Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation




Education Sciences

First Advisor

Dr. Jennifer Wilhelm


Most research on Cognitive Load Theory (Sweller, 1988) has uncovered many instructional design considerations for learning complex tasks. Additionally, the Community of Inquiry (Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 2000) framework describes many of the learning experiences in online education. A gap existed in the literature for investigating cognitive load over the duration of a college algebra course and for investigating the relationship between cognitive load and cognitive presence. This research study has addressed this gap by investigating cognitive load and cognitive presence in an online and face-to-face college algebra course.

The results of this study revealed that face-to-face students earned statistically significant higher final course grades and homework grades than the online students. The face-to-face math course was slightly more efficient because it produced learners who exerted similar cognitive load as learners in the online course but the learners in the face-to-face earned higher performance score.

Online discussion prompts that ask student to apply their solution or defend their solution engaged students in cognitive presence differently. When students were prompted to apply their solution to a real world scenario, most students reached resolution in their initial posts, but they were often not cognitively present in their follow-up posts. When students were prompted to provide a defense of their solution, most of the posts demonstrated cognitive presence, but not as many individual students reached resolution.

Additionally, students progressed through the stages of cognitive presence when an instructor asked them a specific question about their math problem or real life scenario in a timely manner. When instructors post questions to their students that directly ask for an application of their hypothesis or an explanation how they arrived at their hypothesis, students can reach the highest stage of cognitive presence. When instructors post messages that reach the highest stage of cognitive presence, students do not post messages that reach the highest stage of cognitive presence. Lastly, this study did not find a strong linear relationship between cognitive presence and cognitive load.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)