Metacognition

Research conducted over many years suggests that good metacognition plays a major role in academic success (Brown, Bransford, Ferra & Campione, 1982Kuhn & Dean, 2004Roeschl-Heils, Schneider, & Kraayenoord, 2003Sajjadi, J., Jamaldini, M., Baranzehi, H., & Maghhsoodi, H., 2015Schneider, 2008).
"Metacognition is one’s ability to use prior knowledge to plan a strategy for approaching a learning task, take necessary steps to problem solve, reflect on and evaluate results, and modify one’s approach as needed. It helps learners choose the right cognitive tool for the task and plays a critical role in successful learning" (Teal, 2012, para. 1).

Elements of metacognition

Elements of metacognition include knowledge and regulation (Teal, 2012)Metacognition is also associated with motivation and self-directed learning.

Metacognitive knowledge
"Metacognitive knowledge includes knowledge about oneself as a learner and the factors that might impact performance, knowledge about strategies, and knowledge about when and why to use strategies" (Lai, 2011, p. 2).
Metacognitive knowledge can be divided into three categories; (Goetz, Alexander & Ash, 1992).
  1. Person variables: Knowledge of one's own cognitive characteristics
  2. Task variables: Knowledge of the cognitive demands of the task
  3. Strategy variables: Knowledge of strategies appropriate to cognitive tasks
Metacognitive regulation
"Metacognitive regulation is the monitoring of one’s cognition and includes planning activities, awareness of comprehension and task performance, and evaluation of the efficacy of monitoring processes and strategies" (Lai, 2011, p. 2).
3 essential processes for metacognitive regulation and example questions learners can ask themselves:
  1. Planning ("What am I supposed to learn?")
  2. Monitoring ("Am I on the right track?")
  3. Evaluating ("What did I learn?")
    (Teal, 2012, para. 14).
Cognitive strategies that foster deep thinking and learning include; 1) applying past knowledge to new situations, 2) question and problem posing and 3) thinking about your thinking (Mr G Online, 2012).


Research indicates that metacognitive skills can be improved with practice. However, whilst many teachers implicitly included these processes when teaching, they seldom included explicit teaching in their curriculum for students to learn how to activate their metacognitive processes (OECD, 2014)

The role of metacognitive pedagogies 

IMPROVE is a practical evidence-based metacognitive pedagogy derived from social-cognitive theories. This approach requires students to use self-directed questions to scaffold comprehension, connections, strategic and reflective thinking (OECD, 2014)Example questions include:

  • What is the problem all about?
  • Have I solved problems like that before?
  • What strategies are appropriate for solving the task?
  • Am I stuck? What additional information do I need?

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OECD research (2014) on the role of metacognitive pedagogies in a mathematical educational context identified the following key findings and recommendations that can be applied across many domains:
  • CUN [complex unfamiliar non-routine] problems should be one pillar of all mathematics education in innovation-driven societies, not just for gifted students.
  • Solving such problems requires students to implement metacognitive skills, particularly regulating their thinking through planning, monitoring, control and reflection.
  • Metacognition can be taught in "regular" classrooms with ordinary teachers. Improving metacognitive skills has positive benefits for academic achievement, particularly for CUN problem solving.
  • Students need to be explicitly taught how to activate these processes and given ample opportunity to practice.
  • Given the importance of domain-specific metacognition, learning environments should embed metacognition in the learned content.
  • The self-directed questioning used by most metacognitive pedagogies is an effective way to teach metacognitive skills and can be adapted for use with students at any age and in different disciplines.
  • These methods are most effective when combined with co-operative learning environments, and applied across more than one discipline.
  • Metacognitive pedagogies can also be used effectively within ICT-based learning environments, including asynchronous learning networks, cognitive tools, mobile learning and domain-specific software.
  • Metacognitive guidance can be used to improve social-emotional outcomes such as reducing anxiety or increasing motivation.
  • Metacognitive pedagogies that combine both cognitive and motivational components seem to be more effective than those applying only one component.
  • Teacher professional development programmes should be restructured to emphasise metacognitive processes over content and skills, although more research is needed into how effective teacher training translates into practice.
  • International joint efforts could greatly advance research and development of metacognitive pedagogies aiming at improving schooling outcomes in innovation-driven societies.