Assessing Quality And Effectiveness In Fully Online Distance Education


  • Michael Smith University of the Highlands and Islands
  • Donald Macdonald Lews Castle College UHI University of the Highlands and Islands



Online education, teaching and learning pedagogy, distributed learning curriculum models, social constructivism, discussion boards, MOOCs, institutional policy


Online education has developed over the past two decades, initially in response to a desire to provide distance learning opportunities at degree level for remote communities. The University of the Highlands and Islands [UHI] in Scotland has been at the forefront of this. It has been possible to gain degrees using wholly online learning and teaching processes since 1995. In recent years, institutions across the globe have developed learning materials for online learning in order to both supplement the teaching and learning in face-to-face classes and to enable students to undertake entire programmes using online communications. The most recent developments have been in the advent of MOOCS and SPOCS.

This paper seeks to (1) give an overview of the past 20 years of developments in online education, (2) provide a detailed review of recent research relating to standards, satisfaction and effectiveness of online education, (3) consider the costs and benefits across a range of definitions of online education and (4) examine the primary challenges, conflicts and opportunities for online distance learning and teaching in relation to the issues faced by students, educators and institutions.

Author Biographies

Michael Smith, University of the Highlands and Islands

ProgrammeLeader for BSc (Hons) geography at the University of the Highlands and Islands

Donald Macdonald, Lews Castle College UHI University of the Highlands and Islands

Programme Leader, BA HealthStudies, Head of Health Department, Lews Castle College UHI


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Distributed University in the Context of UHI