Task complexity as a driver for collaborative learning efficiency: The collective working-memory effect

Authors

  • Femke Kirschner,

    Corresponding author
    1. Centre for Learning Sciences and Technologies, Open University of the Netherlands, Heerlen, The Netherlands
    2. Institute of Psychology, Erasmus University Rotterdam, Rotterdam, The Netherlands
    • Institute of Psychology, Erasmus University Rotterdam, P.O. Box 1738, 3000 DR Rotterdam, The Netherlands.
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  • Fred Paas,

    1. Centre for Learning Sciences and Technologies, Open University of the Netherlands, Heerlen, The Netherlands
    2. Institute of Psychology, Erasmus University Rotterdam, Rotterdam, The Netherlands
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  • Paul A. Kirschner

    1. Centre for Learning Sciences and Technologies, Open University of the Netherlands, Heerlen, The Netherlands
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Summary

This study investigated the differential effects of learning task complexity on both learning process and outcome efficiency of 83 individual and group learners in the domain of biology. Based upon cognitive load theory, it was expected that for high-complexity tasks, group members would learn in a more efficient way than individual learners, while for low-complexity tasks, individual learning would be more efficient. This interaction hypothesis was confirmed, supporting our premise that the learning efficiency of group members and individuals is determined by a trade-off between the group's advantage of dividing information processing amongst the collective working memories of the group members and its disadvantage in terms of associated costs of information communication and action coordination. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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