What Is Quality Matters?

Understanding Quality Matters (QM) & How Students Benefit from QM-Certified Courses

Within almost every field, quality assurance is established to ensure that products or services consistently meet quality standards.

So, why wouldn’t quality assurance exist within the realm of online education? In 2003, a group of educators in the MarylandOnline, Inc. Consortium came together to ask that very question:

How do we measure and guarantee the quality of an online course?

This question became especially important as more and more higher education institutions began offering online and blended courses. As a result, the Quality Matters (QM) organization was founded.

Underlying Principles of Quality Matters

QM provides a framework for designing, reviewing, and revising online courses to ensure that they meet research-supported standards of quality.

QM achieves this through three primary components:

  1. A research-based rubric
  2. Peer reviews of courses and programs
  3. Professional development for faculty and staff

QM is built upon four underlying principles:

  • Continuous— The QM peer review process isn’t just a one-time pass or fail grade; instead, it is an ongoing, continuous cycle.
  • Centered— QM revolves around research, student learning, and quality, with all practices and processes anchored in these three elements.
  • Collegial— The review process is designed to be diagnostic and collaborative rather than evaluative and judgmental. Course reviews are conducted by current online instructors rather than administrators or academics who are removed from teaching.
  • Collaborative— A QM review doesn’t rely on the personal opinions or experiences of one reviewer. Instead, it’s based on evidence from the course, collaboratively identified by the whole review team using the QM rubric.

The QM Rubric consists of 44 specific criteria clustered into 8 categories that serve as a comprehensive guide for evaluating the design of online and blended courses. The QM rubric is updated every three years to reflect new techniques and technologies that have emerged.

This is the logo for "Quality Matters"- a non profit organization that provides the gold standard for quality online and blended courses.

How It Works

The course review begins with the faculty who designed the course applying to get the course reviewed. This is where Carolyn Stoll, MA and Director of Online Instruction at University of Cincinnati (UC) Online, and her Instructional Design team step in to lead the QM review process.

Stoll says, “I love working with faculty in the QM process, because just signing up for a review means you’ve made a commitment to quality teaching. It’s not a walk in the park to get your course reviewed, and it requires courage to ask total strangers to tell you what’s wrong with your course. I admire that courage and applaud their commitment to their craft.”

Once a course review is initiated, a review team is then assembled. UC is part of the Ohio QM Consortium, an organization comprised of more than 60 QM subscribing institutions in Ohio. The Ohio QM Consortium operates on a bartering system (yes, you read that correctly), which allows schools to trade course reviews & peer reviewers back and forth, eliminating the need to pay for a review.

The review team consists of three members, who are either faculty with recent online teaching experience or instructional designers specializing in online course development. All members undergo training in applying the Quality Matters Rubric and providing constructive feedback. Each team includes a Master Reviewer, a Subject Matter Expert, and a Peer Reviewer, with at least one member external to the institution (usually all three are).

Reviews typically last 3-4 weeks, involving a pre-review Zoom call with faculty, followed by assessment against the QM Rubric. To be certified, the course must meet all Essential Standards and score 86 out of 101 points on the QM Rubric. If initial standards aren’t met, a 14-week Amendment period allows for revisions. Upon completion, the Review Team Chair confirms compliance, leading to certification and display of the QM Certification Badge. Certification is valid for five years or until significant course changes occur. Recertification only requires a Master Reviewer to confirm the course still meets standards.

This graphic gives an overview of the Quality Matters course peer review process.

Andrea Sizemore, Senior Instructional Designer at UC Online, speaks of the QM review process, “UC Online supports instructors—the content experts—by supporting just as we would through a course design process. We help ensure alignment, student engagement, and brainstorm with instructors about how to help best support students in their learning. We let the instructors know they are not alone in this process by walking them through every step and lending a hand where we can.”

Shaunak Sastry, PhD, is an Associate Professor in the UC School of Communication, Film & Media Studies who recently had his COMM 2004 “Communicating Health, Science and the Environment” course (offered within the UC Online Bachelor of Arts in Communication program) reviewed and was granted QM certification.

Sastry reflects, “Because I teach courses that ask students to reflect on their assumptions, deal with global health and environmental issues, and expect a fair degree of reflexive writing, the peer-reviewed aspect of QM is particularly important to me. I do feel that I am able to offer a much more streamlined, student-learning focused, and accessible course as an instructor.”

Sizemore adds, “It’s always exciting to work with others from other institutions as it offers new perspectives and examples to ensure students are getting the best from their online courses. We love getting to be thought partners and work collaboratively with online instructors to best support the students. We also realize this is a heavy lift for instructors so when we see instructors volunteer to do this work, it makes a great experience because we all have the student’s best interest at heart.”

The following UC courses have been reviewed and received QM certification:

This is a chart showing all of the UC courses that are Quality Matters certified. These courses include: CJ 3075 – Cybersecurity, HCMT 2064 – Abstracting Methods, HCMT 2014 – Physician’s Practice, COMM 2004 – Communicating Health, Science, and the Environment, IT 2040 – Intro to Web Development, and IT 2020 – Implications of Information Security.

Importance of Quality Matters

QM is now an internationally recognized program and is considered the gold standard for quality assurance goals & certification in online and blended courses. Today, QM has over 1,500 member institutions across all 50 US states and 32 countries around the world. The organization has also trained more than 60,000 education professionals on online course design standards and certified thousands of online and blended courses.

A recent study (Baranovic) found that QM-certified courses resulted in 26% greater engagement, a 2-7% increase in grades (depending on academic term), and a 1.25% increase in the GPA for students in all online courses.

Stoll says, “I know that every course that’s certified is one more course that’s more student-centric, more accessible, more aligned to course objectives, simply a better learning experience for the students. That’s my and my team’s job – to improve the student learning experience because when students have a better learning experience, they’re more likely to persist and get their degree, which is life-changing. That’s what it’s all about, in the end.”

birds eye view of students working at a round table with laptops and study materials
Need additional student resources?
Already an online student? UC Online has additional tips and tricks to ensure you are on the path to success. Check out our Student Resources section for what you need to maximize your learning.
Corporate Taxation professionals having a meeting
Helping You Build a Better Business Through Continuing Education
Employee recruitment and retention is crucial for the growth and profitability of an organization and should be a high priority for every business. At the University of Cincinnati Online, we want to help develop and retain your employees through our Business Partnership offering.

Sign up for updates from UC Online

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.