The Concept of Metacognition Explained

Metacognitive strategies involve thinking about the learning process, planning for learning, monitoring of comprehension while it’s taking place, and self-evaluation of learning.

At some point you might have said to yourself, “I’m going to sit near the front of the class so I won’t fall asleep,” or “I’m beat today. I’d better drink a cup of coffee before I go to class.” If you have, you were being metacognitive.

Metacognition, commonly described as “knowing about knowing,” is our awareness of and control over our cognitive processes. And meta-attention, knowledge of and control over our ability to pay attention, is one type of metacognition.

According to Cariglia-Bull et al. (1987) metacognition helps students to be consciously aware of what they have learned, recognize situations in which it would be useful, and processes involved in using it.

You were aware of the fact that your drowsiness might affect your ability to attend, and you exercised control over it by sitting near the front of the class or drinking a cup of coffee.

Metacognition also explains why we make lists. We realize that we may forget to pick up some items at the store, and we exercise control by writing the items on a list.

Students who are aware of the way they study and learn achieve more than those less so (Kuhn & Dean, 2004). In other words, students who are matacognitive learn more than those who are not, and at least four reasons exist for these differences.

  1. First, students who are aware of the importance of attention are more likely to create effective personal learning environments, which can be as simple as moving to the front of the class or turning off a radio while studying.
  2. Second, learners who are aware of the possibility of misperceptions attempt to find corroborating information or ask if their understanding is accurate.
  3. Third, metacognition helps regulate the flow of information through working memory Opens in new window.

    When you say to yourself, “I’d better write this down or I’ll never remember it,” you are exercising metamomery—knowledge and control of memory strategies. The ability to monitor the processing of information in working memory is essential because of its limited capacity.
  4. Finally, metacognition influences the meaningfulness of encoding. For example, students who are metacognitive about their encoding consciously look for relationships in the topics they study. This influences their study strategies and ultimately how much they learn.

Dimensions of Metacognition

Two dimensions of metacognitive ability have been recognized: Knowledge of cognition, and regulation of cognition (Flavell, 1978).

The first aspect of metacognition, knowledge of cognition, includes the reader’s knowledge about his or her own cognitive resources and the compatibility between the reader and the reading situation.

If a reader is aware of what is needed to perform efficiently, then it is possible to take steps to meet the demands of a reading situation more effectively. If, however, the reader is not aware of his or her own limitations as a reader or of the complexity of the task at hand, then the reader can hardly be expected to take preventative or corrective actions to anticipate or recover from problems.

knowledge about cognition includes three components which have been labeled “declarative,” “procedural,” and “conditional” knowledge (Paris et al., 1983).

Declarative knowledge is propositional knowledge, referring to “knowing what.” A learner may know what a given reading strategy is, for example, s/he may know what summarization is and what summaries are.

Procedural knowledge is “knowing how” to perform various actions, for example, “how to study, how to deal with analogies, or how to write summaries” (Winograd & Hare, 1988, p. 134).

Conditional knowledge refers to “knowing why”, and includes the learner’s understanding the value or rationale for acquiring and using a strategy, and when to use it. Conditional knowledge is necessary if a reader is to know whether or not a certain strategy is appropriate, and whether or not it is working effectively for that learner.

The second aspect of metacognition, the executive or regulatory function refers to when a “higher order process orchestrates and directs other cognitive skills”. This notion of an executive skill is based on an information-processing model Opens in new window of human cognition. In reading, these skills relate to the planning, monitoring, testing, revising, and evaluating of the strategies employed during reading (Baker & Brown, 1984).

As Carrell (1987) has maintained, these self-regulatory metacognitive skills are used in reading for:

Thus, in reading, the two key metacognitive factors, knowledge and control, are concerned respectively with what readers know about their cognitive resources and their regulation. Regulation in reading includes the awareness of and ability to detect contradictions in a text, knowledge of different strategies to use with different text types, and the ability to separate important from unimportant information.