Document Type


Date of Degree

Fall 2018

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Psychological and Quantitative Foundations

First Advisor

DeVane, Benjamin

First Committee Member

Moore, Joyce

Second Committee Member

Encarnação, Miguel

Third Committee Member

Wesely, Pamela

Fourth Committee Member

Schuh, Kathy


In recent decades, open, online learning environments have become progressively more popular and well-funded. An integral aspect of this open learning movement is the transition of a substantial amount of control of the learning process from designers and instructors to the users engaging with the environment. With heavy investments coming from both the public and private sectors, and an ever-growing market of online learners, it is crucial that we better understand how the provision of user control over the learning process affects the quality of that learning process.

The purpose of this study was to investigate the effects of one aspect of open learning environments that has yet to be fully understood: user choice of learning sequence, or non-sequential user choice. Building on previous research with open educational resources (OERs) designed to help drivers learn about adaptive cruise control (ACC), an advanced car safety system, this research compared the learning process of subjects with (N = 42) and without (N = 42) control of the learning sequence. Specifically, this study sought to investigate two core issues: 1) the effect(s), positive or negative, that non-sequential user choice has on the development of mental models of ACC, as measured by a post-test assessment; and 2) the relationship among post-test performance, chosen order of resources, and time spent engaging with individual learning resources.

To examine these issues, two primary analyses were completed. To address the effect of non-sequential user choice, subjects’ performance on scenario problems and a declarative knowledge post-test was compared using independent sample t-tests (α = .05). A multiple regression analysis was conducted to investigate the relationship among post-test performance, chosen order of resources, and time spent on each of three learning resources (α = .05). Subjects in the experimental (choice) condition scored significantly worse on the post-test assessment than subjects in the control (non-choice) condition (t[82] = -2.116, p < .05, d = -0.462). The regression analysis found a significant regression equation (F(4,37) = 3.930, p < .05) with an R2 of 0.298 (Adjusted R2 = 0.222). Surprisingly, however, only one of the resource time predictor variables was an individually significant predictor of post-test performance.

Possible explanations for these findings are explored based on the available research literature. These explanations include the possibility of choice overload, poor decision-making by subjects, confusion due to a lack of instructional guidance, and the development of choice apathy. However, further research is necessary to determine why non-sequential user choice had a negative effect, as well as to expand research on non-sequential user choice to other contexts and content areas.


Adaptive cruise control, Mental models, Open educational resources, User choice


ix, 140 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 113-118).


Copyright © 2018 Ethan Philip Valentine