Open structures lead to long-term retention
I always thought that more open, non-linear learning was better in terms of retention and had this somewhat confirmed in work by Dr Dror who, in a recent study at the University of Southampton, put students through an e-learning programme to compare all three. Although it takes more effort (cognitive load) to navigate the open structures, it resulted in higher levels of long-term retention. Interestingly, the linear group scored well in an immediate test but two weeks later the advantage of the linear group disappeared as the open students did better. So e-learning environments with high navigational freedom have better long-term retention.
Why higher retention?
Why does a higher degree of freedom encourage long-term retention? It could be the higher degrees of motivation in the learner. Witness the extraordinary levels of motivation among open structure games’ players. It may also help encode memories as a direct result of more planned and meaningful personal exploration.
So freedom to navigate is a good thing (only, of course, if well designed).