Background: Complexity models have provided a suitable framework in various domains to assess students’ educational achievement. Complexity is often used as the analytical focus when regarding learning outcomes, i.e. when analyzing written tests or problem-centered interviews. Numerous studies reveal negative correlations between the complexity of a task and the probability of a student solving it.
Purpose: Thus far, few detailed investigations explore the importance of complexity in actual classroom lessons. Moreover, the few efforts made so far revealed inconsistencies. Hence, the present study sheds light on the influence the complexity of students’ and teachers’ class contributions have on students’ learning outcomes.
Sample: Videos of 10 German 8th grade physics courses covering three consecutive lessons on two topics each (electricity, mechanics) have been analyzed. The sample includes 10 teachers and 290 students.
Design and methods: Students’ and teachers’ verbal contributions were coded manual-based according to the level of complexity. Additionally, pre-post testing of knowledge in electricity and mechanics was applied to assess the students’ learning gain. ANOVA analysis was used to characterize the influence of the complexity on the learning gain.
Results: Results indicate that the mean level of complexity in classroom contributions explains a large portion of variance in posttest results on class level. Despite this overarching trend, taking classroom activities into account as well reveals even more finegrained patterns, leading to more specific relations between the complexity in the classroom and students’ achievement.
Conclusions: In conclusion, we argue for more reflected teaching approaches intended to gradually increase class complexity to foster students’ level of competency.