National standards for online learning

Updated September 25, 2018

The National Standards for Quality Online Courses, Online Teaching, and Online Programs have been the benchmark for online programs, districts, and state agencies since their creation in 2007. The current sets of the standards were last revised in 2009 and 2011. Quality Matters (QM) and the Virtual Learning Leadership Alliance (VLLA), with support from the Digital Learning Collaborative, are leading a broad-based effort to revise the National Standards for Quality Online Learning, building upon the work started by The International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL).

The purpose of the National Standards for Quality (NSQ) revision initiative is to provide the K-12 online and blended learning community with an updated set of openly licensed standards to help evaluate and improve online courses, online teaching, and online programs. Both the VLLA and QM, as well as the project contributors,  are committed to a continuous improvement cycle for all three sets of standards for online learning, and to a common philosophy that standards in such a dynamic area as digital learning must be updated regularly to provide a useful benchmark for schools, districts, statewide programs, and commercial suppliers of online and blended learning.

Separate teams of educators and online learning stakeholders have been formed to work on the National Standards for Quality Online Teaching and the standards for Online Programs. The standards are expected to be released in January 2019. The team for the National Standards for Quality Online Courses will be formed in fall 2018. Each team is led by co-chairs that guide a number of workgroups focused on a subset of the standards. Each workgroup has 4-7 members with a workgroup lead managing the revision process. The revision drafts are being reviewed by the counterparts of the other standards team to ensure consistency across the two sets of standards and to avoid unnecessary duplication.

The teams working on the standards revision include online learning expertise from statewide and regional online learning programs – state virtual schools, consortia, regional service agencies, state departments of education - district online and blended learning programs, full-time virtual schools, universities and researchers, private companies ranging from online course and professional development providers to education service providers and technology suppliers, and nonprofit organizations and foundations. The teams include some educators that have participated in previous versions of the national standards, as well as many new contributors with fresh perspectives.

The revision process began with a call for survey respondents in March 2018. The input from current users of the standards has been invaluable as the workgroups began to evaluate the existing standards. A thorough literature review of the existing online teaching and program standards was conducted and reviewed by the revision teams. Once the standards are drafted and have been reviewed internally across standards teams and workgroups, a new set of reviewers will have time to comment and provide additional suggestions. Input will also be gathered at the annual iNACOL Symposium this fall before the final version of the standards are completed and released.

The standards will provide additional guidance while providing maximum flexibility for the users. Each standard will be accompanied by a set of indicators, similar to the existing standards. The standards teams are expanding the guidance provided in previous versions of the standards with explanations and examples. These will be particularly helpful for districts adopting the standards and indicators to fit their needs, and for the variety of program types to apply the standards to blended learning or competency-based strategies being employed, or for full-time virtual schools to use. The standards revision teams have been mindful to balance the need for a set of benchmarks for quality online learning practices with the need for flexibility to accommodate the wide range of program types and available resources. We believe the addition of explanations and examples will increase the flexibility, applicability, and usability of the standards.,