Quality Assurance and Innovation: Case Studies of Massive Open Online Courses in UK Higher Education

  • Ahmed Al-Imarah

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


Quality assurance is a common concern in a wide variety of organisations, and there is a large body of literature specific to quality management (including quality assurance) in higher education. Literature from the wider field of management research is ambiguous with respect to the relationship between quality management and innovation, with some arguing that quality management supports innovation while others claiming it is a hindrance. This study focuses on the relationship between quality assurance and technological innovation in higher education, specifically the development of Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) at institutions in the United Kingdom. Using a multiple case study approach, it investigates the relationship between innovation and quality assurance in this context. In addition to formal quality assurance procedures, it also examines the role of organisational culture, a particularly important factor in universities.
Analysis of interviews and documents shows that quality assurance doesn’t support innovation; most universities use a lighter approach to the quality assurance of MOOCs that focuses on technical requirements rather than academic quality. Furthermore, the organisational culture of many universities focuses on the quality of conventional in-person courses, but less on new innovation like MOOCs. The particular characteristics of MOOCs (e.g. diverse learners, light content) make the application of existing quality assurance procedures difficult. Finally, analysis shows that the most relevant quality approach for MOOCs is a combination of the conventional approach to quality assurance in higher education and a new quality assurance approach that takes into consideration the characteristics and features of MOOCs.
This research contributes to bridging gaps in the literature on technological innovation and provide unique insights into the relationship between quality management and innovation in higher education, which has not been well studied empirically. The research also contributes to establishing a clearer understanding of how organizational culture influences quality assurance in the context of sudden change and innovation. For practitioners, it aims to provide empirical evidence to the ongoing debates about MOOCs that seem to reflect limited knowledge and experience of these innovations, and aids the development of broader lessons about the quality assurance of MOOCs. It allows higher education institutions to understand the interplay and integration between conventional programmes and new educational technologies such as MOOCs. The findings of the study therefore provide suitable empirical evidence to support a cogent argument about the capabilities and qualifications of MOOCs in higher education with regard to quality assurance, further defining the role of MOOCs in higher education.
Date of Award13 Feb 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorRobin Shields (Supervisor) & Richard Kamm (Supervisor)


  • Quality assurance
  • Higher education
  • Innovation
  • MOOCs
  • eLearning

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