Degree Type


Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Curriculum and Instruction

First Advisor

Larry Ebbers

Second Advisor

William Miller


Throughout the academic community it is generally accepted that there are degrees of difficulty among college courses. The source of variability in course difficulty could be related to background knowledge of students, variability in instructional methods, and variability in the characteristics of the subject matter;Some courses may be more difficult than other courses because of the content of the courses. These are the courses that present students with abstract ideas and are based on the assumption that students have the ability to think in abstract terms. The vocabulary presented in many of these courses is often foreign to students, and the entire course may be perceived as being difficult because terms are difficult to define and place in one's reality;The purpose of this study was to determine factors that influence course difficulty. Because factors which influence course difficulty were identified and understood, it is anticipated that methodology may now be developed to significantly reduce course difficulty;Very few studies have been conducted on course difficulty or factors that influence course difficulty. Teaching techniques, abstractness of concepts covered in classes, and anxiety are sited in the literature as some of the reasons some courses are perceived as being difficult (Horodezkey, 1983; Sworder, 1986; Tanner, 1986). The findings of this study support the literature. Students indicated that little or no experience in a particular area, abstractness of concepts, and anxiety in a particular area caused them to experience more difficulty in some classes;Subjects where the material was interesting or taught in an interesting manner were perceived as being less difficult. Instructors who related concepts to every day events were said to make the classes easier. The social science, arts and humanities areas were perceived as less difficult, because many of the concepts covered in the classes were familiar to students. Students felt that some of the science and math courses were difficult because they were not familiar with the concepts covered.



Digital Repository @ Iowa State University,

Copyright Owner

George Cleveland Bradley



Proquest ID


File Format


File Size

160 pages