Date of Award

Spring 2017

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Teaching & Learning


Curriculum and Instruction

Committee Director

Ginger S. Watson

Committee Member

John W. Baaki

Committee Member

Cherng-Jyh Yen


Traditionally in higher education, online courses have been designed for computer users. However, the advent of mobile learning (m-learning) and the proliferation of smartphones have created two challenges for online students and instructional designers. First, instruction designed for a larger computer screen often loses its effectiveness when displayed on a smaller smartphone screen. Second, requiring students to write remains a hallmark of higher education, but miniature keyboards might restrict how thoroughly smartphone users respond to open- response test questions. The present study addressed both challenges by featuring m-learning’s greatest strength (multimedia) and by investigating its greatest weakness (text input).

The purpose of the current study was to extend previous research associated with m- learning. The first goal was to determine the effect of device (computer vs. smartphone) on performance when answering multiple-choice and open-response questions. The second goal was to determine whether computers and smartphones would receive significantly different usability ratings when used by participants to answer multiple-choice and open-response questions. The construct of usability was defined as a composite score based on ratings of effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction.

This comparative study used a between-subjects, posttest, experimental design. The study randomly assigned 70 adults to either the computer treatment group or the smartphone treatment group. Both treatment groups received the same narrated multimedia lesson on how a solar cell works. Participants accessed the lesson using either their personal computers (computer treatment group) or their personal smartphones (smartphone treatment group) at the time and location of their choice. After viewing the multimedia lesson, all participants answered the same multiple-choice and open-response posttest questions. In the current study, computer users and smartphone users had no significant difference in their scores on multiple-choice recall questions. On open-response questions, smartphone users performed better than predicted, which resulted in no significant difference between scores of the two treatment groups. Regarding usability, participants gave computers and smartphones high usability ratings when answering multiple-choice items. However, for answering open-response items, smartphones received significantly lower usability ratings than computers.


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