Options for delivering business degree programs have expanded over the last 10–15 years. As a result, the Blue Ribbon Committee on Accreditation Quality (BRC) created a task force to evaluate the span of online education and the potential impact on the future of accreditation. AACSB-accredited institutions are offering more degree programs in a variety of formats, targeting students of different backgrounds, using faculty with different types of qualifications, and utilizing tools to facilitate different types of experiences. The positive result is that business education and degrees have become more accessible to a wider range of student segments.
The BRC does not propose a separate standard on online/distance education for two reasons. First, it will be increasingly difficult to determine which programs involve distance education and which do not, particularly with the increase in hybrid delivery. Second, through carefully crafted language in the "Basis for Judgment" and "Guidance for Documentation" sections, the proposed standards are capable of addressing the most important factors related to quality in distance and online education across a broad array of curricula. In addition, delivery modes will continue to evolve quickly. The most common models of the future may not even exist today. The proposed standards and guidelines are written to be flexible and adaptable over time.
The key factors relevant to quality in online/distance education that are addressed in the Proposed Draft Standards are the following:
Engagement/Interaction: At the heart of quality programs are student-to-student, student-to-faculty, and faculty-to-faculty interactions. Students and faculty must not engage solely with computers, devices, or teaching materials, but rather use them as a medium through which they can interact meaningfully with others in the learning environment.
Staffing and Division of Labor: The school's teaching/learning model has implications for staffing and division of labor to accomplish tasks necessary to design, deliver, assess, and improve programs. There is no single model that works best for distance delivery. Models may include (but not require) instructional designers, language specialists, media specialists, product managers, faculty teams, research experts, learning technology/platform experts, etc. The need for appropriate training and development for faculty and staff is also emphasized.
Socialization Process: With distributed learners there is a need for socialization, or highly structured processes to familiarize them with all of the modalities involved and orient them to the program. The BRC emphasizes that different models for distance education would utilize different approaches to socialization, building on the strengths of the school and on the strengths of the faculty and staff engaged in the learning process.
Faculty: The concept of faculty qualifications takes on new dimensions when pedagogy must adapt to learning contexts that vary significantly from traditional professor-centric classroom learning. Assessing faculty qualifications has become much more complex because of the variety of learning models that involve distance education and other non-traditional learning processes. There is a heightened need for processes for managing and developing faculty to support quality in a variety of delivery models.
Oversight, Monitoring, Assessment/Improvement: There are many issues related to student participation and performance (e.g., integrity and security) that require appropriate systems and policies. It is very important to monitor and support student progression through degree programs. As with any program, distance education must incorporate mechanisms to ensure learning goals are met, collect feedback about the experience, and modify and improve programs based on those findings.
Technology/Learning Platform: The technology to support distance learning—and other technology-enabled learning models—has changed dramatically in the last decade, and continues to evolve and improve. In fact, it is reasonable to suggest that new technology development generally outpaces its adoption by schools, and that faculty/staff skill in using the learning technologies lags its development and implementation.
Online and distance education will continue to have an impact on the structure and finances of the industry. It is challenging us to think differently about how we develop faculty—for the implications of distance education are hardly limited to teaching and learning. As the BRC believes these factors are not unique to teaching/learning models involving distance or online education, the proposed approach to integration generalizes expectations so they are applicable and relevant to any teaching/learning model rather than specific to distance/online education.