For a growing number of colleges and universities, developing an online learning program has become an important element in their strategic mix. With few students fitting into the classification of a traditional student and so many lifelong learners out there, it’s no surprise that online learning programs have taken off. The Online Learning Consortium (formerly Sloan-C) recently reported that, in 2014, nearly six million U.S. post-secondary learners took at least one course via distance education. That’s more than one in four. All of this demand has inevitably led to a tremendous increase in supply. This, in turn, has made the market for online learning quite competitive. To rise above the competition, colleges and universities need to differentiate themselves.

For Drexel University Online, a focus on quality

As we learned in a recent conversation with Susan Aldridge, Senior Vice President for Online Learning, and President of Drexel University Online, a key differentiator for Drexel has been quality. The University’s focus on quality is helping them both recruit and retain online students, a group that Dr. Aldridge characterizes as quite discerning when it comes to their educational investment. Drexel is meeting the quality demands coming from its online learners with courses that are:

  • Media-rich and engaging
  • Maximizing instructor-student interaction
  • Designed to let students apply what they’re learning in real-world situations

“Interaction and engagement are ultra-important these days, and the Drexel brand is about innovative, technologically enhanced, thought-provoking courses,” Dr. Aldridge told us. “A good example of how Drexel is using innovative technology to foster engagement – forensic science students are able to apply their skills by accessing simulated online crime scenes.”

Meeting regulatory requirements

As anyone involved with an online learning program is well aware, regulatory requirements have been on the increase. Today, federal, state, and regional regulations specifically address distance learning. In addition, professional accreditation agencies have their own set of requirements. Dr. Aldridge’s team actually measured the printed stack of proposed online learning regulations. She reported that it was half-a-foot high. “Course design that takes compliance into account is mandatory,” Dr. Aldridge said.

Complying with regulations matters – and increasingly so. The United States Access Board has recommended a refresh of Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 that should be finalized sometime this fall. One recommendation in the refresh is the incorporation of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0) that is widely referenced as the guidelines to use in online learning. Non-compliance with regulations can be costly to both a program’s reputation, and, given fines, to its bottom line as well.

Dr. Aldridge had much more to tell us about Drexel University online, so we captured the highlights of our interview with her in a case study, “Course quality and compliance: Moving the needle at Drexel University Online.” It’s a must-read for anyone looking to build or sustain a successful online learning program.


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