Holistic Education Network ...  

Metacognition - Thinking about thinking - Learning to learn

Metacognition refers to higher order thinking that involves active control over the thinking processes involved 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. Because metacognition plays a critical role in successful learning it is important for both students and teachers. Metacognition has been linked with intelligence and it has been shown that those with greater metacognitive abilities tend to be more successful thinkers.

Most definitions of metacognition include both knowledge and strategy components.  Knowledge is considered to be metacognitive if it is actively used in a strategic manner to ensure that a goal is met.  Metacognition is often referred to as "thinking about thinking" and can be used to help students “learn how to learn.”  Cognitive strategies are used to help achieve a particular goal while metacognitive strategies are used to ensure that the goal has been reached.

Metacognitive knowledge involves executive monitoring processes directed at the acquisition of information about thinking processes. They involve decisions that help 

  • to identify the task on which one is currently working, 

  • to check on current progress of that work, 

  • to evaluate that progress, and 

  • to predict what the outcome of that progress will be.  

Metacognitive strategies involve executive regulation processes directed at the regulation of the course of thinking.  They involve decisions that help

  • to allocate resources to the current task, 

  • to determine the order of steps to be taken to complete the task, and 

  • to set the intensity or the speed at which one should work the task.


Livingston, J. (1997) Metacognition: An Overview State Univ. of New York at Buffalo:  http://www.gse.buffalo.edu/fas/shuell/cep564/Metacog.htm

Hacker, D. J. Metacognition:  Definitions and Empirical Foundations  The University of Memphis: http://www.psyc.memphis.edu/trg/meta.htm



METACOGNITION consists of three basic elements:

  • Developing a plan of action
  • Maintaining/monitoring the plan
  • Evaluating the plan

Before - When you are developing the plan of action, ask yourself:

  • What in my prior knowledge will help me with this particular task?
  • In what direction do I want my thinking to take me?
  • What should I do first?
  • Why am I reading this selection?
  • How much time do I have to complete the task?

During - When you are maintaining/monitoring the plan of action, ask yourself:

  • How am I doing?
  • Am I on the right track?
  • How should I proceed?
  • What information is important to remember?
  • Should I move in a different direction?
  • Should I adjust the pace depending on the difficulty?
  • What do I need to do if I do not understand?

After - When you are evaluating the plan of action ask yourself:

  • How well did I do?
  • Did my particular course of thinking produce more or less than I had expected?
  • What could I have done differently?
  • How might I apply this line of thinking to other problems?
  • Do I need to go back through the task to fill in any "blanks" in my understanding?

Excerpted from Strategic Teaching and Reading Project Guidebook. (1995, NCREL, rev. ed.).

More information and research:

Learning to Learn - Metacognition

Some tools for metacognition:

Questions Toolkit

Thinking Hats

Using cognitive organisers - network and concept maps

Systems Thinking

Scientific Critical Thinking

Egan's Thinking Levels

Some on-line tests to assist metacognition ...

Index of Learning Styles Questionnaire

Perceptual Modality preference Survey ---  Institute for Learning Styles Research

Interpersonal Communication Skills Test  

Multiple Intelligences Test -2

Learning to Learn


 HOME    Holistic Education Network of Tasmania, Australia
GPO Box 516, Hobart 7001, Tasmania, Australia             Fax: 03-62242455 International Fax: -61-3-62242455    
Comments to:   HENT2@bigpond.com     and/or     Join join the discussion list

Last updated: September 20, 2004