Have you ever struggled with learning something new or retaining information for the long term? It'sIt's time to take control of your learning process by developing your metacognitive skills. In this post, we'll explore what metacognition is, why it's important for learning, and strategies for developing metacognitive skills.
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What is Metacognition?
Simply said, metacognition is the ability to think about one's own thinking process. It's about understanding how you learn, what you already know, and what you need to do to learn new information. Metacognitive skills include setting goals, monitoring progress, identifying and correcting errors, and reflecting on one's learning.
Researchers commonly refer to metacognition as consisting of three facets (1):
- Metacognitive knowledge refers to people'speople's general knowledge and understanding of various cognitive processes and of their own versus other people'speople's cognitive abilities and strategies.
- Metacognitive strategies are deliberate strategies used to control cognition.
- Metacognitive experiences are feelings, judgments, and task-specific knowledge that reflect what the person is aware of and feels during task performance.
Metacognition is crucial for effective learning because it helps you take control of your learning process. By understanding how you learn, you can identify and address areas where you need improvement. Metacognitive skills also help you retain information better and transfer knowledge to new situations.
How to Develop Metacognitive Skills
Developing metacognitive skills takes practice, but it's worth the effort. Here are some strategies for improving your metacognition:
- Set clear learning goals. Setting learning goals is an important part of the learning process, as it helps to provide direction and focus for your learning activities. Here are some steps you can take to set effective learning goals:
- Identify your learning needs. Consider what you need or want to learn, and why it is important to you. This might involve assessing your current knowledge and skills, and identifying areas where you need to improve.
- Make your goals specific and measurable. Your learning goals should be clear, specific, and measurable. This means that you should be able to track your progress and know when you have achieved your goal. For example, instead of setting a goal to "improve my writing skills," you might set a goal to "write one article per week for the next six weeks, using feedback to improve my writing." Want to learn more about setting specific and measurable goals? This article on setting SMART goals is for you!
- Break down larger goals into smaller steps. If your learning goal is large and complex, it can be helpful to break it down into smaller, more manageable steps. This will help you stay motivated and make progress towards your larger goal.
- Write down your goals. Writing down your learning goals can help to solidify them in your mind and provide a reference point for tracking your progress. You might consider keeping a learning diary.
- Monitor your progress. Regularly check your progress towards your goals and adjust your learning strategies accordingly. Go back to your learning goals and see where you stand.
- Identify and correct errors. The key to identifying and correcting mistakes is to be aware of your own thinking process, reflect on your mistakes, seek feedback from others, practice, and use resources. By using these approaches, you can improve your understanding, retention, and overall learning outcomes:
- Reflect on your mistakes. After you identify a mistake, take time to reflect on what went wrong and why. This can help you understand your own thinking process and avoid making the same mistake in the future.
- Seek feedback. Seek feedback from others, such as teachers, peers, or mentors. They can help you identify mistakes that you might have missed, and provide suggestions for improvement.
- Practice. One of the best ways to correct mistakes is to practice. This helps you reinforce your understanding of the material and avoid making the same mistakes again.
- Use resources. Take advantage of resources such as textbooks, online resources, or tutorials. These can provide additional examples and explanations to help you correct your mistakes.
- Reflect on your learning: After completing a learning task, take some time to reflect on what you learned, how you learned it, and what you could do differently in the future.
All these strategies have one this in common - we develop them by asking questions. Questioning is a powerful tool for unlocking creativity, innovation, and progress, and by asking the right questions, individuals and organisations can achieve breakthrough results (2).
(Side note: if you need a practical guidance for developing questioning skills, including tips for generating questions, overcoming obstacles to questioning, and using questions to drive innovation, I recommend Berger's book "A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas").
Generating Questions for Improving Metacognition
Generating questions is a key aspect of metacognition as it involves reflecting on one's own thought process and knowledge. When we generate questions, we are essentially engaging in a self-directed inquiry process that helps us understand what we know and what we don't know.
In order to generate effective questions, we need to be aware of our own thinking and knowledge gaps. This requires metacognitive skills such as monitoring our own comprehension, evaluating the quality of our own thinking, and regulating our own learning. By generating questions and then seeking answers to those questions, we are engaging in a self-directed learning process that can help us improve our own metacognitive skills.
Additionally, when we generate questions, we are more likely to be actively engaged in the learning process. This can help us remember and retain information better, as well as deepen our understanding of a topic. Research has shown that generating questions can be an effective learning strategy for both children and adults.
Overall, generating questions is a key component of metacognition as it involves reflecting on our own thinking and knowledge, engaging in a self-directed learning process, and actively engaging with the material. By incorporating question generation into our learning and studying, we can improve our metacognitive skills and become more effective learners.
The Importance of Metacognition in a Workplace
Workplace learning is different from school learning. It is informal, embedded in the routines of the workplace, and implicit. Metacognition is also crucial in the workplace, where employees are constantly faced with new challenges and tasks, and many researchers (2) make the case that a theory of how one learns in the workplace is incomplete without attention to the metacognitive functions of routines.
In their paper, Marra et al. (3) claim that there is a gap between what graduating engineers can do and what employers want. Although a diverse set of skills is required to be a successful practising engineer, there is agreement that engineers are hired and rewarded for solving complex-structured problems. This statement can be applied to many different professions, and developing metacognitive skills can help employees become more effective problem-solvers, better collaborators, and more efficient learners. By understanding their own thinking process, employees can identify areas where they need improvement and take steps to address them. Metacognitive skills also enable employees to reflect on their own performance and make adjustments to improve their productivity and efficiency. In a fast-paced work environment, where the ability to learn and adapt quickly is essential, metacognition can give employees a competitive edge.
We mentioned asking questions as a strategy to develop metacognition. In a workplace, you can generate questions before, during and after a task or a project.
- Before a Task - Is this similar to a previous task or project? What do I want to achieve? What should I do first? Has anyone on my team done something similar?
- During The Task - Am I on the right track? Do I have a clear picture of what I want to achieve and learn? What can I do differently? Who can I ask for help?
- After a Task - What worked well? What could I have done better? Can I apply this to other situations?
In conclusion, metacognition is a crucial component of successful learning and professional development. By developing metacognitive skills, individuals can better understand their own thought processes and knowledge gaps, which allows for more effective learning, problem-solving, and decision-making. Additionally, metacognition can help individuals become more self-directed learners, which is especially important in today's rapidly changing world.
- Metacognition involves reflecting on one's own thought process and knowledge.
- Effective learning involves setting specific and measurable goals, monitoring comprehension, seeking feedback, and practising.
- Generating questions is an effective way to engage in metacognition, improve understanding, and retain information.
- Metacognitive skills are important for professional development, problem-solving, and decision-making.
Overall, by developing metacognitive skills, individuals can become more effective learners and better equipped to navigate the challenges of the modern world.
Suggested reading on the topic:
(1) Efklides, A. (2008). Metacognition: defining its facets and levels of functioning in relation to self-regulation and co-regulation. Eur. Psychol. 13, 277–287. doi: 10.1027/1016-9040.13.4.277
(2) Munby, H. et al. (2002). Workplace learning and the metacognitive functions of routines. Metacognitive Functions of Routines, AERA
(3) Marra, R.M. et al. (2017). Beyond the Technical: Developing Lifelong Learning and Metacognition for the Engineering Workplace. American Society for Engineering Education.