Evaluating Online Learning: Challenges and Strategies for Success
July 2008

Recommendations for Meeting the Needs of Multiple Stakeholders
  • Identify up front the various stakeholders who will be interested in the evaluation and what specifically they will want to know. Consider conducting interviews or focus groups to collect this information.

  • Use this information to determine the evaluation's main purpose(s) and to develop questions that will guide the study. An evaluation that clearly addresses stakeholder needs and interests is more likely to yield findings and recommendations they will find worthy and champion.

  • If trying to fulfill both program improvement and accountability purposes, consider using evaluation approaches that can generate both formative and summative information (see Glossary of Common Evaluation Terms, p. 65). Be realistic at this stage and keep in mind the constraints of the evaluation budget and timeline.

  • Think early on about how the evaluation will incorporate student learning outcomes for accountability purposes. Consider a range of academic outcomes that might be appropriate to study, including scores on state-mandated and other standardized tests, course completions, grades, and on-time graduation.

  • If the program has multiple components, determine the ones with the best potential to have a direct measurable impact on student achievement, and focus your study of student outcomes there.

  • Consider using "dashboard indicators," the two or three most critical goals to be measured. How can the measures be succinctly communicated? Can they be graphed over time to demonstrate improved performance over time? (For example, an online program trying to increase access to Advanced Placement (AP)* courses might have a dashboard indicator composed of the number of schools accessing online AP courses, the AP exam pass rate, and the number of students taking AP exams as a percentage of total number of AP students in online AP courses.)

  • In the reporting phase, think about what findings will be of most interest to different stakeholders. Consider communicating findings to different audiences in ways that are tailored to their needs and interests.

  • If already participating in mandatory evaluation activities, think about how those findings can be used for other purposes, such as making internal improvements. Disseminate any mandatory evaluation reports to the staff and discuss how their findings can be used to strengthen the program. Consider developing additional data collection efforts to supplement the mandatory evaluation.

* Run by the nonprofit College Board, the Advanced Placement program offers college-level course work to high school students. Many institutions of higher education offer college credits to students who take AP courses.

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Last Modified: 10/20/2009