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Metacognition can be considered a synonym for reflection in applied learning theory. However, metacognition is a very complex phenomenon. It refers to the cognitive control and monitoring of all sorts of cognitive processes like perception, action, memory, reasoning or emoting. It is also plausible that control over such cognitive processes can be either exiplit (people are aware of it, i.e. they have "epistemic feelings" or infer things) or implicit (they don't reflect).

See also:

Below, a few definitions:

  • Both metacognition and reflection are considered in educational psychology texts to be concerned with the process of monitoring, regulating and controlling an individuals thinking about their thinking. It is useful to consider reflection as the verb of the process of thinking about thinking whereas metacognition is the adjective used to describe the awareness of thinking. (D. Daniels, 2002)
  • Metacognition = thinking about one's thinking processes. It has to do with the active monitoring and regulation of cognitive processes. (Unesco Learning without frontiers)
  • Metacognition is “knowledge about executive control systems”and the “evaluation (of) cognitive states such as self appraisal and self management” (Brown, 1996).
  • Metacognition is defined in the Mayer text as knowledge and awareness of one's own cognitive processes (Mayer,2003 100) ([1])
  • Metacognition is "knowledge or beliefs about factors affecting one's own cognitive activities; also reflection on a monitoring of one's own cognitive processes, such as memory or comprehension" (ERIC Descriptors: 190).
  • Metacognition plays an important role in student's learning strategies:
    • More technically, metacognition is the ability to evaluate one's own comprehension and understanding of subject matter and use that evaluation to predict how well one might perform on a task ([2])
    • This is the process where the student takes conscious control of the learning.The learner thinks about how he is thinking in a cognitive sense. For example, the learner is using metacognition if he realizes that he is having more trouble learning how to complete a fraction problem than a multiplication problem. (Monica Schott, Rich Environments for Active Learning)
    • An awareness and understanding of how one thinks and uses strategies during reading and writing ([3])

Metacognition types

“"Metacognition" is often simply defined as "thinking about thinking." In actuality, defining metacognition is not that simple” (Livingston)

Flavell's typology

According to Flavell (1979, 1987) cited by Livingston (1977), metacognition consists of both metacognitive knowledge and metacognitive experiences or regulation.

(1) Metacognitive knowledge according to Livingston (1977):

  1. Knowledge of person variables: general knowledge about how human beings learn and process information, as well as individual knowledge of one's own learning processes
  2. Knowledge of task variables: knowledge about the nature of the task as well as the type of processing demands that it will place upon the individual.
  3. Knowledge of strategy variables: knowledge about both cognitive and metacognitive strategies, as well as conditional knowledge about when and where it is appropriate to use such strategies

(2) Metacognitive regulation according to Livingston (1977):

Metacognitive strategies are sequential processes that one uses to control cognitive activities, and to ensure that a cognitive goal (e.g., understanding a text) has been met. See self-regulation.

Types of strategies

Quoted from Blakey (1990): Metacognition is thinking about thinking, knowing "what we know" and "what we don't know." Just as an executive's job is management of an organization, a thinker's job is management of thinking. The basic metacognitive strategies are:

  1. Connecting new information to former knowledge.
  2. Selecting thinking strategies deliberately.
  3. Planning, monitoring, and evaluating thinking processes. (Dirkes, 1985)

Knowledge types

Paris, Cross, and Lipson (1984) describe three aspects of this self-control of strategies for learning.

  • declarative knowledge: the ability to describe some thinking strategies;
  • procedural knowledge: knowledge of how to use the selected strategy;
  • conditional knowledge: knowledge of when to use it.

Process-oriented definition

According to NCREL:

  1. Developing the plan: Questions like "What knowledge will help me doing it ?", "What should I do first ?, " Why am I reading this ?"
  2. Implementing and maintaining the plan: Questions like "How am I doing ?", "How should I got further?", "What should I change since I am stuck ?"
  3. Evaluating the plan: Questions like "How well did I manage ?", "What can I learn from it ? ..

Another similar definition is put forth by Wilson (1999)

  1. Metacognitive Awareness relates to an individual's awareness of where they are in the learning process, their knowledge about content knowledge, personal learning strategies, and what has been done and needs to be done.
  2. Metacognitive Evaluation refers to judgements made regarding one's thinking capacities and limitations as these are employed in a particular situation or as self-attributes. For example, individuals could be making a judgement on the effectiveness of their thinking and/or strategy choice.
  3. Metacognitive Regulation occurs when individuals modify their thinking.

Levels of Metacognition

According to NCREL, Swartz and Perkins (1989) distinguish four levels of thought that are increasingly metacognitive:

  1. Tacit Use. The individual does a kind of thinking--say decision making--without thinking about it.
  2. Aware Use. The individual does that kind of thinking conscious that and when he or she is doing so.
  3. Strategic Use. The individual organizes his or her thinking by way of particular conscious strategies that enhance its efficacy.
  4. Reflective Use. The indidvidual reflects upon his or her thinking before and after--or even in the middle of--the process, pondering how to proceed and how to improve." (p.52)

Metacognition vs. cognition

Metacognition is defined as "thinking about thinking" and therefore not the same as an ordinary cognitive strategy or learning strategy, even if it is not always easy to separate them conceptually.

“Cognitive strategies are used to help an individual achieve a particular goal (e.g., understanding a text) while metacognitive strategies are used to ensure that the goal has been reached (e.g., quizzing oneself to evaluate one's understanding of that text). Metacognitive experiences usually precede or follow a cognitive activity. They often occur when cognitions fail, such as the recognition that one did not understand what one just read.” (Livingston, 1977).

A definition by an example

(in french)

Partons d'un exemple pour tenter de mieux comprendre la notion de stratégie métacognitive. L'élève qui prend des notes lors d'un cours oral va mettre en oeuvre des stratégies cognitives qui lui permettront de transcrire le message oral sous une forme synthétique en veillant à dégager les idées principales, les liens entre ces idées, la structure d'ensemble du discours...

A l'issue de la prise de notes interviendra, pour certains élèves, ce qu'on appelle un jugement métacognitif qui consiste à évaluer si les notes dont on dispose sont suffisantes pour préparer l'examen. Suite à un jugement négatif à ce niveau, va se mettre en place une phase de régulation métacognitive qui aboutira à identifier différentes stratégies cognitives susceptibles d'améliorer l'état des notes: revoir ses notes pour en améliorer la structuration, compléter ses notes à partir des notes d'un condisciple ou d'un enregistrement sonore du discours du professeur, consulter des ouvrages sur le sujet.

Comme l'illustre cet exemple, l'idée de "méta" qui accompagne le qualificatif cognitif fait référence au fait que les stratégies cognitives vont conduire à porter un jugement ou à réguler l'application des stratégies cognitives. Si on accepte ce rôle de contrôle continu des processus cognitifs joué par les stratégies métacognitives, on comprend aisément pourquoi on accorde aujourd'hui autant d'intérêt à ce type de stratégies.

(Depover & et al.)

Assessing metacognition


If metacognition is to be taught then it follows that an assessment of metacognitive activity will need to be performed.

At CRESST (Center for Research on Evaluation, Standard, and Student Testing at UCLA) publishes handbooks for creating assessment materials to assess performance in a range of learning types. Metacognition is one of the learning types defined in their proposed CRESST learning model.

Two approaches are used to gather information on metacognitive processes. For domain-dependent metacognition think aloud protocols to reveal insights into thought processes For domain-independent metacognition information is gathered through questionnaires and self-reporting.

...(more assessment models needed)


  • Any sort of web-technology where students and teachers can write can do to some extent, e.g. a webserver, a blog or a wiki, a C3MS, a learning e-portfolio, etc.



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