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Metacognition: The Importance of Learning about Learning

Posted in Ed Tech 101 on February 9, 2014 by

Metacognition is defined as knowledge about cognition or “knowing about knowing.” It refers to thinking that enables the understanding, analysis, and regulation of thought processes. In school, metacognition often takes the form of self-reflective papers and journal writing.

Metacognition has been in the vocabulary of psychologists and education scholars for decades. Still, the term is difficult to define precisely. While some educators refer to metacognitive activity as anything that involves reinforcement of learning (outlining of thoughts, peer review, discussion), others define it more strictly as in-depth self-reflective activity concerning learning strategies and habits, memory, and comprehension.

According to some scholars, most metacognitive research falls into the following categories:

  1. Metamemory: learners’ knowledge of their own memory
  2. Metacomprehension: learners’ knowledge of their own comprehension (and lack of it)
  3. Self-regulation: learners’ ability to self-habituate and monitor their own learning process

Carnegie Mellon professor Dr. Marsha Lovett identifies the three major steps in teaching metacognition as:

  1. Teaching students that their ability to learn is mutable;
  2. Teaching planning and goal-setting; and
  3. Giving students ample opportunities to practice monitoring their learning and adapting as necessary.

The goal of teaching metacognition is to equip students with the tools necessary to monitor their own learning. They can create goals for themselves, attempt to meet those goals, and revise their plan of action if something goes awry. (Check out a complete podcast and video of Lovett’s presentation on Educause’s website.)

Metacognition can be used to help students master all subjects. For example, while tackling a reading assignment, a student can monitor his own comprehension by questioning the text and effectively taking notes along the way. To prepare for a writing assignment, a student can brainstorm using popular models like word webs and graphic organizers. In math class, students can use mnemonic devices for memorization, such as Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally for the order of operations.

Metacognition is particularly effective when integrated with technology. Students can use graphic design programs to create diagrams and organizers. They can communicate on social networks or in collaborative documents while doing their homework to share thoughts and ideas on the assignments. Some teachers even require their students to keep blogs, so they can record what they know, what they want to know, and what they’ve learned, and easily share that process with their peers.

Some topics related to metacognition include:

Student-Centered Learning

Classroom Management

Differentiated Instruction

Student Agency

Multiple Intelligences Theory