Metacognition is the knowledge (i.e. awareness) of one's cognitive processes and the efficient use of this self-awareness to self-regulate these cognitive processes (e.g. Brown, 1987; Niemi, 2002; Shimamura, 2000). It is traditionally defined as the knowledge and experiences we have about our own cognitive processes (Flavell 1979). Writings on metacognition can be traced back at least as far as De Anima and the Parva Naturalia of the Greek philosopher Aristotle.
J. H. Flavell (1976, p 232) first used the word ”metacognition”. He describes it in these words: “Metacognition refers to one’s knowledge concerning one’s own cognitive processes or anything related to them, e.g., the learning-relevant properties of information or data. For example, I am engaging in metacognition if I notice that I am having more trouble learning A than B; if it strikes me that I should double check C before accepting it as fact.”
Metacognition is classified into three components:
- Metacognitive knowledge (also called metacognitive awareness) is what individuals know about themselves and others as cognitive processors.
- Metacognitive regulation is the regulation of cognition and learning experiences through a set of activities that help people control their learning.
- Metacognitive experiences are those experiences that have something to do with the current, on-going cognitive endeavor.
Metacognition refers to a level of thinking that involves active control over the process of thinking that is used in learning situations. Planning the way to approach a learning task, monitoring comprehension, and evaluating the progress towards the completion of a task: these are skills that are metacognitive in their nature. Similarly, maintaining motivation to see a task to completion is also a metacognitive skill. The ability to become aware of distracting stimuli – both internal and external – and sustain effort over time also involves metacognitive or executive functions. The theory that metacognition has a critical role to play in successful learning means it is important that it be demonstrated by both students and teachers. Students who demonstrate a wide range of metacognitive skills perform better on exams and complete work more efficiently. They are self-regulated learners who utilize the "right tool for the job" and modify learning strategies and skills based on their awareness of effectiveness. Individuals with a high level of metacognitive knowledge and skill identify blocks to learning as early as possible and change "tools" or strategies to ensure goal attainment. The metacognologist is aware of their own strengths and weaknesses, the nature of the task at hand, and available "tools" or skills. A broader repertoire of "tools" also assists in goal attainment. When "tools" are general, generic, and context independent, they are more likely to be useful in different types of learning situations.
Another distinction in metacognition is executive management and strategic knowledge. Executive management processes involve planning, monitoring, evaluating and revising one's own thinking processes and products. Strategic knowledge involves knowing what (factual or declarative knowledge), knowing when and why (conditional or contextual knowledge) and knowing how (procedural or methodological knowledge). Both executive management and strategic knowledge metacognition are needed to self-regulate one's own thinking and learning (Hartman, 2001).
Finally, there is a distinction between domain general and domain-specific metacognition. Domain general refers to metacognition which transcends particular subject or content areas, such as setting goals. Domain specific refers to metacognition which is applied in particular subject or content areas, such as editing an essay or verifying one's answer to a mathematics problem.
Relation to sapience
Metacognologists believe that the ability to consciously think about thinking is unique to sapient
species and indeed is one of the definitions of sapience
. There is evidence that monkeys and apes can make accurate judgments about the strengths of their memories of fact, while attempts to demonstrate metacognition in birds have been inconclusive. A 2007 study has provided some evidence for metacognition in rats.
Different fields define metacognition very differently. Metacognition variously refers to the study of memory-monitoring and self-regulation, meta-reasoning
. In practice these capacities are used to regulate one's own cognition, to maximize one's potential to think, learn
and to the evaluation of proper ethical
In the domain of experimental psychology, an influential distinction in metacognition (proposed by T. O. Nelson & L. Narens) is between Monitoring--making judgments about the strength of one's memories--and Control--using those judgments to guide behavior (in particular, to guide study choices). Dunlosky, Serra, and Baker (2007) covered this distinction in a recent review of metamemory research that focused on how findings from this domain can be applied to other areas of applied research.
Metacognition is studied in the domain of artificial intelligence and modeling. Therefore it is the domain of interest of emergent systemics.
The metacognitive-like processes are ubiquitous; especially, when it comes to the discussion of self-regulated learning
. Being engaged in metacognition is a salient feature of good self-regulated learners. The activities of strategy selection and application include those concerned with an ongoing attempt to plan, check, monitor, select, revise, evaluate, etc. Metacognition is 'stable' in that learners' initial decisions derive from the pertinent fact about their cognition through years of learning experience. Simultaneously, it is also 'situated' in the sense that it depends on learners' familiarity with the task, motivation, emotion, and so forth. Individuals need to regulate their thoughts about the strategy they are using and adjust it based on the situation the strategy is applied to.
Recently, this notion has been applied to the study of second language learners in the field of TESOL and applied linguistics in general (e.g., Wenden, 1987; Zhang, 2001). This new development has been much related to Flavell (1979), where the notion of metacognition is elaborated within a tripartite theoretical framework. Learner metacognition is defined and investigated by examining their person knowledge, task knowledge and strategy knowledge. Wenden (1991) has proposed and used this framework and Zhang (2001) has adopted this approach and investigated second language learners' metacognition or metacognitive knowledge. In addition to exploring the relationships between learner metacognition and performance, researchers are also interested in the effects of metacognitively-oriented strategic instruction on reading comprehension (e.g., Garner, 1994, in first language contexts, and Chamot, 2005). The efforts are aimed at developing learner autonomy, independence and self-regulation.
Strategies for promoting metacognition include self-questioning (e.g. "What do I already know about this topic? How have I solved problems like this before?"), thinking aloud while performing a task, and making graphic representations (e.g. concept maps, flow charts, semantic webs) of one's thoughts and knowledge.
- Barell, J. (1992), “Like an incredibly hard algebra problem: Teaching for metacognition” In A. L. Costa, J. A. Bellanca, & R. Fogarty (eds.) If minds matter: A foreword to the future, Volume I (pp. 257-266). Palatine, IL: IRI/Skylight Publishing, Inc.
- Beck, G. M. (1998) The Impact of a Prescriptive Curriculum on the Development of Higher Order Thinking Skills in Children, Unpublished MA dissertation, University of Leicester.
- Brown, A. (1987). Metacognition, executive control, self control, and other mysterious mechanisms. In F. Weinert and R. Kluwe (Eds.), Metacognition, Motivation, and Understanding (pp. 65-116). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
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- Chamot, A. (2005). The Cognitive Academic Language Learning Approach (CALLA): An update. In P. Richard-Amato and M. Snow (eds), Academic Success for English Language Learners (pp. 87-101). White Plains, NY: Longman.
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- Flavell, J. H. (1979). Metacognition and cognitive monitoring: A new area of cognitive-developmental inquiry. American Psychologist, v34 n10 p906-11 Oct 1979.
- Hartman, H. J. (2001). Metacognition in Learning and Instruction: Theory, Research and Practice. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers
- Niemi, H. (2002) Active learning--a cultural change needed in teacher education and schools. Teaching and Teacher Education, 18, 763-780.
- Shimamura, A. P. (2000). Toward a cognitive neuroscience of metacognition. Consciousness and Cognition, 9, 313-323.
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- Wenden, A. L. (1987). Metacognition: An expanded view on the cognitive abilities of L2 learners. Language Learning, 37 (4), 573-594.
- Wenden, A. (1991). Learner Strategies for Learner Autonomy. London: Prentice Hall.
- Zhang, L. J. (2001). Awareness in reading: EFL students' metacognitive knowledge of reading strategies in an input-poor environment. Language Awareness, 11 (4), 268-288.
- The International Association for Metacognition
- Metacognition in Learning Concepts
- Buffalo.edu - 'Metacognition: An Overview', Jennifer A. Livingston, (1997)
- apa.org - 'Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One's Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments', Justin Kruger, David Dunning, Cornell University, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, vol 77, no 6, p 1121-1134, American Psychological Association (1999)
- UIUC.edu - 'Metacognitive knowledge'
- 'Metacognition in Computation overview, links'
- Developing Metacognition. ERIC Digest.
- Workshops on Metacognition and Self-Regulated Learning in Educational Technology