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Students' exploration strategies in computer-simulated complex problem environments: A latent class approach

, University of Luxembourg, Luxembourg ; , University of Szeged, Hungary ; , University of Luxembourg, Luxembourg ; , Psychologische Hochschule Berlin, Germany ; , MTA-SZTE Research Group on the Development of Competencies, Hungary

Computers & Education Volume 126, Number 1, ISSN 0360-1315 Publisher: Elsevier Ltd


Complex problem solving (CPS) is considered an important educational achievement indicator. Previous research has indicated that CPS performance depends to a substantial extent on the way students explore problem environments. In this study, we investigated qualitative differences in the way students interact with such environments. In a sample of N = 2226 Hungarian students in Grades 6 to 8, we applied a latent class approach to investigate the use of the principle of isolated variation as an exploration strategy across six CPS tasks that were developed within the MicroDYN approach. Six qualitatively different class profiles emerged: proficient explorers, intermediate explorers, low-performing explorers, rapid learners, emerging explorers, and nonpersisting explorers. We further validated the profiles by comparing the latent classes with regard to students' overall CPS performance and additional indicators of task exploration. In analyzing age-related and gender differences on a cross-sectional level, we found only a small progression toward better performing class profiles from Grade 6 to Grade 8 (e.g., 14.6% of students in Grade 6 were proficient explorers vs. 24.6% in Grade 8; 27.1% of students in Grade 6 were low-performing explorers vs. 25.8% in Grade 8), and there were no substantial gender differences. This study contributes to the understanding of how students interact with complex problems and is the first to address whether variations in these behaviors indicate qualitatively different levels of strategic behavior. We discuss the theoretical underpinnings and potential of identifying class profiles of students' exploration behavior in the field of educational psychology.


Greiff, S., Molnár, G., Martin, R., Zimmermann, J. & Csapó, B. (2018). Students' exploration strategies in computer-simulated complex problem environments: A latent class approach. Computers & Education, 126(1), 248-263. Elsevier Ltd. Retrieved June 4, 2020 from .

This record was imported from Computers & Education on January 31, 2019. Computers & Education is a publication of Elsevier.

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