British Journal of Educational Psychology

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Theorizing and researching levels of processing in self‐regulated learning

Background

Deep versus surface knowledge is widely discussed by educational practitioners. A corresponding construct, levels of processing, has received extensive theoretical and empirical attention in learning science and psychology. In both arenas, lower levels of information and shallower levels of processing are predicted and generally empirically demonstrated to limit knowledge learners gain, curtail what they can do with newly acquired knowledge, and shorten the life span of recently acquired knowledge.

Purpose

I recapitulate major accounts of levels or depth of information and information processing to set a stage for conceptualizing, first, self‐regulated learning (SRL) from this perspective and, second, how a “levels‐sensitive” approach might be implemented in research about SRL.

Method

I merge the levels construct into a model of SRL (Winne, 2011, Handbook of self‐regulation of learning and performance (pp. 15–32), New York: Routledge; Winne, 2017b, Handbook of self‐regulation of learning and performance (2nd ed.), New York: Routledge; Winne & Hadwin, 1998, Metacognition in educational theory and practice (pp. 277–304). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum) conceptually and with respect to operationally defining the levels construct in the context of SRL in relation to each of the model's four phases – surveying task conditions, setting goals and planning, engaging the task, and composing major adaptations for future tasks. Select illustrations are provided for each phase of SRL. Regarding phase 3, a software system called nStudy is introduced as state‐of‐the‐art instrumentation for gathering fine‐grained, time‐stamped trace data about information learners select for processing and operations they use to process that information.

Conclusions

Self‐regulated learning can be viewed through a lens of the levels construct, and operational definitions can be designed to research SRL with respect to levels. While information can be organized arbitrarily deeply, the levels construct may not be particularly useful for distinguishing among processes except in a sense that, because processes in SRL operate on information with depth, they epiphenomenally acquire characteristics of levels. Thus, SRL per se is not a deeper kind of processing. Instead, it is processing more complex – deeper – information about a different topic, namely processes for learning.

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