Reflections: Metacognition

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Reflections Photo: L.. Schmidt

“Active learning means that the mind is actively engaged. Its defining characteristic is that students are dynamic participants in their learning and that they are reflecting on and monitoring both the process and results of their learning” (Barkley, 2010, p 17).

I love nothing more than the experience of having my mind engaged in learning. Those moments when you finally get ‘it’ feel amazing. Other times it feels like an exercise in frustration and I have to shut down and let things process. Then there are the times when I have so many ideas swirling around in my head that I have trouble connecting anything together. Sort of what is happening right now.

“Physician heal thyself.” Luke 4:23

I’ll try. Here we go.

The term metacognition involves the processes Barkley described above. Metacognitive knowledge involves examining and understanding how we learn and process information, what we know about the challenges of the task and ways we can approach the problem or learning (TEAL Centre Staff, 2012). Flavel, (as cited in TEAL Centre Staff, 2012) divided metacognition into 3 categories:

  • Person variables: recognizing personal strengths and weaknesses in learning and processing
  • Task variables: understanding the challenges of the task and the processing demands it requires
  • Strategy variables: the strategies the person has already developed that can be applied to the task.

Metacognition regulation encompasses the revisions we make to the processes that control our learning “ . . . such as planning, information management strategies  comprehension monitoring, de-bugging strategies, and evaluation of progress and goals” (TEAL Centre Staff, 2012 para. 3).

In other words, metacognition involves analyzing our cognitive strategies (how we learn) and our regulatory strategies (how we control our learning). Metacognition, “ . . . thinking about our thinking” (TEAL Centre Staff, 2012, para. 6), is what helps us be the dynamic participant of learning Barkley described.

Let’s take a look at my situation using the 3 variables of metacognitive knowledge. I know that I can get way too excited about learning (person variable) and will try to process too many concepts and assignments at once (task variable). I need to focus on one concept at a time so that I can process it and connect it to my existing knowledge (strategy variable). This strategy is something I have done before and is supported by Barkley (2010) “ (a)n engaged student actively examines, questions and relates new ideas to old, thereby achieving the kind of deep learning that lasts” (p17).

I also need to examine my metacognitive regulation. I can better manage how I take in information by sticking with one concept and its associated concepts for a period of time before flitting off to another unrelated idea. By assessing my understanding of a concept, I can determine if I have solidified enough of the learning before moving on. I need to make sure that I balance learning time with exercise time. I need to be clear about myself about what goals I will accomplish in a week instead of trying to see how much more I can get in.

Ok, I’ve got it!

Metacognitive strategies are a component of self-regulated learning (Zimmerman, 1990). Self-regulation is needed to be a self-directed and self-determined learner and since I have as a goal to achieve a stage 4 learning with my students, I need to be prepared to help my students understand and apply to their learning these metacognitive strategies as well (Grow, 1991/1996). I just found the next topic for me to plunge into.

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I love learning.



Barkley, E. F. (2010). Student Engagement Techniques – A Handbook for College Faculty. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Grow, Gerald O. (1991/1996). “Teaching Learners to be Self-Directed.” Adult Education Quarterly, 41 (3), 125-149. Retrieved from

TEAL Centre Staff, 2012, Fact Sheet: Metacognitive Processes. Retrieved from

Zimmerman, B..J. (1990) Self-Regulated Learning and Academic Success: An Overview Educational Psychologist, 24(1), 3-17 Lawrence Erbaum Associates, Inc. Retrieved from 


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