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What is metacognition?

Metacognition is an education buzzword used to describe a state or process of understanding what you know, how you know it, how to learn more, and how to use what you know. In short, you can view metacognition as strategies and tools for using your intelligence intelligently.

One of the first advocates of metacognition, John Flavell, wrote that metacognition covered both knowledge (what you know about how you learn) and regulation (the specific strategies you use to improve your learning). Flavell further divided metacognitive knowledge into three subcategories: personal variables (e.g. knowing you study well with music playing), task variables (e.g., you need more time to process science topics than art topics), and strategy variables (e.g., self-quizzing after reading new material). Another way to categorize metacognitive knowledge has been to divide it up between declarative knowledge (factual information), procedural knowledge (knowing how to do something), and conditional knowledge (understanding when to use a skill, process or strategy).

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However the academics want to subcategorize metacognition, you can use metacognition tools in a very practical way. The metacognitive approach for any learning task is to first develop a plan, execute and monitor your plan, and then evaluate what your plan has achieved. Some questions to ask yourself as you plan are: What existing knowledge can you help you with this task; how much time do I really need to process this new information; and what are my goals for reading this information? As you begin your learning task, be aware if you are really absorbing the information, what information is most important to remember, if you need to adjust your pace, and what your plan is if you don’t understand what you’re reading. Lastly, when you’ve completed the learning task, ask yourself if you achieved your learning goal, how the information be helpful in other contexts, and whether you need to do any reviewing.