Thursday, February 2, 2012

Promote metacognition for better learning

Thinking about thinking

Metacognition is the process of monitoring the cognitive processes of learning and problem solving and it involves checking of status of knowledge in the specific problem. Metacognition is cognition about cognition or thinking about thinking. It is a kind of self-auditing or self-critical evaluation of in the process of learning or problem solving. Metacognitive skills are especially helpful for monitoring progress of problem solving. If the progress is not satisfactory the person changes the course to reach the goal.
John Flavell of Stanford University is regarded as a pioneer researcher in metacognition. He was influenced by the work of the developmental psychologist and philosopher Jean Piaget. In his 1976 article, Flavell recognized that metacognition consisted of both monitoring and regulation aspects. It was here that the term metacognition was first formally used in the title of his paper. He defined metacognition as follows: "In any kind of cognitive transaction with the human or non-human environment, a variety of information processing activities may go on. Metacognition refers, among other things, to the active monitoring and consequent regulation and orchestration of these processes in relation to the cognitive objects or data on which they bear, usually in service of some concrete goal or objective." 

Many forms of metacognition

Metacognition can take many forms. It includes knowledge about when and how to use particular strategies for learning or for problem solving. Metamemory, defined as knowing about memory and mnemonicstrategies, is an especially important form of metacognition. Some evolutionary psychologists hypothesize that metacognition is used as a survival tool, which would make metacognition the same across cultures.
 Flavell (1976) also identified three metacognitive processes that children gradually acquire in the context of information storage and retrieval. These are:
 (a) The child learns to identify situations in which intentional, conscious storage of certain information may be useful at some time in the future.
 (b) The child learns to keep current any information which may be related to active problem-solving, and have it ready to retrieve as needed.
 (c) The child learns how to make deliberate systematic searches for information which may be helpful in solving a problem, even when the need for it has not been foreseen. 
In cognitive neuroscience, metacognitive monitoring is viewed as a function of the prefrontal cortex. This part of the brain receives signals from other cortical regions. Through feedback loops the prefrontal cortex implements control over all cognitive and learning processes. Metacognition has been used to describe one's own knowledge that we will die.

Components of metacognition

Metacognition is classified into three components:
  1. Metacognitive knowledge is what individuals know about themselves and others as cognitive processors. It is also called metacognitive awareness.
  2. Metacognitive regulation is the regulation of cognition and learning experiences through a set of activities that help people control their learning.
  3. Metacognitive experiences are those experiences that have something to do with the current, on-going cognitive endeavor.

Metacognition refers to a higher level of thinking that involves active control over the process of thinking that is used in learning situations. Planning the way to approach a learning task, monitoring comprehension, and evaluating the progress towards the completion of a task: these are skills that are metacognitive in their nature. Similarly, maintaining motivation to see a task to completion is also a metacognitive skill. The ability to become aware of distracting stimuli – both internal and external – and sustain effort over time also involves metacognitive or executive functions.
The theory that metacognition has a critical role to play in successful learning means it is important that it be demonstrated by both students and teachers. Students who demonstrate a wide range of metacognitive skills perform better on exams and complete work more efficiently. They are self-regulated learners who utilize the "right tool for the job" and modify learning strategies and skills based on their awareness of effectiveness. Individuals with a high level of metacognitive knowledge and skill identify blocks to learning as early as possible and change "tools" or strategies to ensure goal attainment. Persons endowed with metacognition are aware of their own strengths and weaknesses, the nature of the task at hand, and available "tools" or skills. A broader repertoire of "tools" also assists in goal attainment. When "tools" are general, generic, and context independent, they are more likely to be useful in different types of learning situations.
Another distinction in metacognition is executive management and strategic knowledge. Executive management processes involve planning, monitoring, evaluating and revising one's own thinking processes and their products. Strategic knowledge involves knowing what (knowledge of facts ), knowing when and why (knowledge of conditions and contexts) and knowing how (knowledge of procedures or methods). Metacognition in executive management and strategic knowledge are needed to self-regulate one's own thinking and learning.
Finally, there is a distinction between domain general and domain-specific metacognition. Domain general metacognition refers to one which is applied to all cases of goal setting. Domain specific refers to metacognition which is applied in particular subject or content areas, such as editing an essay or verifying one's answer to a mathematics problem.

Metacognitive strategies

Being engaged in metacognition is a salient feature of good self-regulated learners. Groups reinforcing collective discussion of metacognition are a salient feature of self-critical and self-regulating social groups. The activities of strategy selection and application include those concerned with an ongoing attempt to plan, check, monitor, select, revise, evaluate, etc. Metacognition is 'stable' in that learners' initial decisions derive from the pertinent fact about their cognition through years of learning experience. Simultaneously, it is also 'situated' in the sense that it depends on learners' familiarity with the task, motivation, emotion, and so forth. Individuals need to regulate their thoughts about the strategy they are using and adjust it based on the situation to which the strategy is being applied. At a professional level, this has led to emphasis on the development of reflective practice, particularly in the education and health-care professions.
Metacognition helps people to perform many cognitive tasks more effectively.  Strategies for promoting metacognition include:
Self-questioning (e.g. "What do I already know about this topic? How have I solved problems like this before?")
Thinking aloud while performing a task, and making graphic representations (e.g. concept maps, flow charts, semantic webs) of one's thoughts and knowledge. The physical act of writing plays a large part in the development of metacognitive skills.

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