Cutting Edge > Metacognition > Introduction

Metacognition

Anatomy of the human brain. Image from the National Institutes of Health; public domain.

This summary was compiled by Carol Ormand, SERC.

Metacognition is broadly defined as thinking about thinking, and includes activities such as

  • Learning about how people learn
  • Developing an awareness of one's own learning processes
  • Monitoring one's learning strategies and assessing their effectiveness (this is called self-regulation, self-monitoring, or self-assessment)
  • Consciously managing one's own motivation and attitudes toward learning
  • Making adjustments to one's learning strategies when appropriate

High-performing students engage in metacognitive activities, monitoring and adjusting their learning strategies (Lovett, 2008). Fortunately, these self-regulating behaviors can be taught, resulting in improved classroom performance (Lovett, 2008; Weinstein et al., 2000).

Metacognition can be learned

A person's ability to learn is mutable, not fixed. In fact, understanding this fact alone can have a profound impact on students' learning (Lovett, 2008). Teaching our students to be strategic learners is therefore one of the most valuable skills we can give them. Courses focusing on students' application of effective learning strategies can improve students' performance in those courses, but can also improve long-term performance and retention of students considered to be at risk (Lovett, 2008; Weinstein et al., 2000). Surprisingly, self-regulating and adaptive behaviors can be taught in minimal class time (literally a matter of minutes over the course of a semester) and students quickly learn to apply these behaviors without prompting (Lovett, 2008). Once the behaviors are internalized, students continue to use them but focus their attention on the content they are learning. The page on teaching metacognition summarizes the key factors in teaching metacognition and offers a few strategies for doing so.

Definitions

Learning Strategies "include any thoughts, behaviors, beliefs, or emotions that facilitate the acquisition, understanding, or later transfer of new knowledge and skills" (Weinstein et al, 2000). Learning strategies are most effective when students can make informed choices about which strategies to use in particular learning situations. This requires that learners have both procedural and conditional knowledge about specific strategies. Procedural knowledge involves knowing how to use a particular learning strategy; conditional knowledge is knowing under what circumstances it is appropriate to use that strategy.
Self-Regulation includes monitoring and reflecting on one's learning strategies and their effectiveness and adjusting accordingly. It also includes monitoring one's affective state while learning and managing it if necessary.

References Cited

You may also wish to visit the selected references page.

Lovett, M. (2008). Teaching Metacognition. (more info) Presentation at the Educause Learning Initiative 2008 annual meeting.

Weinstein, C. E., Husman, J., & Dierking, D. R. (2000). Self-Regulation Interventions with a Focus on Learning Strategies. Chapter 22 in the Handbook of Self-Regulation, M. Boekaerts, P.R. Pintrich & M. Zeidner (eds.), Academic Press, p. 727-747.


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