The interest in education has witnessed a remarkable increase both locally and internationally. This enhanced the desire to find several methods and various technologies that help make education available to the largest segment of beneficiaries while maintaining its value and usefulness. Education thus contributes to making a tangible impact on the national economy and development and helps to prepare distinguished human cadres. In addition, modern technologies have been largely used, thus leading to the emergence of new patterns of teaching and learning. Such patterns contribute to developing learner interaction, achieving flexibility, developing skills, and promoting the values of "self-learning", "continuous learning" and "lifelong learning" in a manner that is highly commensurate with learner needs and observe individual differences between learners. Despite the many advantages that can be achieved by e-learning and distance education, there are many quality assurance standards that must be observed in this type of teaching and learning, whether at the level of the awarding institutions, or at the level of academic programs themselves. The Education and Training Evaluation Commission (ETEC) is in charge of evaluation, assessment and accreditation of qualifications in education and training in the public and private sectors in Saudi Arabia, seeking to improve their quality and efficiency and enhance their contribution to the national economy and development. This role is stipulated in the Decree issued by the Council of Ministers Resolution No. (108), dated 14/2/1440H. Based on this, ETEC prepared e-learning and distance education quality assurance and accreditation standards to be applied to all post-secondary education programs offered across all types of e-learning or full or blended distance education, whether they are applied at the level of the program or for one or more of its courses. This would help to gain the trust of the local and international community in the quality of the Saudi education system, increase demand for it, ensure the quality of its graduates, prepare graduates for better job opportunities upon their graduation, and enable them to successfully engage in life and the job market.
These standards are in coordination and integration with the National E-Learning Center licensing standards. According to the decree No. 35 issued by the Council of Ministers Resolution in 13/1/1439H, the National E-Learning Center is in charge of granting licenses to the agencies and companies offering e-learning and distance education programs and giving accredited certificates. It seeks to achieve integration between the technical and academic aspects, which should bring about positive impacts on the quality of programs and contribute to achieving their objectives.
The following controls will be observed in academic quality governance:
A higher education institution wishing to provide e-learning and distance education programs is required to be institutionally accredited by the NCAAA at ETEC. In addition, a higher education institution that offers e-learning and distance education programs should meet additional indicators for distance education. In numbering these indicators, it was observed that it completes the numbering used in the institutional accreditation standards of the NCAAA (2018). Six indicators were reviewed to adapt to e-learning and distance education, and 23 specialized indicators related to the quality of e-learning and distance education were added.
1- Provisional Accreditation:
Provisional accreditation is a free service provided by ETEC, and the program should be licensed and apply for provisional accreditation before the mid of its duration. It is based on the availability of specific requirements and standards both at the institutional and programmatic levels. Institutional accreditation focuses on the target role of an institution represented by the connection of this type of learning with the institutional mission and objectives, the application of policies and regulations that ensure its seriousness and quality, the provision of an adequate and appropriate technical infrastructure and qualified human resources, and the use of mechanisms to ensure academic integrity, intellectual property rights, performance quality follow-up, and benchmarking. On the other hand, provisional programmatic accreditation is based on the extent to which these programs are required to be opened and on pre-emptive quality control, through careful planning of the program, accurate specification of its intended learning outcomes, ensuring the appropriateness of teaching strategies and evaluation methods to maximize the achievement of the program learning outcomes, and the availability of human resources, learning resources and basic equipment which ensure the achievement of program objectives. This could help to increase the readiness of the program for academic accreditation so as to achieve the targeted academic effectiveness and the required efficiency, guarantee the rights of the community and students, and contribute to meeting the needs of the job market.
It depends on reviewing performance and the quality of learning outcomes after the program completes a full cycle, and verifying the quality of program outcomes and their correspondence with the actual plans, in addition to identifying the strengths, weaknesses and areas of improvement through conducting an analytical evaluation of its development, performance and continuous improvement. Application for accreditation is made according to the same procedures of programmatic accreditation used at the National Center for Academic Accreditation and Evaluation, and pursuant to the same criteria used (2018 Edition). Seventeen indicators have been reviewed to adapt to e-learning and distance education, and two indicators directly related to e-learning and distance education have been added. The new indicators are indicated by an asterisk “*" in the full version of the standards, and the numbering used in the 2018 Edition has been completed.