Education resources › Blog › What is Metacognition?

What is Metacognition?

4 min read
  • Metacognition

Have you ever thought about what you’re thinking? Perhaps unsurprisingly, students who do this tend to perform better academically.

Metacognition is a concept that has been steadily gaining traction in the realm of education and is now recognised as one of the most cost-effective methods to enhance student learning. Its influence has started to spread across classrooms worldwide. But what exactly does it involve?

In this blog post, we’ll explore:

  • The definition of Metacognition
  • How Metacognition can help your students
  • What Metacognition looks like in the classroom
  • How you can develop your students’ Metacognition

What is Metacognition?

Derived from the Greek root word “meta” (beyond) and the Latin “cognoscere” (getting to know), Metacognition refers to a learner’s ability to reflect on their thought process and choose an effective strategy. It’s about an individual’s capability to:

  • Analyse their thinking patterns
  • Have heightened self-awareness and manage their thoughts
  • Select a suitable and advantageous approach for a task at hand

Research indicates that harnessing Metacognitive strategies can improve students’ academic performance. Its impact is broad, with its benefits seen across different subjects like Maths, Science and English. Therefore, it is essential to understand the role Metacognition plays in education and explore how you can help your students develop it.

What is metacognition?

How can Metacognition help your students?

Metacognitive abilities can help students in two different areas:

  • Metacognitive knowledge – This revolves around students’ awareness of their cognitive processes, including their strengths, weaknesses and gaps in their knowledge. It also involves understanding the skills required to solve a problem.
  • Metacognitive regulation – This refers to the diverse strategies students employ to regulate their thoughts and emotions. It includes planning, monitoring, and assessing their performance, such as identifying an ineffective strategy and deciding to switch to a different one.
Develop your students’ self-regulation, emotional control and independent learning with a Metacognition CPD workshop.

But what does Metacognition actually look like in the classroom?

Let’s have a look at concrete examples of Metacognition in schools. Try seeing it as…

The ability to critically analyse one’s thoughts 

Students who can evaluate their own thoughts, even when they’re incorrect, will allow them to become independent learners. 

High self-awareness and thought control 

It’s crucial for students to recognise their strengths and limitations. Overestimation can lead to disappointments, while a clear understanding of our abilities can pinpoint areas for growth.

Formulating effective thinking strategies at every stage of a task

  •  Before a task, Metacognitive thinking allows students to plan by recalling successful strategies used in similar tasks. This sets the stage for effective learning. 
  •  During a task, it helps them stay focused to ensure an active learning process. 
  • After a task, regular self-evaluation aids in identifying areas of improvement and fine-tuning strategies for future tasks.

How can you develop your students’ Metacognition?

The name may sound complex and it may cover a lot of different areas of education, but there are several accessible strategies you can use in your classroom to kickstart your students’ metacognitive thinking:

  1. Identify what does and doesn’t work well – Working alongside students to identify areas for improvement and highlighting their strengths will help them to set achievable targets. This also helps build a positive student-teacher relationship.
  2. Promote reflective thinking – Encourage reflective thinking by asking students what they would do differently next time they encounter a setback or make a mistake.
  3. Boost reflexive thinking – Reflexive thinking is the practice of reflecting on and analysing one’s own thoughts, actions and beliefs. You can do this by promoting discussions about societal issues and moral dilemmas with students. This can help them challenge their biases and become adaptive thinkers.

FAQs about Metacognition

You may still have some questions about Metacognition. So, let’s address some of the most frequently asked ones to provide you with a well-rounded understanding…

Is Metacognition the same as self-regulation?

While they are interconnected, Metacognition and self-regulation are not identical. Self-regulation involves managing one’s thoughts and feelings during a task, while metacognitive thinking involves controlling the cognitive processes used in learning. However, improving one often leads to improving the other.

Is Metacognition the same as “thinking about your thinking”?

“Thinking about your thinking” only describes part of Metacognition, in that it describes becoming more aware of your thought processes. Metacognition takes things a step further as it encompasses taking action. At this level of self-awareness, students can actively channel their thoughts and alter their behaviours to enhance achievement.

I’ve tried to develop Metacognition in class with my students, but I don’t know if it has worked?

Research suggests that teachers can help students develop their metacognition, but that these gains are most pronounced when delivered by professionals in psychology. This is because they are typically better equipped to explain the concept and advise students on how to put it into practice. 

Supercharge your students’ learning by booking our Metacognition CPD workshop. In it, we share a treasure trove of knowledge, including the latest research insights and our favourite classroom-ready strategies – and crucially, we help you figure out how to make it work best for your school.

Final thoughts

Navigating the realm of Metacognition can be complex, but the potential benefits for student learning are immense. As educators, you should strive to understand and integrate metacognitive strategies into your teaching practices. By doing so, you can empower your students to become more engaged, independent learners and ultimately drive their academic success.

Metacognition is a concept much too broad to be entirely summarised in one blog – and the research around it is still being carried out. You can check out our ultimate guide to improving Metacognition to gain a greater overview of the topic.

About the editor

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch is a Chartered Psychologist and a leading expert on illuminating Cognitive Science research in education. As Director at InnerDrive, his work focuses on translating complex psychological research in a way that is accessible and helpful. He has delivered thousands of workshops for educators and students, helping improve how they think, learn and perform. Bradley is also a prolific writer: he co-authored four books including Teaching & Learning Illuminated and The Science of Learning, as well as regularly featuring in publications such as The Guardian and The Telegraph.

Follow on XConnect on LinkedIn