What is Metacognition in Education?
Do you know you have trouble remembering names when you are first introduced to someone? Do you do something specific, like repeating it several times, to help you remember? Why do you do this? More than likely, you know this is a strategy that helps you remember the name. That is metacognition in action!
What is Metacognition
Metacognition refers to simply thinking about your thinking and learning. John Flavell first used the term “metacognition” (Flavell, 1971, 1979) and it has been extensively studied over the years, leading to the conclusion that a metacognitive approach to learning is effective (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 2000). When you develop an awareness of how you learn and think, then you can use metacognition strategies that will help make your learning more effective and more efficient. Tailoring your learning for specific content, courses, or disciplines is powerful (Zohar & David, 2009). Additionally, metacognitive skills and strategies can be taught (Nietfeld & Shraw, 2002; Thiede, Anderson, & Therriault, 2003).
Metacognition is critical to diagnostic thinking (i.e., checking for bias, assessing treatment options, understanding the unique circumstances of the patient). Medical students and physicians should continuously assess their knowledge and skills and improve performance (Quirk, 2006). Metacognitive skills in the clerkship setting focus on continually identifying what needs to be learned and how to make it happen. It may be a surgical skill that requires time in the skills lab. It could be a lack of knowledge of a novel treatment mechanism that requires focused reading.
Applying Metacognition in Education
Using a question bank is a great way to build some metacognitive strategies. First, using a question bank can help you identify your strengths and weaknesses as a learner and a test-taker. Question banks also allow you to actively monitor your effectiveness in learning and testing in real-time, and therefore, modify your learning and testing strategies quickly to increase effectiveness and efficiency.
Some additional metacognitive strategies include:
|Recalling prior knowledge about a topic||What do I know about this topic?|
|Asking yourself questions||Does this make sense? What is confusing? What is the relationship between two topics? How does this fit with what I already know?|
|Thinking aloud||Explain the topic to yourself or a study partner.|
|Creating or using mnemonic devices||Creating an image to remember the Urea Cycle. Creating a mnemonic to remember the cranial nerves: Some say marry money but my brother says big brains matter more.|
–Sensory (olfactory nerve; CN I)
–Sensory (optic nerve; CN II)
–Motor (oculomotor nerve; CN III)
–Motor (trochlear nerve; CN IV)
–Both (trigeminal nerve; CN V)
–Motor (abducens nerve; CN VI)
–Both (facial nerve; CN VII)
–Sensory (vestibulocochlear nerve; CN VIII)
–Both (glossopharyngeal nerve; CN IX)
–Both (vagus nerve; CN X)
–Motor (spinal accessory nerve; CN XI)
–Motor (hypoglossal nerve; CN XII)
|Organizing your thoughts using graphic organizers||Using a concept map or flowchart to test your memory and understanding|
|Analyzing exam performance||Looking for patterns in the questions missed (same content, one instructor, particular type of questions, more at the beginning of the test or at the end, changing answers)|
|Actively reading||Read with a purpose, take strategic notes, summarize what you have read.|
|Actively listening||Face the speaker, listen for answers to questions you have, ask questions, make eye contact.|
|Knowing your best times and locations to study||Do you study best in the morning? Are you a night owl? Do you need to study around others? Do you need some noise or absolute silence?|
The goal of applying metacognition in education is for students to build a repertoire of strategies that can be used flexibly to plan, monitor, and evaluate their learning. The outcome is to be more effective and efficient in your learning.
About the Author
Angela (Angie) Hairrell, Ph.D., M.Ed. is a lifetime educator, serving all levels (PreK to professional school) for over 25 years. She earned her Ph.D in Curriculum & Instruction from Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas. Her research interests include reading comprehension and vocabulary development, as well as active learning strategies and learning differences. Before entering the field of medical education, Dr. Hairrell spent many years teaching in the public school system and then working in higher education research. She is currently the Director of Academic Support Services at the Texas A&M University College of Medicine. She is passionate about helping all students achieve success through data- and performance-driven assessment. This is especially important to help medical students become effective and efficient learners.
- Bransford, John D., Brown Ann L., and Cocking Rodney R. (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.
- Flavell, J. H. (1971). First discussant’s comments. What is memory development the development of? Human Development, 14, 272–278.
- Flavell, J. H. (1979). Metacognition and cognitive monitoring: a new area of cognitive developmental inquiry. American Psychologist, 34, 906–911.
- Nietfeld, J. L., & Shraw, G. (2002). The effect of knowledge and strategy explanation on monitoring accuracy. Journal of Educational Research, 95, 131–142.
- Quirk M. (2006). Intuition and Metacogniton in Medical Education; Keys to developing expertise. New York: Springer Publishing Company.
- Radiopaedia.org. (2021).
- Thiede, K. W., Anderson, M. C., & Therriault, D. (2003). Accuracy of metacognitive monitoring affects learning of texts. Journal of Educational Psychology, 95, 66–73.
- Zohar, Anat, and David, Adi Ben. (2009). Paving a clear path in a thick forest: a conceptual analysis of a metacognitive component. Metacognition Learning, 4, 177-195.