Bridging The Service Quality Gaps In eLearning

A Strategic Approach For Traditional Institutions

The education industry is witnessing a transformative shift with the emergence of online education, especially in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. Initially considered a temporary fix for traditional institutions, eLearning is now viewed as a substantial revenue stream. To adapt, many institutions are introducing skill-based courses, but a significant challenge lies in the lack of emphasis on Instructional Design within these traditional setups. Perceptions among administrators and faculty often oversimplify online learning, reducing it to the basic act of recording and uploading videos. This oversimplification creates a quality gap, where the delivered service falls short of students’ expectations. To address this issue, the application of the service quality gaps model in eLearning becomes crucial. Developed by Parasuraman, Zeithaml, and Berry, this model offers a comprehensive framework for evaluating and enhancing service quality in the context of eLearning.

This article explores the application of the service quality gap model in the realm of eLearning, identifying key gaps and proposing effective strategies to bridge them. The model comprises of 5 gaps—gap 1 (knowledge), gap 2 (policy/standards), gap 3 (delivery), gap 4 (communication), and gap 5 (perception)—all of which manifest in various ways, influencing the overall effectiveness and satisfaction of both educators and learners. The goal is to delve into these gaps as adapted to eLearning, offering insights into the challenges faced and providing practical solutions for a more seamless and satisfactory educational experience.

Service Quality Gaps Model For eLearning

 Gap 1: Knowledge Gap

This is the difference between what consumers expect of a service and what management perceives the consumers to expect. In most higher education institutions, the impression of eLearning is often limited to “recording lectures and delivering them to students electronically.” Institutions tend to apply traditional learning pedagogy to the eLearning context, which fails to captivate students and discourages their engagement with the eLearning content created by the faculty. This gap in knowledge arises between the institution and the students.

The determinants of perceived service quality in traditional learning and eLearning among students are different, but higher education institutions assume that these determinants are the same. This issue arises because many institutions fail to study their students’ perceptions of their eLearning patterns. Consequently, this knowledge gap leads to the development of a poor blueprint for eLearning delivery, a lack of training for teachers in eContent development, and poor eContent development infrastructure. There are also poor standards in eContent development and delivery.

To close this gap, a detailed understanding of what students desire is necessary. Responses need to be built through a service operating system. The knowledge gap is influenced by research orientation, upward communication, and the level of management.

Gap 2: Standards Gap

This is the difference between what management perceives consumers to expect and the quality specification set for service delivery. Higher education institutions should use a standardized flowchart of their operations to identify the points of contact between the institution and its students. Standards can be drawn in terms of the way eLearning should be delivered at the institution holistically. However, in reality, few institutions practice structured standards towards implementing eLearning at the institutional level. Most education institutions don’t have a uniform standard for implementing eLearning. In these types of educational institutions, eLearning standards vary, depending on teachers’ computational skills, interests, and involvement with EdTech. Recently, institutions have shown interest in adapting guidelines as their standards, but it is still questionable whether it reduces standard gaps in eLearning. Standard gaps can be reduced when institutions develop eLearning delivery standards by analyzing government norms, teachers’ computational skills, institutional infrastructure, and students’ technology usage patterns.

Gap 3: Delivery Gap

This is the difference between the quality standards set for service delivery and the actual quality of service delivery. The delivery gap is influenced by a teacher’s willingness to perform, role conduct, role ambiguity, learned helplessness, and inadequate support. “Willingness to perform” refers to a teacher’s desire to fulfill their full potential in deploying eLearning. “Role ambiguity” refers to a poor understanding of their purpose and role in developing eLearning content. “Learned helplessness” signifies the condition of employees who feel unable to deliver eContent services adequately. “Inadequate support” refers to institutions failing to provide the training, technological, and other resources necessary for teachers to deliver eLearning in the best possible manner.

Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) and Instructional Designers (IDs) play a crucial role in the deployment of eLearning at the institutional level. A Subject Matter Expert is an expert in a particular subject area, while an Instructional Designer can help reframe the subject matter to make it more relevant and accessible to learners. When a teacher/faculty member plays both roles as SME and ID, it places a burden on faculty and leads to a poor deployment of eLearning at the institutional level.

Gap 4: Communication Gap

This is the difference between the actual quality of service delivered and the quality of service described in the institution’s external communication. The communication gap is influenced by horizontal communication that overpromises. Previously, the communication gap was not considered a crucial issue in eLearning because during the time of the COVID-19 crisis, many traditional education institutions saw eLearning as a problem-solving tool to teach students during lockdowns. Now, institutions are realizing that eLearning could be another business model to generate income. Many institutions have started developing online courses. Since the EdTech sector is becoming more competitive, institutions have started overpromising in their communication and they can’t deliver.

Conclusion

To enhance the overall quality of eLearning, traditional institutions must move beyond the simplistic approach of recording and uploading videos. Instead, they should invest in comprehensive Instructional Design practices, standardized operational procedures, and effective communication strategies. Closing these service quality gaps will not only meet the evolving expectations of learners but also contribute to the long-term success and sustainability of online education as a transformative force in the education industry.

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