2014. Vol.5, No.2, 70-74
Published Online February 2014 in SciRes (http://www.scirp.org/journal/ce) http://dx.doi.org/10.4236/ce.2014.52012
Evaluation of Distance Education through Blended Learning:
Comparisons and Important Factors for the Learning Process
Júlio C. G. Bertolin1, Ana Carolina Bertoletti De Marchi2
1Graduate Program in Education, University of Passo Fundo, Passo Fundo, Brazil
2Graduate Program in Applied Computing, University of Passo Fundo, Passo Fundo, Brazil
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
Received December 6th, 2013; revised January 6th, 2014; accepted January 13th, 2014
Copyright © 2014 Júlio C. G. Bertolin, Ana Carolin a Bertoletti De Marchi. Th is is an open access article dis tri-
buted under the Creative Co mmons Attribution License, which per mits unrestricted use, dis tribution, and repro-
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Evaluation is a complex issue with significant importance for the qualification of institutions and college
education programs. In distance education, quality assessment is even more complex and important as the
differences in space and time between professors and students have an impact on the learning process. A
blended learning environment is one that combines distance education and face-to-face classroom instruc-
tion, and whose courses are an ideal environment for comparison with the conventional method. In this
respect, this paper conducts an evaluation of blended learning through which students assess some aspects
related to the development of courses and to the learning outcomes. The evaluation revealed that, in gen-
eral, students considered that the face-to-face classroom contact facilitated learning and that the profes-
sor’s planning and commitment are key factors in distance education.
Keywords: Distance Education; E-Learning; Evaluation Methodologies
Evaluation is a complex and significantly important issue
concerning quality assessment tools and projects in institutions
and college education programs. Different approaches have
been used to assess higher education and quality of education,
and distinct conceptions and forms for evaluating education
have been employed. In the past two decades, the assessment of
higher education has been a matter for vigorous debate, with
the participation of professionals and researchers from different
areas of knowledge. However, in the context of distance educa-
tion, studies and works on assessment are still in the process of
being developed. In distance education, quality assessment is
more complex and more important as the differences in space
and time between professors and students have an impact on the
While some authors and professors call into question whether
the quality of distance education is good and whether students
can effectively learn from this method, some studies have
shown that the quality of this type of education can be as good
as or better than face-to-face classroom education. At the same
time, distance education has greatly expanded worldwide, both
in developed and developing countries.
For instance, in Brazil, the number of distance education
students accounted for only 1% of the total of undergraduate
programs in 2004, whereas in 2010, nearly 1 million students
represented 15% of the whole system. In this period, the growth
of distance education averaged 65% p.a. compared to only 5%
of face-to-face education in Brazilian higher education pro-
grams. In the United States, studies demonstrate that 3.5 mil-
lion students attended distance education programs in higher
education institutions in 2006. From 2004 to 2009, there was an
average increase of 13% p.a. in the number of enrollments in
distance education in the US compared to an average growth of
approximately 2% i n the whole system.
Another option between distance education and face-to-face
classroom instruction is blended learning, which combines both
methods. The Brazilian Ministry of Education, for example,
allows up to 20% of the total hours in a face-to-face classroom
environment to be taught in the distance education mode.
Within the scope of a course, education is allowed to take place
fully or partially in the distance mode, but tests must be taken
in a face-to-face environment. Thus, a course under the bl en ded
education mode, despite the predominance of face-to-face in-
struction, is significantly flexible in terms of time and space
during the learning process. Such flexibility provides a unique
environment for the investigation of distance education quality
as the same group of students in the same course, taught by the
same professor, is submitted to both methods: distance educa-
tion and conventional face-to-face education. Consequently, the
assessment of distance education quality in the blended educa-
tion mode is an ideal environment for comparison with the
face-to-face classroom method, both in terms of learning
process and course outcomes.
In this respect, the present paper seeks to contribute towards
quality assessment of distance education using a case report
that investigated the students’ perception about the best learn-
ing method between face-to-face and distance education, in
J. C. G. BERTOLIN, A. C. B. DE MARC HI
addition to factors that were relevant for the development of
distance education. The theoretical and methodological back-
ground drew upon the concept of quality in education repre-
sented by a set of indicators based on the General Systems
Theory (Estrada, 1999) which involve aspects of the learning
process and of the assessed educational object.
Evaluation Method and Tool
Given the expansion of and debate on school efficiency,
performance or learning of students, several research studies on
distance education quality have been undertaken. Among the
approaches used to assess this type of education, we have the
following: 1) comparison of distance education with face-to-
face classroom instruction using predefined quality indicators;
2) the use of tools to identify users’ perceptions through their
answers to questionnaires or devices that store and analyze the
duration and frequency of login or accessed pages; 3) the
comparison with an ideal hypothetical system that contains a
set of relevant requirements and functions; and 4) the use of
indicators to assess the online learning platform or environment
(Valcheva & Todorova, 2005).
In order to assess distance education through the blended ap-
proach, the present study drew upon the concept of quality in
education represented by a set of indicators based on the Gen-
eral Systems Theory that involve input, process and outcome
aspects and/or indicators of the assessed educational object.
According to Estrada (1999), quality of education assessment is
expressed by a value judgment about a set of attributes related
to “inputs”, “process” and “outcomes”, or about the relation-
ships between them. UNESCO’s Laboratorio Latinoamericano
de Evaluación de la Calidad de la Educación also mentions
systemic indicators, stating that “the level of quality in educa-
tion consists basically of the definition of a set of variables that
systema tically provide s a reliable and valid panorama of educa-
tional systems that can be used to guide and implement im-
provement strategies” (UNESCO, 1997).
According to García (2000), the systems of indicators seek to
go beyond the mere sum of data by grouping simple or compo-
site indicators as a function of factors and aspects that render
them meaningful and provide a significant insight into the sta-
tus of educational systems. Experiences with the assessment of
indicator systems demonstrate that quality in education is a
multiple concept that cannot be evaluated by a single aspect and
that should include all the key elements of the system or
process. Therefore, we may say that it is possible to assess the
quality of education by a value judgment based on a set of
attributes, aspects or indicators concerning inputs, process and
educational outcomes, or the relationships between them.
Hence, in view of the goals of the evaluation study, we as-
sumed that the quality assessment of courses in the blended
education model is closely related to the analysis of perfor-
mance of a set of input, process and outcome indicators. More
specifically, to compare students’ learning between the face-to-
face and distance education models, we used three questions
about this aspect, as proposed by Bertolin & De Marchi (2010)
as evaluation tool for courses in a blended education environ-
ment based on systemic indicators (Table 1). Likewise, ques-
tions on the process of the same tool were compared with those
about learning outcomes in order to identify more relevant fac-
tors and improve students’ learning in distance education.
The questionnaires were applied to students of 46 courses
Questions on input, process and outcomes of courses taught in the
) How do you rate the distance education infrastructure
(computer learning center, etc.) available for the course?
) How do you rate the Moodle platform used in the course?
) How do you rate the professor’s skills and competencies in
How do you rate your computer literacy before the beginning
of the course?
) How do you rate the distribution of classes in t he distanc e
education environment organized by the professor in the
) How do you rate the teaching material (support material,
activitie s and media) prepared by the professor?
) How do you rate the interaction between professor
and student during the course?
) How do you rate the follow-up (feedback concerning the
activities) given by
the professor during the course?
) How do you rate the technical support provide d by the UPF
Virtual platform during the course?
) How do you rate the alternating rounds and adequacy of
-to-face and distance education methods
(syllabus and numb
er of hours) in the course?
) How do you rate the professor’s teaching/pedagogical
practice in the face
-to-face classroom environment?
) How do you rate your dedication and commitment
to distance education classes?
) How do you rate the level of demand of dist ance educ ation
activities proposed by the professor for the course?
) How do you rate your learning as far as the syllabus
of the face
-to-face course is concerned?
) How do you rate your learning as far as the syllabus of the
distance education course is concerned?
) How do you rate the developme nt of your computer skills
during the course?
) How do you r ate the development of your aut onomy and
-organization during the course?
Note: Source: Bertolin & De Marchi (2010).
taught in the blended education environment during the second
half of year 2011 at a nonprofit university located in southern
Brazil. A total of 618 students from different undergraduate
programs answered the questionnaire. Class hours accounted
for 20%, 50% and 80% of 358, 137 and 123 evaluated courses,
respectively. In each question, the students had to check one of
the following options: “very poor” (value 1); “poor” (value 2);
“fair” (value 3); “good” (value 4); and “excellent” (value 5).
For the comparison of learning between face-to-face and
distance education, we performed some calculations: 1) for the
total amount of students taking up courses in the blended mode
who considered learning in the face-to-face environment to be
better than, equal to or worse than distance education; and 2)
for the arithmetic means of the 47 courses in the blended me-
thod, which refer to students’ perception about learning in the
face-to-face and distance education environments (questions 14
After that, in order to investigate the most relevant factors for
improvement of students’ learning in the distance education
OPEN ACCESS 71
J. C. G. BERTOLIN, A. C. B. DE MARC HI
environment (3), we compared the low means obtained for 11
courses with 50% of classes in the distance mode and 50% of
them in the face-to-face mode in the questions on input and
process (questions 1 through 13) and the most significant dif-
ferences between the means obtained for face-to-face and dis-
tance education (question 14 subtracted from question 15).
Calculations and Analyses
The blended learning approach provides a unique environ-
ment for the investigation of distance education quality as the
same group of students in the same course, taught by the same
professor, is submitted to both methods: distance education and
conventional face -to-face education.
In the comparison of respondents’ perception about learning
in both environments, most answered that learning was better in
the face-to-face environment. While 84% of students found
face-to-face education to be better than distance education, only
4% thought it was the other way around. Slightly over 10% of
618 respondents considered face-to-face and distance education
to be equivalent in terms of quality (Table 2).
More specifically in the course with only 20% of hours in the
distance mode, none of the 358 students found distance educa-
tion to be better than face-to-face education. In those courses in
which half of the classes were taught in a face-to-face class-
room environment and the remaining half given in the distance
mode, i.e., when we probably had the best condition for com-
parison between the methods, 94% of the students considered
face-to-face education to be better.
With respect to the 47 courses taught in the blended method,
only three (6%) indicated that learning in the distance mode
was better than in the face-to-face environment. In another six
courses (13%), the learning quality of face-to-face and distance
education was equivalent. In the remaining 38 courses, learning
in the face-to-face environment was found to be better. There-
fore, it is beyond doubt that most students who took the same
course, taught by the same professor, within the same term,
under the blended approach, considered face-to-face education
to be better than distance education.
According to the logic of indicators based on the General
Systems Theory, good inputs and good processes yield good
results. Likewise, poor inputs and poor processes yield poor
results. As to the courses taken in the blended mode, the mean
results (overall means of 3.9) were consistent with those of the
inputs (overall means of 4.0) and of the processes (overall
means of 3.8).
Comparison of students’ perception about learning in the face-to-face
and distance education environments–expressed in numbers and per-
DE % 50%
DE % 80%
DE % Total %
than DE 316 88 129 94 75 61 520 84
DE as good
as FFE 42 12 3 2 28 23 73 12
than FFE 0 0 5 4 20 16 25 4
Note: Source: Data collected by the authors. FFE = face-to-face education; DE =
In general, the assessments of input aspects (infrastructure,
virtual learning environment, professors’ and students’ skills)
and of processes (planning of dynamics, interaction, support,
alternation, etc.) were similar to those of the outcomes (learning
and skill development). However, the means for question 15
was not always consistent with the assessment of inputs and
processes (Table 3). More specifically, the statistical signific-
ance of courses 139229, 139230 and 139232 was below the
mean obtained for the distance education environment. Thus,
the comparison of the means obtained for the questions on in-
put and process with the largest differences between the means
for the questions in the distance and face-to-face education
helped determine the most influential aspects that hinder dis-
By subtracting the means obtained by the courses taught in
the face-to-face mode by the means of those in the distance
mode, courses 139229 and 139230 yielded significantly differ-
ent results (Table 4). These courses showed much poorer
learning rates in the distance mode than in the face-to-face en-
vironment. Hence, a more accurate analysis of inputs and
processes of these two courses can indicate aspects that have a
negative impact on learning in the distance education environ-
In a more careful interpretation of the assessment of these
two courses with the worst results for distance education, we
can initially perceive that no question in the input domain was
assessed in a significantly different fashion from the mean of all
courses (Table 5). However, the questions on professors’
teaching planning and commitment, in the process domain,
yielded significantly lower means in courses 139,229 and
139,230 than the overall means of all courses.
This way, the teaching material prepared by the professor
(question 6), the interaction between professor and student
(question 7) and the alternating rounds and adequacy between
face-to-face and distance education (question 10) were more
Means of input, process and outcome aspects of courses in the blended
Courses Inputs Process 15 Outcomes
139,407 4.4 4.3 4.1 4.3
139,215 3.9 3.7 3.6 3.9
139,229 3.7 3.5 2.6 3.5
139,230 3.7 3.3 2.3 3.3
139,232 3.8 3.6 2.8 3.5
139,249 3.9 4.1 3.2 3.9
139,383 4.2 4.2 3.9 4.0
139,387 4.1 3.8 4.3 4.2
140,806 3.9 3.7 3.5 3.9
140,898 3.7 3.4 3.6 3.9
141,615 4.1 4.2 3.9 4.2
Mean 4.0 3 .8 3.4 3.9
Note: Source: Data collec ted by the authors.
J. C. G. BERTOLIN, A. C. B. DE MARC HI
relevant for distance education in the assessment of the courses
taught in the blended mode.
Differences in learning in the face-to-face and distance education
courses taught in the blended mode (50% DE and 50% FFE).
Course Question 14 Que stion 15 Differenc e
139,407 4.3 4.1 0.2
139,215 3.8 3.6 0.2
139,229 4.1 2.6 1.5
139,230 3.8 2.3 1.6
139,232 3.7 2.8 0.8
139,249 4.0 3.2 0.8
139,383 4.1 3.9 0.2
139,387 4.1 4.3 −0.1
140,806 4.1 3.5 0.5
140,898 4.0 3.6 0.4
141,615 4.4 3.9 0.5
Mean 4.0 3 .4 0 .6
Note: DE = distance education; FFE = face-to-face education.
The courses in the blended mode corroborate the unique en-
vironment for the investigation into distance education quality
given that the same group of students attending the same course
taught by the same professor is submitted to alternating rounds
of distance and face-to-face education. Consequently, the as-
sessment of distance education quality in the blended mode is
ideal for comparisons with the conventional method, both in
terms of process and outcomes.
The assessment carried out here compared the perception of
more than 600 students in almost 50 courses taught in the
blended mode. This procedure demonstrated that, by and large,
students find it easier to learn in a face-to-face environment.
Nonetheless, in some courses, the difference in perception
about learning between the face-to-face and distance education
methods was very large, calling into question some factors that
could be related to learning difficulties in the distance educa-
By investigating the factors in the input and process domains
that had a greater impact on the comparison of students’ learn-
ing in the different teaching methods, our assessment showed
that the questions on professors’ planning and commitment, in
the process domain, are relevant for learning in the distance
education environment. The negative assessment of the teach-
ing material prepared by the professor, of the interaction be-
tween professor and student and of the alternating rounds and
adequacy of face-to-face and distance education methods, re-
vealed that these process aspects had a negative impact on dis-
Therefore, it is plausible to say that, in the context of
distance education, a well-planned course and an appropriate
Assessment of questions on input and process in the blended mode (50% DE and 50% FFE).
Inputs Process Diff
1 2 3 4 Mean 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 Mean 14 - 15
139,407 4.3 4.3 4.5 4.3 4.4 4.4 4.2 4.3 4.5 4.4 3.9 4.2 4.1 4.3 4.3 0.2
139,215 4.0 3.6 3.9 4.2 3.9 3.5 3.6 3.7 3.5 3.5 3.6 4.0 3.8 3.7 3.7 0.2
139,229 3.6 3.4 3.6 4.3 3.7 3.4 3.6 3.1 3.3 3.8 3.1 3.8 3.5 3.6 3.5 1.5
139,230 3.5 3.6 3.6 4.0 3.7 3.4 3.3 2.9 3.3 3.8 2.8 3.5 3.3 3.8 3.3 1.6
139,232 3.5 3.9 3.9 4.1 3.8 3.4 3.7 3.5 3.6 3.9 3.8 3.5 3.3 3.3 3.6 0.8
139,249 4.0 3.4 4.2 4.0 3.9 4.0 4.4 4.2 3.8 4.0 4.0 4.4 3.8 4.0 4.1 0.8
139,383 4.0 3.9 4.4 4.5 4.2 4.0 4.4 4.2 4.2 4.2 4.2 4.3 3.8 4.1 4.2 0.2
139,387 4.0 3.9 4.0 4.6 4.1 3.4 3.9 4.1 3.6 3.7 3.7 4.1 3.6 4.1 3.8 -0.1
140,806 4.1 3.6 4.0 4.1 3.9 3.7 3.5 3.6 3.6 3.8 3.6 4.1 3.9 3.5 3.7 0.5
140,898 3.4 3.6 3.6 4.2 3.7 3.6 4.0 3.4 3.2 3.4 3.0 3.4 3.4 3.0 3.4 0.4
141,615 4.0 3.9 4.8 3.9 4.1 4.0 4.1 4.6 4.4 4.1 4.0 4.7 4.0 4.1 4.2 0.5
Mean 3.9 3.7 4.0 4.2 4.0 3.7 3.9 3.8 3.7 3.9 3.6 4.0 3.7 3.8 3.8 0.6
Note: Source: Data collec ted by the authors. DE = dista nce education; FFE = face-to-face education.
OPEN ACCESS 73
J. C. G. BERTOLIN, A. C. B. DE MARC HI
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