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ISO 19796-1 History:
Quality in the field of E-Learning has become an issue of increasing importance in both researchers´ and practitioners´ communities.  A variety of approaches has been developed and implemented successfully.  However, the high number of approaches and their different scopes and objectives lead to confusion in the users´ and decision makers´ communities.  Therefore, a harmonized quality standard has been discussed and consensually approved in the standardization committee ISO/IEC JTC1 SC36 (International Organization for Standardization / International Electrotechnical Commission, Joint Technical Committee 1, Subcommittee 36: Information Technology for Learning, Education, and Training).

The Quality Adaptation Model (QAM) is a concept for the adaptation, implementation, and use of this standard in educational organizations.  The model explains step-by-step how a quality system can be implemented in educational organizations.  It is specifically addressed, how cultural issues influence the adaptation process.

The Quality Standard ISO/IEC 19796-1 is the basic framework for a harmonized quality standard developed by experts in the international standardization group ISO/IEC JTC1 SC36.  It serves as a framework for quality development and the description of quality approaches.


About ISO/IEC 19796-1:
Specific Quality Management and Quality Assurance Standards for E-Learning provide the framework for the use of standards in organizations.  Whereas many organizations have adapted general standards like ISO 9000 or the EFMQ Excellence Model, currently specific standards for E-Learning are being developed: The new standard ISO/IEC 19796-1 provides a "reference framework for the description of quality approaches" (RFDQ) (ISO/IEC, 2005).  A reference framework gives an orientation which aspects should be covered and how solutions for these aspects can found. The standard is an instrument to develop quality in the field of E-Learning.  It consists of three parts:
- A description scheme for quality approaches
- A process model as a reference classification
- Reference Criteria for evaluation
It supports the development quality profiles for organizations (such as objectives, methods, relations, people involved).  A quality profile is the adaptation of a generic standard to the needs and requirements of an organization. It does not provide specific requirements or rules; it is a framework to guide actors through the process of quality development in the field of E-Learning.


Implementing ISO/IEC 1976-1:
The reference framework needs to be adapted to requirements of an organization.  Adaptation in this context means that the reference model can only serve as a guideline which aspects should be considered.  The QAM follows a process in four steps.  These steps are not performed iteratively but should be individually schedules:
- Context Setting covers all preparatory activities for the adaptation process
- Model Adaptation contains activities to implement the reference model based on the needs and requirements of an organization
- Model Implementation and Adoption means the realization and the broad use of the quality system
- Quality Development means that quality systems should be continuously improved and further developed

These phases contain several activities explained in the following:

Developing Quality Systems
The main objective of ISO/IEC 19796-1 is to provide a transparent description model to clearly describe and document quality management and quality assurance approaches.  The description model describes processes to develop e-learning scenarios by specifying:
- Quality objectives
- Methods to ensure the quality
- Actors involved in this process
- Relations to other processes
- Evaluation methods to assess the success of a process
- Standards and references
Using this model, individual quality approaches can be constructed developed including parts of approaches which apply to the context of usage. The adaptation process will be described in detail in the next section. Specifically in for this purpose, cultural issues need to be taken into account: The context differs concerning the educational system, the role of education in a society, or the attitude of people towards quality.

Process Model as a Guideline
The second part is a reference model containing all processes of the E-Learning lifecycle.  It can be used as a guideline to develop quality concepts from the first idea to the optimization and improvement.  Therefore, ISO/IEC 19796-1 can be used to support quality development for all actors.

Reference Source for Evaluation Criteria
Many organizations need to develop evaluation criteria for their education and training programs.  ISO/IEC 19796-1 provides a collection of criteria to be used in evaluations for different purposes.  However, the most important purpose is to develop quality in organizations.

Context Setting (Providing the basis for quality development)
This phase sets the context for quality development.  It should ensure that quality development is anchored and present in all part of the organization.  The organization´s long term objectives, externally and internally, are contained in its vision, strategy, and policy.  If an organization is committed to quality development, this should be contained in these statements.  However, in most organizations quality, and specifically quality of E-Learning, is not adequately represented.  Therefore, the process to improve vision, strategies, and policies needs to be established.

The redefinition should not be only the management´s responsibility.  The process should be at least transparent to all staff members.  It can be recommended to include participants from all staff groups into this process which actively sets new directions for organization.

Directly related is the process of awareness raising.  Quality development will not be successful if it is a top-down regulation.  Quality development should be part of everyday operations and related to all activities.  Therefore, all members of an organization should be aware of quality and its meaning for their personal actions.

Related to a country´s as well as to organizational culture, the role and understanding of quality needs to be identified: adopting the standards, it is important to have a common understanding of quality in a terminological and methodological way.  This needs to take into account a deep understanding of the educational situation in a country, a region, or an organization.

The outcome of this phase should be revised vision, strategy, and policy documents showing the organizations long-term view of quality and the consequences for all parts of an organization.  All staff groups should be aware of and involved in this process.

Individualizing ISO 19796-1
To establish the details of quality development in an educational organization, the reference model ISO/IEC 19796-1 can be used as a guideline.

First of all, the relevant actors for quality development should be identified.  It is useful to involve actors of all departments and all staff groups in this process.  Actors, acting as multipliers for their groups should be involved.  They should be fully committed to supporting the quality development process.  The outcome of this phase is a list of actors responsible for quality.  Usually, this also leads to changed job descriptions and agreements with these actors

Secondly, the processes relevant for an organization should be identified. E.g., for producers of learning media, only some sub-categories (such as design and production) might be relevant. As another example, for tutors only the learning processes would be relevant.  Additionally, processes specific for an organization should be added.

The outcome of this phase is a comprehensive list of processes for the organization.  The main step of adaptation is the setting quality objectives for each process.  Quality objective means that for each process it should be defined how quality results can be achieved.  The quality objectives for each process cannot be defined by just one individual; they are subject to a negotiation process and should be agreed on in consensus with the relevant actors.  In this part, also culture specific aspects are taken into account, such as regional strategies or legislation aspects.

Based on the objectives, instruments and methods should be identified and selected.  In this context these are concrete activities to achieve, assure, or assess quality for the given objectives.  Instruments to achieve the quality objective "24 hour availability of the support hotline" could be an assessment of the call center´s staff, test calls, or technical monitoring.  The selection of adequate instruments is crucial for the success of a quality system: these instruments need to be adequate for the quality objective, the effort should be small, and they should be well accepted by the participants.  Therefore, it is useful to inform and train staff members in the use and interpretation of these instruments.

Finally, usually connected to the choice of instruments and methods, metrics and indicators are chosen to assess and measure the success.  Metrics should reflect the success of achieving a quality objective.  Typical metrics are for example drop-out rates, return on investment/education.  However, these metrics need to be developed for each quality objective and have to be evaluated continuously.  In any case, there should also be a procedure how to interpret metrics and which actions are taken based on the interpretation.

The outcome of this phase is an organization´s process model including quality objectives, responsible actors, methods / instruments, and metrics / indicators.  By this description, the organization´s actions to achieve their quality are transparent, explicit, understandable, and repeatable.

Making the Concepts Work
In the initial adaptation process, usually only small groups of actors are involved.  Therefore, an implementation strategy should be developed.  This strategy should describe actions and activities that the quality system is used.  Furthermore, it is of vital importance that all actors are aware and involved.  This does not mean that every staff member should know the full quality system, but they should be aware of quality objectives for core and related processes they are involved in.  To establish participation, there should be opportunities for actors to influence, change, and improve quality objectives and methods.  Usually, the first implementation is done in representative test groups.  Therefore, further users need to be involved and become familiar with the quality concepts to systematically broaden the use of the quality system.

Improving the Organization´s Performance
A Quality System must be continuously evaluated, updated, and improved to be aligned to new developments in an educational organization.  Therefore the following steps are necessary.  The Quality System should be evaluated at least on a bi-annual base.  Specifically, it should be evaluated if the quality system has led to overall improvements in the organizations performance.  Furthermore, the adequacy of methods, instruments, and metrics need to be evaluated.  Based on this evaluation, improvement actions should be taken, such as the change and refinement of the system´s components.  Again, for this phase a broad commitment and participation is necessary to reflect the staff´s opinions and attitudes toward the system. This should lead to a broad awareness and discussion on quality.

The outcome of this phase is an evaluation strategy, improvement concepts, and, most important, a broad discourse on quality.  Specifically in the field of education, this will lead to a participatory process designing and developing learning scenarios.

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