Learners spend more time in sustained periods of cognition when the task is less complex (where the task has less elements, not necessarily lesser difficulty) and more time moving between cognition and metacognition when the task is more complex

This was seen in this study where participants had to undertake different learning tasks. One of the tasks required groups of learners to read and understand an academic text, and then give a presentation about the text. While students were reading the text, they remained in cognitive processing for long periods when they were engaged in the less complex (though difficult) part of the task, reading and understanding the text. This pattern was also apparent in another individual task, where students had to read about a company in order to prepare for a job interview (they spent sustained periods in cognitive processing as they read). In both cases, as soon as the task became more complex, there was more movement between cognition and metacognition. For the group task, before and after reading, students were faced with many elements - who should read what and how long should be spent on reading, on discussion, and on writing the presentation. In the individual task, after reading, students had to think about what questions to prepare to answer in the interview, which elements of the company information were most important to commit to memory, what personal attributes to discuss in relations to the company’s needs and more. The more complex the task, or part of task, the more the movement between cognition and metacognition and the greater the time spent in metacognitive processing.

The complex manner in which processing occurs during independent learning highlights the individualised nature of learning, the complexity of group dynamics and cultural context and the impacts of these factors on processing during independent learning

The data set in this study, although conducted with a very specific participant population, shows significant variations in the processing pathways during independent learning. Some learners were very focused, and others less so. Some were concerned with excellence and others with adequate completion. Some were facing personal issues which affected their ability to learn, while others were not, or their issues did not affect their learning. Some were confident in their ability, while others were not. Each individual brought their ‘unique self’ to the learning tasks, and this created different movements upon the learning processing pathways and the degree of success of those pathways.

In the same way, independent group learning situations are made up of groups of‘unique selves’, whose interactions are complex. The data in this study showed dominant learners controlling social processing, both with positive and negative outcomes. It showed more passive learners cooperating rather than collaborating in metacognitive activity. It showed how the affective state or mood of individual learners can impact the affective state of the group and how this can be controlled for by the group (or members of the group).

The participants in this study were Japanese tertiary students in Japan. Their cultural context and prior learning experiences which are borne in and of this context contain more didactic modes of learning than some Western educational situations, and this impacts their ILEs. It may be the case that learners with a less didactic learning background might have greater familiarity and confidence with ILEs, while those with an even more didactic experience might find ILEs even more troublesome.

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