Successful learning depends in part on the learner having awareness, knowledge and control of their cognitive processes, so they can be used effectively.  This awareness, knowledge and control is often referred to as Metacognition.  The term literally means “thinking about thinking”, or having knowledge about cognition and control of cognitions.  Metacognition is the ability to be aware of your own learning processes, as well as knowing what works best for you. It means being able to recognize whether you are learning the information you are studying, and knowing how to improve your learning. Many students think about metacognition as their “inner coach,” their awareness and knowledge of how they learn and how they will control the process.

Awareness involves being attentive about what learning strategy you should use and how to use it. Setting goals for yourself would be a good way to be aware of the tasks you have on hand.

Knowledge involves knowing about how you learn under different conditions, for example, when you need to accomplish different types of learning tasks. Having this type of knowledge will help you understand and identify a learning strategy that would suit you best. For example, knowing when you would need to apply a different learning strategy to study vocabulary words, and another strategy to study the human body system is considered knowledge in metacognition. This knowledge includes:

  • Having knowledge about oneself as a learner
  • Having knowledge about aspects of the task at hand
  • Knowing what strategies are needed to carry out the task effectively

Control is the ability to plan, organize and manage your learning. For example, before preparing for an upcoming test, you might first make a study schedule and set goals. Control also involves monitoring your own progress. You can do this by asking yourself questions like “Have I understood the information I am studying?” or “Am I keeping up with my study plan and goals?” To do this, you must first identify the learning strategy that works best with the information you need to learn. The control aspect usually refers to using control strategies such as:

  • Planning how to approach a task
  • Evaluating progress
  • Changing tactics if difficulties arise

When students have knowledge and control of their own cognitive processes, learning is enhanced.

Metacognition plays a particularly important role in promoting the transfer of learning.  Students can more readily apply knowledge acquired in one context to another context if they have more awareness of themselves as learners, if they can monitor their strategies and resources, and if they assess their readiness for tests and other performances.

Metacognitive growth is gradual throughout childhood, adolescence and into adulthood.  It is not simply something one has or does not have.  Metacognition is not a unitary construct, nor is the application of metacognitive strategy all or nothing.  There are degrees of effectiveness with which strategies can be applied.

The evidence is clear that improvements in metacognition can improve learning, however, the relationship is not unidirectional, but rather reciprocal.  Improvements in metacognition contribute to improvements in learning, which in turn contribute to further improvements in metacognition.

How is metacognition developed and promoted? Prompting students to reflect on their own thinking is in fact inducing metacognition.  One way to foster the development of metacognition is to ask students what they know or what they do while engaging in particular cognitive activities. While there are some limitations to verbal reports due to the fact that there is often a difference between what people say they do and whey they actually do, this approach can be an effective first step.  Academic coaching is a helpful and an effective approach to assisting students in developing their metacognitive skills and stay on track.  At Evoke we help students set and achieve their academic goals and find balance. Our clients are challenged to identify needs and create solutions. They are given support in organizing and completing tasks. Central to the coaching effort is regular contact to set weekly goals, identify road blocks to achieving objectives and creating plans of action.