Individual and group-based learning from complex cognitive tasks: Effects on retention and transfer efficiency

Femke Kirschner*, Fred Paas, Paul A. Kirschner

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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    The effects of individual versus group learning (in triads) on efficiency of retention and transfer test performance in the domain of biology (heredity) among 70 high-school students were investigated. Applying cognitive load theory, the limitations of the working memory capacity at the individual level were considered an important reason to assign complex learning tasks to groups rather than to individuals. It was hypothesized that groups will have more processing capacity available for relating the information elements to each other and by doing so for constructing higher quality cognitive schemata than individuals if the high cognitive load imposed by complex learning tasks could be shared among group members. In contrast, it was expected that individuals who learn from carrying out the same complex tasks would need all available processing capacity for remembering the interrelated information elements, and, consequently, would not be able to allocate resources to working with them. This interaction hypothesis was confirmed by the data on efficiency of retention and transfer test performance; there was a favorable relationship between mental effort and retention test performance for the individual learners as opposed to a favorable relationship between transfer test performance and mental effort for the students who learned in groups.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)306-314
    JournalComputers in Human Behavior
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - Mar 2009


    • Collaborative learning
    • Individual learning
    • Learning efficiency
    • Task complexity
    • Transfer performance
    • Cognitive Load


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