MetaCognition – What is it? What’s its use in Adult Education?

What is Metacognition?

According to Jennifer A. Livingston (source: http://gse.buffalo.edu/fas/shuell/cep564/metacog.htm), ” Metacognition refers to higher order thinking which involves active control over the cognitive processes engaged in learning. Activities such as planning how to approach a given learning task, monitoring comprehension, and evaluating progress toward the completion of a task are metacognitive in nature.” Essentially, it’s thinking about thinking.

Dave Mitchell, Founder of the Leadership Difference, briefly explains what metacognition is in the following video.

To summarize, he states that it’s the process of thinking about how things become part of long term memory, so that it can be recalled and transformed into knowledge.

Psychology and Society (source: http://www.psychologyandsociety.com/metacognition.html) gives four examples of metacognition:

  1. A person learns about his or her own style of learning.
  2. A person learns about what things help him or her to remember facts, names, and events.
  3. A person becomes aware of his or her own biases in judging others.
  4. A person learns about what strategies are the most effective in solving certain problems.   

How do you Incorporate Metacognitive Strategies in the Classroom?


Dr. Saundra McGuire (in the video above)advises that to promote Metacognitive abilities in students, we can ask students to….

  • come up with analogies in everyday life that relate to course concepts
  • develop an approach to teach the content
  • specify the learning strategies they will apply to learn the material

Do some of these points remind you of something? It certainly reminded me of the Jigsaw Strategy discussed previously as Jigsaw requires that students come up with an approach to teaching a topic to their classmates.

In my own virtual classrooms, I like to use scenario-based questions in helping me develop metacognition in learners. For example, an instructor may ask a student the following question, “Your colleague needs a report that would provide a cross-section of information. How would you approach creating and sharing this report with your colleague?” These questions aren’t the metacognitive part of the activity. The metacognitive part of the activity would be the instructor asking aftewards, “What was your approach in solving this scenario? Why did you approach it this way? What does it tell you about how you learn? What previous experiences have guided you to approach it in this way?”

Journalling would be an an excellent mode for this activity as it requires students to reflect deeply about their learning styles.

Another thing educators can do is to provide students with quizzes about learning styles such as this one: http://www.vark-learn.com/english/page.asp?p=questionnaire. These tests let students know if they are primarily visual, aural, reader/writer, or kinesthetic type learners. Once such a test is taken, the educator can empower students and ask them to be aware of how they plan to learn course concepts based on their learning style. For example, let’s say that in my own classroom, I asked my students to create an analogy for different forms of sampling in market research. Based on what students have learned about their learning styles from the the quiz, they can either create a drawing depicting their metaphor, tell a story, write a short journal entry, or act out their metaphor in a skit — this coincides with visual, aural, reader/writer, and kinesthetics.

Benefits of Developing Metacognition in Adult Learners

According to Dr.Saundra McGuire in the video above, metacognition means that students are active learners rather than passive learners. We know the benefits of that from previous posts. She also implies that it empowers students as they have more control over their learning process.

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