Visit the Learning to Learn Home Page to learn about all of the strategies in the series.

What is metacognition?

How does metacognition help?

In simple terms, metacognition is thinking about one’s thinking. In an educational context, it is students’ awareness and understanding of their own strengths and weaknesses as learners and their ability to adapt accordingly to be more successful learners. Metacognition involves active control over the cognitive processes engaged in learning. Novices tend to think more like experts when they recognize their strengths and weaknesses as learners. Self-monitoring and self-regulation, important metacognitive processes, lead to better goal-setting, planning, implementation of plans, monitoring of progress toward goals and, generally, better adaptation of learning strategies. Metacognitive practices increase students’ ability to determine how to expand their knowledge and transfer that knowledge to new contexts. Recent studies show that these practices can be taught and learned. Students should understand that their ability to be self-regulated learners can improve with practice. Metacongnition is applicable to a single class session, a homework assignment, an exam, or an entire course.

What are some strategies for metacognition?

Planning, monitoring, and evaluating are important elements of metacognition. In “Promoting Student Metacognition,” Tanner (2012) offers the following specific activities that can be incorporated into courses:

  • Preassessments - Encouraging Students to Examine Their Current Thinking: “What do I already know about this topic that could guide my learning?”
  • The Muddiest Point - Giving Students Practice in Identifying Confusions: “What was most confusing to me about the material explored in class today?”
  • Retrospective Postassessments - Pushing Students to Recognize Conceptual Change: ““How is my thinking changing (or not changing) over time?”
  • Reflective Journals - Providing a Forum in Which Students Monitor Their Own Thinking: “What about my exam preparation worked well that I should remember to do next time? What did not work so well that I should not do next time or that I should change?”

How do we inspire students to be metacognitive?

Strategy Toolkit for Instructors

Below are useful resources that can be used during class to encourage students to incorporate Learning to Learn strategies in their studies. The Toolkit includes links to more information about a specific strategy as well as the Learning to Learn Blog which provides an opportunity to engage in lively discussion with colleagues about creative ways to promote effective learning strategies for your students.