The Cognition Hypothesis framed by Robinson (2001; 2003; 2005) has generated a large body of research on how varying task complexity may influence second language (L2) production and learning opportunities; however, most of these studies were conducted in a face-to-face setting (e.g. Gilabert 2007; Gilabert, Baron & Llanes 2009; Kim 2009; Michel, Kuiken & Vedder 2007; Nuevo 2006; Nuevo, Adams & Ross-Feldman 2011). As computer-mediated communication becomes more pervasive in educational contexts, research that extends current understandings of principles of second language learning is increasingly important to help learners and teachers understand how best to make use of this technology to promote specific learning goals (see Kern 2006). The role of task complexity in computer-mediated environments may be particularly important, as this may influence how learners commit attentional resources to language processing during communication (Robinson 2005; Skehan 1998). This study examines the role of one task complexity factor, prior knowledge, on second language production in text-based chat. Analysis of the language produced by first language Malay engineering students engaged in text-based chat group tasks in English indicated that prior knowledge of the task subject area had a limited effect on the complexity and accuracy of language production. We conclude with a critical discussion of the applicability of the Cognition Hypothesis to task-based communication via text chat. We also provide suggestions for how L2 tasks can be implemented in computer-mediated contexts in order to promote attention to form, noting that considering language production and learning in CMC tasks challenges task-based theories and requires transformation of research methods and analysis.
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