Desired Outcomes

By: National DETA Research Center | February 5, 2015

One activity in the grant included the identification of top research questions of interest to IHEs and the distance education community addressing what are the desired learner, program, and institutional outcomes, and how does the field of distance education define student success.


All learners who wish to learn online can access learning in a wide array of programs and courses,1 particularly underrepresented, those with disabilities and minorities.2 An essential component in distance education is a comprehensive infrastructure for learning that provides all individuals with the resources they need when and where they are needed. The underlying principle is that infrastructure includes people, instructional resources, processes, learning resources, policies, broadband, hardware, and software. It brings state-of-the art technology into learning to enable, motivate, and inspire all students, regardless of background, languages, or disabilities, to achieve.4

Data can be collected by examining administrative and technical infrastructure, which provides access to all prospective and enrolled learners. Access quality metrics are used for information dissemination, learning resource delivery, and tutoring services.1 Other possibilities include data gathered from student information systems, from student perception surveys, or objective accessibility ratings of online courses and programs.

Learning effectiveness

Learning effectiveness indicates a demonstration that learning outcomes were met or exceeded standards.1 This includes areas of study with research outcomes focusing on student success in achieving learning outcomes2 and other potential indicators of achievement (success, failure, achievement gains, academic achievement, improvement).3 Moreover, learning effectiveness could also include topics of retention (of content).

Typically data are gathered through direct assessment of student learning (e.g. overall grades, exam grades, or other assessments), faculty perception surveys, faculty interviews comparing learning effectiveness in delivery modes, and student focus groups or interviews measuring learning gains.1 Additionally, requests for new and better ways to measure what matters include concurrent data collection. Here, focusing on diagnosing strengths and weakness during the course of learning provides the opportunity for more immediate improved student performance. Furthermore, these technology-based assessments provide the opportunity to allow data to drive decisions on the basis of what is best for each and every student based on their unique attributes and interactivity in class.4 Other possibilities include data gathered from student information systems or from student perception surveys.


Faculty are pleased with teaching online, citing appreciation and happiness. Students are pleased with their experiences in learning online, including interaction with instructors and peers, learning outcomes that match expectations, services, and orientation.1   Satisfaction can also be indicated by retention in a course (sometimes called attrition) or program (degree completion).

Faculty and student surveys can indicate equal or growing satisfaction to traditional forms of learning. Other metrics can include repeat teaching of online courses by individual faculty and increase in percentage of faculty teaching online showing growing endorsement. Qualitative methods can include interviews, focus groups, testimonials with faculty, staff (including advisors and tutors), and/or students.1

Instructional effectiveness

Instructional effectiveness indicates the quality of education meets program, institutional, and national standards.1 The focus is on what and how we teach to match what people need to know, how they learn, where and when they will learn, and who needs to learn.4 The areas of study might include instructional improvement, program effectiveness, administrator effectiveness, curriculum evaluation, educational quality, outcomes of education programs, and instructional media.3 Additionally, instructional effectiveness is not limited to instruction provided inside the classroom, but extends itself to instructional support or supplemental instruction and guidance provided through institutional services or through staff and individuals outside of the classroom.

Traditionally, as in face-to-face delivered courses, student ratings of instructional effectiveness are collected. However, typically these standards in distance education and online learning are communicated in a course or program rubric (e.g., UC Chico, QM) which is administered through an objective rating of a course or program in addition to traditional methods. Recent work looks to gather this data through student perceptions of instructional effectiveness through course and program rubrics converted to student surveys. Other possibilities include objective ratings of online course and program design and instructional delivery.


1. Online Learning Consortium, 5 Pillars
2. U.S. Department of Education, Application for Grants
3. What Works Clearinghouse
4. National Ed Tech Plan, U.S. Department of Education

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Citation: National DETA Research Center, February 5, 2015, “Desired Outcomes”, Retrieved from: