Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)


School of Education


Learning and Instruction


Learning & Instruction EdD

First Advisor

Robert Burns

Second Advisor

Mathew Mitchell

Third Advisor

Helen Maniates


The purpose of this quasi-experimental study was to compare the effects of a varied method of instruction on student achievement, knowledge transfer, situational interest, and course retention rates, relative to a non-varied method of instruction, in community college developmental mathematics. The varied method of instruction consisted of active learning teaching practices with foundations in social constructivism, whereas the non-varied method of instruction was founded in Cognitive Load Theory and consisted primarily of explicit instruction and individual practice.

An initial sample of 139 students who enrolled in six sections of Beginning Algebra at an urban community college in Northern California participated in the study. Given the quasi-experimental nature of the study, considerable effort was taken to control for school, teacher, student, and curriculum implementation variables. As such, the six sections were divided equally among three instructors, with each instructor teaching one varied class and one non-varied class. Additionally, students were assessed on the following entry characteristics: preferences for working in groups, personal interest in mathematics, reasoning ability, verbal ability, and prior mathematics knowledge.

The dependent variables were conceptual understanding, procedural application near transfer, far transfer, situational interest, and course retention rates. Conceptual understanding and procedural application were assessed three times throughout the study, whereas the remaining variables were measured after eight weeks of instruction.

No statistically significant differences in conceptual understanding, procedural application, near transfer, far transfer, or course retention rates were obtained between the varied and non-varied classes while controlling for individual differences. There was a statistically significant difference of medium effect in situational interest; the students in the varied classes enjoyed their classes to a lesser extent than students in the non-varied classes.

Overall, both methods of instruction were equally ineffective in teaching basic algebraic concepts and procedures. Therefore, it appears that manipulating methods of instruction is not an adequate solution to the high failure rates in developmental mathematics. Instead, developmental mathematics education may better benefit from other reforms, such as learning communities, contextualized curricula, and mandatory support services. Future studies may be conducted to investigate the effects of these reforms, both in isolation and in combination.