In a search of research databases, the researcher was unable to find any research articles which dealt with massage therapy education and blended delivery. This study aims to produce the first results in this area.

Student satisfaction and achievement in an online learning context

It has been reported from many sources (Diaz, 2002; Smith & Ferguson, 2005) that the rate of attrition in online courses is greater than that of traditional face-to-face courses. Pillay, Irving and Tones (2007) found that students are often less satisfied by online learning environments than classroom environments. Interestingly, a study done with students in the State University of New York (SUNY) learning network found that the completion rates of their online courses were not significantly different from their face-to-face classes, and that their online students were at least as satisfied as their F2F students (Shea et al., 2001). Student satisfaction seems to be correlated with course completion rates.

If the factors which predict satisfaction and achievement, and also attrition and non-achievement can be identified, the needs of online learners should be able to be more easily accommodated.

The SUNY learning network study identified a very strong correlation between student satisfaction and student perception of their learning (Shea et al., 2001), and other studies have shown the same relationship (Williams & Ceci, 1997). Perceived learning is not however the same as actual learning. Several studies have shown perceived learning and actual learning to be relatively uncorrelated (Ertmer & Stepich, 2004; Williams & Ceci, 1997; Benbunan-Fich & Arbaugh, 2005).

Some may question whether student perception of learning is an important thing to consider given the apparent gap between perceived and actual learning. However in this time of low educational margins, student attrition is a matter of strategic importance for any programme (especially in vocational learning where the number of students in each cohort may be as low as 15-20). It is less expensive to keep an existing customer than to recruit a new customer (Babin & Griffin, 1998; Oliver, 1993 as cited in Roskowski & Ricci, 2005). It is therefore advisable for an educational institution to focus on improving both student satisfaction, and student achievement.

Much of the research relevant to the research query considered here compares online learning with learning in a traditional face-to-face context. How does this relate to learning within a blended delivery context? Tang & Byrne (2007) found that students involved in blended delivery programmes were more satisfied by them than either purely online or purely face-to-face programmes. Interestingly, they also found that there were no significant differences in actual learning between the three delivery methods. This finding is supported by multiple studies comparing online and classroom-based learning (Bryant, 2003).