Adapting US-Based Quality Standards to Culturally and Pedagogically Different Education Systems: The China Case

deb-adair-2017-headshot-200pxYaping-Gao-200px Contributed by: Deb Adair, Executive Director, Quality Matters and Yaping Gao, Sr. Academic Director, Quality Matters.

Can a US-based, research-supported approach to quality assurance and continuous improvement in online education, adopted by over 1000 higher educational institutions, K-12, and other educational organizations for over a decade, be adapted to education systems outside of USA? What needs to be taken into consideration, and what adjustments are needed in order for the quality standards developed for the US-based and other English-speaking educational communities to be applicable to a non-English speaking education environment that is very different culturally and pedagogically?

Quality Matters, a US-based non-profit organization and a leader in quality assurance for online and blended learning, signed a 5-year cooperation agreement with Fudan University, a tier-1 research institution based in Shanghai, China, in May 2015, as the culmination of several years of informal contacts and preliminary explorations of mutual vision and interest between the two parties.

The goal for the first two years was to carry out research and subsequently, based on the researching findings, adapt the widely adopted US-based QM Standards to develop a set of standards that are culturally appropriate and pedagogically acceptable to the Chinese higher education community in order to promote and foster a quality assurance process in its online education practice.

After a core group of faculty, staff and administrators from Fudan University received two-week long online training, in the summer of 2015, on how to apply the QM Standards, they completed a survey to provide their views on whether QM Standards are suitable for the current Chinese online education environment. The survey questions were scored by Richter’s five-point scale, from “Very Suitable” to “Completely Unsuitable”.

Next, the workshop completers conducted reviews on a number of Chinese online and blended courses to assess the fit between QM Standards and Chinese online course design practice. The instructors were asked to determine whether the QM Standards were “Met” or “Not Met” for each aspect of the course and why.

Combining the above work, an overall analysis was conducted on the suitability of QM Standards to the Chinese online education environment, the gap between current Chinese online courses and the criteria to meet QM Standards, and what needed to be improved in the current Chinese online course design practice.

While it is not surprising to see that the high-suitability standards indicated by the Chinese participants are also QM Essential Standards, which focus on the course overview, instructional materials and learning activities, some low-suitability standards identified do not correspond with the importance level assigned to QM Standards. Three reasons have been proposed to explain the discrepancies: 1) influence by language and translation; 2) influence by contextual factors; and 3) influence by cultural factors.

In evaluating whether the Chinese courses met QM Standards, all the courses received scores lower than the required minimal total score to meet QM Standards overall with a 44 points difference between the highest and the lowest scores, which shows that a big gap exists between current Chinese online courses and QM Standards. In analyzing the course reviews, QM Standards fell into four categories: perfect fitting, challenging, potential, and not as important.

Based on the results of the research, an adapted rubric of Chinese higher education online course quality standards have been developed, which is not only applicable to the Chinese culture and pedagogical practices, but also, more importantly, will serve as a benchmarking tool to promote and foster a quality assurance process for online education throughout the Chinese higher education community.

In May of 2017, Quality Matters and Fudan University received United States Distance Learning Association’s inaugural Global Impact Award for the development of Fudan-QM Higher Education Online Course Quality Standards!

qm- 1.png

For more information about Quality Matters and how we can help you achieve your goals in quality assurance for online and blended learning, please visit

Email Dr Deb Adair at or Dr Yaping Gao at

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s