On Metacognition

One who is aware of what they know and who is capable of judging the situations in which they can solve problems with their existing knowledge is demonstrating their metacognitive abilities. They know what they know. Greater metacognitive understanding is associated with deeper learning as well. Scholars are elucidating its importance for learners and practitioners are seeking methods for improving learners’ metacognition.  

Much of the literature for educators treats metacognition as a separate type of learning. Winne and Azevedo (2014) point out that metacognition is simply learning about one’s own learning, so it is not different from learning about other phenomena. The same theories and models that describe cognition describe metacognition. For example, when new to a field, a learner must expend cognitive load thinking about what they know and how it can be used. With greater expertise, metacognition becomes more automatic.  

One of the challenges faced by faculty who seek to promote metacognition and to users who try to use their metacognition is accuracy and confidence. Learners (especially those with little experience in a field) may overstate what they know while those with more expertise tend to underestimate what they know. Even if learners can accurately access their knowledge, they may not be confident in their assessment. Learners who are not confident in their metacognitive judgments are unlikely to apply this knowledge, so the effect is as if they lack the knowledge. Just as with all types of learning, however, students can become better at metacognition, and faculty can include activities that improve metacognitive processes in their classrooms.  


Winne, P., & Azevedo, R. (2014). Metacognition. In R. Keith Sawyer (ed.), The Cambridge Handbook of Learning Sciences (pp. 63-87). Cambridge University Press.