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Information Sheet: eLearning and compliance with the Threshold Standards

1 March 2013

The delivery of higher education courses happens through a range of means, including face-to-face delivery, multimedia, video and online conferencing tools, podcasting lectures and ‘online only’ courses. When designed effectively, eLearning is recognised for its potential to enhance learning and to increase student accessibility to higher education.

This TEQSA Information Sheet explains TEQSA’s approach to the regulation of higher education providers engaged in online delivery.

Regulation of eLearning in higher education

Under the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Act 2011 (‘TEQSA Act’), TEQSA regulates higher education providers offering a higher education award (from a diploma up to a doctoral degree) for the completion of an Australian course of study. This includes where online delivery is part of the course of study leading to a higher education award.

The TEQSA Act supports multiple means through which higher education can be delivered. Providers are required to demonstrate that outcomes for students will be achieved, whatever the chosen method of delivery.

MOOCs

The use of a MOOC as a mode of delivery will be assessed by TEQSA within the context of the provider’s overall approach to creating a sound learning environment. The evidence supplied by providers to demonstrate compliance may be different to other delivery modes, but the standards remain constant.

TEQSA’s remit does not extend to MOOCs which are not linked to regulated higher education awards. The approach to MOOCs in these circumstances is a matter for individual providers.

Where, however, a provider recognises any part of a MOOC as giving credit or advanced standing towards a regulated Australian higher education award, then it is directly relevant for TEQSA, as it relates to the provider’s admissions and credit policies and practice and whether the Threshold Standards are being met. Many of these arrangements for recognising prior learning exist, and it is incumbent on providers to ensure that quality assurance exists for this type of credit as for any other.

In the re-registration or course accreditation process, TEQSA will also apply its regulatory principles when assessing a provider’s use of MOOCs in a course of study. For example, the extent to which TEQSA is likely to take an active interest in a particular arrangement of this kind may depend on the number and proportion of students admitted and the proportion of credit awarded.

Depending on how a MOOC is structured in relation to a provider’s delivery of courses, aspects of the Threshold Standards relating to third parties may also apply

TEQSA’s assessment of risk

TEQSA takes an evidence and risk-based approach to determining whether a provider is likely to remain compliant with the Threshold Standards. Issues in relation to online delivery models that may be examined by TEQSA include (but are not limited to):

  • curriculum development and pedagogical approach appropriate to eLearning
  • student support (including implications for first year experience of students)
  • capacity to monitor progression and completion rates
  • staff support and development; and
  • cheating and plagiarism policies and procedures.

As with all its regulatory decision-making, TEQSA makes judgments that take a provider’s operational circumstances into account. If a provider offers education predominantly online, TEQSA may see little need to focus on the provider’s capacity to offer a physical library facility on campus but will focus instead on other aspects related to an online context.

Assessment houses

 Internationally, there has been an emergence of ‘assessment houses’. These organisations typically focus entirely on providing an assessment service and awarding a qualification, rather than the offering and delivery of courses. Due to the current Registration and Course Accreditation standards, it is highly unlikely for an assessment house to be registered in Australia under the TEQSA Act.

Innovation and the future of Australian higher education

TEQSA strongly encourages initiatives within the sector to improve the quality of the student’s experience of higher education, whether this is through more diverse content or the creation of more effective and accessible modes of delivery.

Regulation by TEQSA supports the development of Australian higher education and its international competitiveness. A student undertaking online learning experiences with a provider registered with TEQSA will be assured of its quality. This gives registered Australian providers a key advantage over unaccredited providers in other countries.

Any provider that has any questions in relation to the matters covered in this Information Sheet is encouraged to contact their Case Manager. Providers without self-accrediting authority should consider whether changes to accredited courses would require the submission of a material change notification to TEQSA.