The independent learning experience: what is it made of?


This exploratory research project was conducted using a grounded theory methodology to examine the ILE. Therefore, there was no initial hypothesis to prove or model to test. Instead, analysis of the data developed a data-driven picture of all conscious thought processing occurring during independent learning. All categories and definitions have been developed and defined through the constant comparison methodology, and were constantly refined and then ultimately confirmed when this methodology led to a point of theoretical saturation. In other words, the categories of processing and how they are defined were not taken from previous research or existing models.

As explained in Chapter 2, the data in the study comprises 21 learning episodes, each approximately 90 minutes in duration, constituting 31.5 hours of learning. A theoretical sample of 17 students was used. In the presentation of the data to follow, each participant is referred to by a letter of the alphabet, from A to Q. Three separate learning tasks were used to elicit the data, which involved individual, pair and group learning scenarios.

This chapter presents the findings from the study, describing the five types of processing and corresponding sub-elements emergent from the coding process (typology of processing), detailing the instances and order of occurrence of the different types of processing, and the frequency of interplay between each type of conscious thought processing during independent learning. All categories of processing and their definitions are provided in Appendix A.

Typology of processing that occurs during independent learning

A typology of five conscious thought processing categories (as illustrated in Table 4.1) has emerged from this study. These categories are cognitive processing, metacognitive processing, affective processing, physical processing, and off-task processing.

Analysis of the data resulted in the following definitions for these concepts within the context of independent learning, as illustrated in Table 4.2.

Table 4.1 Typology of Processing Categories During Independent Learning

Cognitive processing

Metacognitive processing Affective processing Physical processing Off-task processing

Table 4.2 Processing Categories and Their Definitions

Processing Category


Cognitive processing

When learners are engaged with understanding the content of the task or doing the task, but not how to do the task



When the learners are concerned with how learning is or should proceed

Affective processing

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

When learning is interrupted or affected by the learners’ physical state or by the physical environment

Off-task processing

When learning is interrupted by learners becoming distracted by either external or internal factors

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