A Comparison of Blended vs. Online Course Modalities: Toward an Enhanced Understanding of the Student Experience

Concurrent Session 4
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Brief Abstract

Brief Abstract: An empirical analysis offers an in-depth comparison of student outcomes in blended vs. online sections of an MBA leadership course. 


Catherine Honig, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor and Chair, MBA Program in National Louis University's College of Professional Studies and Advancement (CPSA). She earned her doctorate in industrial/organizational psychology from Bowling Green State University and has over 25 years of higher education teaching experience. She currently designs and teaches online courses in leadership and I/O psychology, and her research interests place emphasis on high-touch online instruction, student perceptions of online and blended learning, and the impact of EdTech tools on student learning and engagement in online courses. Catherine also serves as the Editor of MERLOT's Psychology Editorial Board.

Extended Abstract


In support of a strategy to bring contemporary, impactful educational delivery options to students, a team of faculty members at a Midwestern-based university is empirically examining the outcomes associated with different course delivery modes.  The team’s particular focus is blended course delivery, and the team’s overriding goal is to reveal “new learning” about a host of student outcomes associated with blended course delivery options and to establish how these outcomes may compare with other course delivery alternatives (such as online delivery and face-to-face delivery).

An impressive and growing body of research is developing around blended learning. In general, the results point to the benefits of blended learning and suggest enhanced attainment of learning outcomes in blended learning scenarios. [See Picciano, Dziuban, & Graham (2014) for a thorough review of blended learning research.] However, the manner in which any given course is “blended” can take many forms, and specific investigation of various alternatives can meaningfully inform academic program design decisions. Moreover, “front lines” decisions about which course delivery mode to offer in a given course or academic program—online vs. blended, for example—can be improved via inquiry of one’s own student population.

The proposed presentation describes a component of the faculty team’s work and compares student outcomes in two sections of one MBA leadership course. One section of the MBA course was taught completely online (with no face-to-face class meetings), and one section was taught in blended fashion (with ½ of the course sessions delivered completely online and ½ of the course sessions delivered in face-to-face fashion). Specific information about the research questions and data collection follows.

Method, Research Questions & Data Sources

Two MBA course sections—one blended and one online—serve as the focus of a “small N,” in-depth comparison of student outcomes across two course delivery modes.  Data sources include the following.

  • Course Assignments/Rubrics: Aggregate student performance on key course assignments (e.g., points earned on assignment rubrics).
  • Learning Management Tools (Desire2Learn): Learning Management System (LMS) tools to examine student participation in course learning routines (e.g., D2L User Progress tools).
  • Survey Tool: Customized student survey questions to assess student perceptions of learning and engagement.
  • Focus Groups: Focus groups to gather in-depth, personalized student perceptions of the course experience (one focus group per each of the two course sections)

The specific research questions are as follows.

  • How well do students meet the learning outcomes in each modality? (Data sources: Student performance and achievement as measured by multiple course assignment rubrics; student self-ratings of learning outcome attainment as collected via a customized survey).
  • How do students participate in the learning routines in each course modality? (Data sources: Student course activity as measured by D2L User Progress Tools; student self-descriptions as collected via focus groups).
  • How do students experience student-student and instructor-student relationships in each course modality? (Data sources: Student perceptions as collected via a customized survey; student descriptions as collected via focus groups).

Results & Interpretation

Data collection and analysis is currently under way. The collected data from both the online class section (n = 13) and the blended class section (n = 6) will provide insight into how well students meet course learning outcomes, how they participate in course learning routines, and how they perceive relationships (and engagement) in both modalities.  Both quantitative data (e.g., aggregate performance, survey results) and qualitative data (content analysis of focus group data) will be presented. Implications for course design and delivery will be discussed.

Participant Outcomes: What Participants Will Learn

The presentation will provide participants with an opportunity to learn how one university has engaged its faculty in an empirical investigation of blended learning, how students perform in and how they view both blended and online learning, and how the collected data can materially impact course design and delivery.  The presentation will incorporate slides as well as opportunities for participants to compare and contrast the results with their own experiences in the implementation of blended and online learning.


Picciano, A.,  Dziuban,  C., & Graham, C. (Eds.) (2014).  Blended learning: research perspectives (Vol. 2). New York: Routledge.