the former Director of Marketing at Extension Engine. While at Extension Engine, she oversaw the brand, marketing strategy, and operations. Prior to that, she worked at Southern New Hampshire University’s College for America and Berklee College of Music. She holds a bachelor’s degree in communication and a master’s degree in higher education administration.

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