How is the independent learning experience examined and ultimately understood in this book?

Reading research volumes is not least not for They are often necessarily dense and specific and, as a result, difficult and tiring to read. Perhaps unfortunately but unsurprisingly, this book is not different, as it presents a lot of data and discussion of that data. While this book does provide an account of the relevant extant body of literature, it focuses on presenting an understanding of ILEs that is totally data driven.

With that in mind, and with an understanding of that fact that many readers of academic texts like to dip in and out such books, here in this introductory chapter, I provide a brief overview of the understanding of the ILE that is presented in this text. Hopefully, this will help to situate readers from the beginning, making the text less impenetrable, and allow readers to choose which sections of the book they might like to focus their interest. So what follows are the definition of independent learning used in this book, a brief introduction to the grounded theory of independent learning, the model of the independent learning experience and an outline of the thought processing categories that occur within these experiences.

6 Introduction A definition

In this book, independent learning is conceptualised as

the act of learning without (or with decreasing amounts of) external direction, guidance and evaluation, in volitional and non-volitional contexts.

It is researched in this book qualitatively using a grounded theory methodology to examine the conscious thought processes of learners. Independent learning can be undertaken by an individual alone or can occur in groups of peers. Rather than needing to be completed by one individual alone, it has to be completed outside of the directive control of a ‘teacher’ or superior. As humans are social beings, much of our learning is social. Social learning can be defined as “learning assisted by observation of, or interaction with, another agent or its products” (Heyes, 2020, p. 2). As the goal of this book is to understand ILEs so as to provide insights into how we may better equip ourselves for the increasing learning needs of world, both individual and group contexts are examined, as this mirrors the reality of learning situations.

A theory

The research presented here led to the development of a grounded theory of processing occurring during independent learning (see Table 1.1).

These categories of processing (and their dimensions and sub-elements which will be discussed throughout this book) can account tor all conscious thought processing that occurs during independent learning in both individual and group learning contexts. It is the interactions within and between these processing categories that drive and ultimately control and contribute to the effectiveness and success of the learning experience.

Table 1.1 Grounded Theory of Conscious Thought Processing During Independent Learning

This grounded theory posits that different types of processing, namely, metacognitive, cognitive, affective, physical, and off-task processing, interact to influence the learning experience in independent learning. It further postulates that each type of processing is multi-dimensional and that the interactions within and between these processes and the learning experience are non-linear and complex.

Categories of processing

The categories of processing are defined here. These definitions were built from data, not from the pre-existing body of research.

• Cognitive processing is processing that occurs when learners are engaged with understanding the content of the task or doing the task, but not how to do the task

  • • Metacognitive processing is processing that occurs when the learners are concerned with how learning is or should proceed
  • • Affective processing is processing that occurs when learning is interrupted or affected by the learners’ emotions, moods and learning preferences (in terms of what to learn and how to learn)
  • • Physical processing is processing that occurs when learning is interrupted or affected by the learners’ physical state or by the physical environment
  • • Off-task processing is processing that occurs when learning is interrupted by learners becoming distracted by either external or internal factors

And what do these categories of processing do? Well, they interact with each other in different ways, which results in better and worse learning experiences and outcomes.

The grounded theory recognises that these processing types are multidimensional, and the interactions within and between these processes and the learning experience are non-linear and complex. Non-linear in this context means that the pathways between the various types of processing, dimensions or sub-elements do not always move directly towards the enablement of a learning experience. In other words, the data in this project has shown that the natural learner movement between different forms of processing does not always move forward in a manner that is improving or enabling learning.

What does this mean? Well, it means that independent learning does not naturally nor automatically propel the learner forward - it can be ineffective, even unpleasant at times.

There are complex interactions in the movement between the various types of processing and their dimensions and sub-elements. While there are patterns of movement between processing categories (e.g. the frequent bi-directional movement between cognitive processing and metacognitive processing), interactions between processing types are not always predictable; the interactions show the complexity of learning processing, and that individuals and groups of individuals engaged in learning are an example of a complex system in action.

A model

Learners’ thought processes move with frequency between the categories of processing (and within the categories of processing) as they are engaged in independent learning (see Figure 1.1). Much of this movement effectively moves the learning forward, but some does not. While the non-linear movement of processing is naturally occurring, this does not mean that these processing pathways are not amenable to change. This position is supported by findings in the literature on training for metacognition, where they have identified that the metacognitive form of processing is amenable to change (Adev & Shayer, 1994; Brown & Pressley, 1994; Hartman, 2002c; Nuckles, Hubner, & Renkl, 2008).

The fact that learners can and do move along processing pathways that enable and improve learning suggests that further investigation and development of this theory could have powerful applications for improving learning performance.

Model of Processing Pathways Occurring During Independent Learning

Figure 1.1 Model of Processing Pathways Occurring During Independent Learning.

The increased clarity of these processing categories, their dimensions and subelements that have been uncovered in research (and are discussed in detail later in this text), presents a more comprehensive picture of conscious thought processing during independent learning. That the theory and model presented here are based on data drawn from authentic learning settings bring us one step closer to seeing how we learn in order to improve how we learn.

The chapters that follow

Chapter 2 places independent learning research amidst its contemporaries - self-regulated learning, self-directed learning, autonomous learning - providing a discussion of these modalities that all seek to enable learners. It also discusses volitional and non-volitional learning as this pertains to independent learning. A rationale for and explanation of the research approach to independent learning in this volume are outlined and explained. Chapter 3 provides an in-depth discussion of understandings of metacognition. Although there are several categories of types of thinking processing involved in independent learning, metacognition is presented in this text as the ‘key’ in the process. It necessarily fills the space left in the learning experience that a teacher once occupied.

Chapter 4 presents the model of the independent learning experience and breaks down all the conscious thought processing that occurs during learning. Chapter 5 goes one step further to explain the interactions between all the elements of the independent learning experience. Chapter 6 provides case students of both individual and group ILEs. Chapter 7 examines some very specific findings that the data on thought processing during independent learning have elucidated, and discusses the learning implications of these. Chapter 8 takes a macro perspective on how better understandings of the ILE could positive influence education and our lifelong experiences of learning. Chapter 9 both provides a brief summary and looks to the learning research of the future.

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