Tips For Quality Control Of Online Learning

Nothing is worse than having your client find an obvious error in a program that’s already been released.

The troubleshooting, re-testing and scrambling to fix the problem can turn into a heart-pounding race against the clock. Not that this ever happened to me, of course, but a friend told me this can happen.

Our best defense against these high-risk scenarios is to conduct thorough and systematic Quality Control (QC) reviews and testing before any deliverable is released. Although QC and testing are related terms, they refer to different procedures. Compare the definitions below. This article focuses on Quality Control.

  • Quality Control: refers to the processes that determine whether a completed deliverable or product meets a set of quality criteria or requirements.
  • Testing: refers to the processes that ensure there are no technical issues and is based on a test plan designed ahead of time.

QC evaluations are needed before any deliverable is sent to clients or stakeholders for review, prior to a formative evaluation by target audience members, as well as before a formal course is released. But Quality Control need not imply that the learning experience is traditional. Rather, you can use this approach any time content is getting designed and produced.

Benefits of Quality Control

Not only does the quality control review create a more professional product, it improves the experience and usability of the learning experience. Usability—the extent to which a product can be used to achieve specific goals with ease and satisfaction—is an important affective component of learning. High usability can improve motivation. It prevents learner frustration and confusion. All of this can make information easier to process.

QC Steps to Follow

  1. Plan Ahead: Plan the quality standards ahead of time rather than when the pressures of a tight schedule force you to take shortcuts.
  2. Be Holistic: As you develop the criteria, think about all the standards the product must meet, including editorial, appearance, usability and instructional approach.
  3. Create Checklists: Use checklists for standardization, efficiency and accuracy.
  4. Create Review Forms: Use online QC forms to log every issue that fails review. Use an identification number for each issue and ensure that each one is addressed prior to logging it as “Fixed.”
  5. Be Consistent: Use the same QC standards across all projects and across similar media (see below for some examples).
  6. Schedule It. Reserve time in the schedule for QC review. It can take 10% to 15% of a project’s time for QC and testing.
  7. Get QC Training: Unless your organization is large enough to have a QC team, train instructional designers, graphic designers and media specialists in QC skills. They can lead the way, set up systems and train others.
  8. Use Fresh Eyes: Use someone removed from the project to perform a QC review. People have difficulty finding all the errors in their own work.
    Continually improve your QC processes and criteria as you learn from your mistakes.
  9. Document It: Write up your QC process. Revise it as you continue to learn what works for your organization.
  10. Debrief: QC logs potentially hold a wealth of information. Use them at the end of a project to understand where the weaknesses are in your systems and try to fix them.

Example Standards

Editorial

Editorial standards include those used for any documents.

  • Documents are edited for clarity.
  • Documents are spell-checked and reviewed for spelling errors not caught by spell-checkers.
  • Documents are reviewed for punctuation and grammar.
  • Documents are checked for consistency in terminology and language.

Media

  • Audio volume levels are consistent.
  • Video is of consistent quality.
  • Text, graphics and audio are correctly synchronized.

Appearance

The Quality Control review of appearance often relates to visual consistency. This is an excellent reason to develop a visual style guide. Standards might include:

  • eLearning templates are used in a consistent way.
  • Fonts are used consistently across all screens or slides.
  • Image captions are consistent and accurate.
  • Colors and types of highlights and arrows are consistent.
  • The product matches the storyboards.

Usability

Usability should be tested and revised early in development, so that during Quality Control, reviewers are only seeking consistency in the user interface, navigation and similar aspects. For example:

  • Navigation instructions are clear and consistent.
  • Menus are consistent across modules.
  • User interface supports learning.
  • Interactions are easy to understand and use.
  • Access to social media platforms is smooth
  • Accessibility standards are met.

Instructional Approach

Again, the instructional approach should be nailed down by the time QC is needed. But there are certain features that can be evaluated and reviewed. These might include:

  • Extraneous content has been removed.
  • Instructional strategies support learning that will transfer to the real world.
  • Interactions facilitate and guide meaningful learning.
  • Instructional feedback supports the task the learner is performing.

To summarize, with Quality Control, you create the standards that make sense for the learners, their environment and the content. Then evaluate the online learning experiences against these criteria.

Please share your tips for Quality Control. What techniques do you use? What standards have you set?


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Comments

  1. Rolf Reinhardt says

    Thanks for writing such a useful guideline for eLearning quality. In particular your point 8 (“using fresh eyes”) is very reasonable.

    It is actually the hook of epprobate (http://www.epprobate.com), an international quality label for courseware. In contradiction to traditional quality control, our process is based on the view from different perspectives (quality expert, content expert, eLearning producer, target group and client).

    For everyone who is interested in our quality grid, it is publicly available and licensed with CC-BY-SA: http://epprobate.com/index.php/en/epprobate-quality-grid

    Feel free to share. :-)

  2. sandra says

    You have no idea how helpful this has been…just this past week I was asked to provide samples on elearning course testing and I was stumped so this has been an answer to prayer – seriously! Thank you…feel free to provide more and send to my personal email: srosputko@gmail.com….
    Serioulsy is there anyting you don’t provide on your website – it’s so awesome Connie! Thanks again.

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