Quality in modern learning environments: concepts and definitions

Dream Team (a learning circle in International teacher education 2013-12014 in Teacher Education College in Jyväskylä) is an international group of students studying to achieve the qualification of a vocational teacher.

Arja Kunnela
International Group 13 – 14
Teacher Education College
JAMK University of Applied Sciences

  • The laws that regulate the education system have also brought along the responsibility to evaluate the quality of education. (Rauste-von Wright, von Wright, Soini 2003, s. 15.) Same time efficiency, time and resources saving attitude are entered to every day requirements for teaching. A big question is, how to choose, what materials, methods and environment to use to fulfill latest quality requirements. According to Shank: “Contemporary, digital computing technologies now afford us the prospect of transforming our institutions either disruptively or constructively. The choice is ours unless we refuse to act.”(Shank 2014, ix-x)
  • Quality: ”Best quality of action or product can be achieved when it best responses to the real needs of a person, customer, end user or citizen.” (Åhlberg 2013, 95).
  • Learning environment: A place where learners can work together and support each other as they use a variety of tools and information resources in their guided pursuit of learning goals and problem-solving activities (Constructivist learning environments 1996, 3).

2 ArjaThinking about learning environment has been made in various projects from different point of views: During open learning environment project in Finland late 1990s learning environments were divided in three groups: open (e.g. library, learning center), contextual (e.g. military) and technological (e.g. net, computer games). Basic groups and their partly overlapping common area could be described with the following figure. One example of contextual and technological overlapping is a simulator, suitable for our project purposes. (Compare Figure 2. Basic types of learning environments in Environments that support learning, 29-30).

Technical inventions have made it possible to turn some of the teaching to virtual environments. Also new possible tools and methods along new types of e-materials to be used in these environments have arisen.  (Environments that support learning, 35-37). In modern learning environment at best formal and informal learning are integrated with the processes of individual and group learning in physical and virtual places – things are learned in a new way. (Häkkinen, Silander, Rautiainen 2013, 140)

  • Virtual learning environment (VLE): components in which learners and tutors participate in “on-line” interactions of various kinds, including on-line learning. (Weller 2007, 3)
  • Learning management system (LMS) Software application or Web-based technology used to plan, implement and assess a specific learning process. Typically a learning management system provides an instructor with a way to create and deliver content, monitor student participation and assess student performance. A learning management system may also provide students with the ability to use interactive features such as threaded discussions, video conferencing and discussion forums. Also according Paulsen (2002) LMS is “a broad term that is used for a wide range of systems that organize and provide access to online learning services for students, teachers, and administrators. These services usually include access control, provision of learning content, communication tools, and organization of user groups.” (Weller 2007, 3)
  • E-learning: “term covering a wide set of applications and processes, such as Web-based learning, computer-based learning, virtual classrooms, and digital collaboration. It includes the delivery of content via Internet, intranet/extranet (LAN/WAN), audio- and videotape satellite broadcast, interactive TV, CD-ROM, and more” (www.learningcircuits.org/glossary.html) including blended and distance learning. Blended learning is replacing “e-learning” as the next big thing. Blended learning systems combine face-to-face instruction with computer mediated instruction. (Environments that support learning 2007, 89- 91).
  • E-materials can be so understood to those materials used in e-learning.
  • Interactive learning materials (ILM) any discrete online, interactive, instructional resource used to teach a specific learning objective (or small, related set of objectives). (Shank 2014, 4)
  • Open educational resources (OER) include all types of learning materials that are licensed to be freely available for educational, nonprofit use. (Shank 2014, 4)
  • Tools used in e-learning are mostly educational technology, broad use of ICT in teaching and study. Looking at technologies is always a moving target; in education can be used blog, wikis, podcasting, social software, structures conferencing, instant messaging, and e-portfolios among others. (Environment that support learning 2007, 34 ; Weller 2007, 29)
  • Facilitative tools: Electronic features used to deliver online courses. Examples include mailing lists, chat programs, streaming audio, streaming video, and Webpages. (Glossary of eLearning Terms)
  • Quality in e-learning: Quality Management in e-Learning project (VOPLA) 2004-2007 was explained the demand for quality: “Expanding use of e-learning in education has put pressure on its quality. Thus, more emphasis has to be put on the quality of operations and contents of teaching and learning, online learning resources and pedagogical and technical support services for e-learning in higher education.” (Vopla. In English). The concept of quality is closely linked with the concepts of value and meaning and it is always seen in relation to something (Koivula 2002, 27).

Quality is often contrasted with the needs, demands and expectations of customers, thus, quality can be seen as realizing promises. In higher education context, we need to define who the customers are and who the providers of high quality e-learning are. Also, we need to define what the concepts of value in education that need to be addressed are. Furthermore, we need to discuss and negotiate the meaning of quality within the higher education context. During Vopla project quality in education was seen according to Harvey and Knight (1996) as

  • exceptional (often seen as the best of the best)
  • perfection (no mistakes or errors allowed)
  • fitness for purpose(relates to targets and purpose of the organization’s everyday tasks)
  • value for money(best for less money)
  • transformation(notion or the possibilities of change and development in everyday activities) (Harvey, L. & Knight, P.T. 1996, 1-15 ; Definition and Scope of Quality)

Based on the pedagogical research can quality aspects in e-learning materials defined: The learning material can be used flexibly according to the student’s level of knowledge, interests and needs. It supports the process-type long-term collaborative learning, supports and activates student’s thinking and new kinds of search for solutions. It focuses on the core issues of phenomenon to be learned and supports the development of learning skills. Functionally good e-learning material is easy to use and it visually supports also pedagogical and content aims. (Laatua e-oppimateriaaleihin 2012, 11)


Arja Kunnela
Information specialist
JAMK University of Applied Sciences



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