Nord Anglia Education
Nord Anglia
22 February, 2019


As a result of research into metacognition, we understand that the effective use of basic cognitive processes is a fundamental part of learning. These cognitive processes include memory and attention, the activation of prior knowledge, and the use of cognitive strategies to solve a problem or complete a task.

For a learner to ensure that they are making the best use of these basic cognitive processes, they need to have an awareness and an ability to monitor and adapt them

According to the Cambridge International Examinations, metacognition describes the processes involved when learners plan, monitor, evaluate and make changes to their own learning behaviours. Metacognition is often considered to have two dimensions: metacognitive knowledge and metacognitive regulation.

Metacognitive knowledge

This refers to what students know about learning. It includes:

  • The student’s knowledge of their own cognitive abilities (e.g. I have trouble remembering the names of all the rivers in India);
  • The student’s knowledge of particular tasks (e.g. The ideas in this textbook I’m going to read are very complex);
  • The student’s knowledge of different strategies available to them and when they are appropriate to the task (e.g. If I scan the text first, it will help me understand the overall meaning.)

Metacognitive regulation

This refers to what learners do about learning. It describes how students monitor and control their cognitive processes. For example, a learner might realise that a particular strategy is not achieving the results they want, so they decide to try a different strategy.

Metacognition phases include:

  1. Planning phase - Students think about the learning goal the teacher has set and consider how they will approach the task and which strategies they will use. At this stage, it is helpful for learners to ask themselves: What am I being asked to do? Which strategies will I use? Are there any strategies that I used before?
  2. Monitoring phase - Students implement their plan and monitor the progress they are making towards their learning goal. They might decide to make changes to the strategies they are using if these are not working. As students work through the task, it will help them to ask themselves: Is the strategy that I am using working? Do I need to try something different?
  3. Evaluation - Students determine how successful the strategy they used was in helping them to achieve their learning goal. To promote evaluation, students could consider: How well did I do? What didn’t go well? What could I do differently next time? What went well? What other types of problem can I use this strategy for?’
  4. Reflection - This is a fundamental part of the plan > monitor > evaluate process. Encouraging learners to self­-question throughout the process will support this reflection. David Perkins (1992) defined four levels of metacognitive learners:
  • Tacit learners are unaware of their metacognitive knowledge. They do not think about any particular strategies for learning and merely accept if they know something or not.
  • Aware learners know about some of the kinds of thinking that they do, such as generating ideas, finding evidence etc. However, thinking is not necessarily deliberate or planned.
  • Strategic learners organise their thinking by using problem-solving, grouping and classifying, evidence-¬≠seeking and decision-making etc. They know and apply the strategies that help them learn.
  • Reflective learners are not only strategic about their thinking but they also reflect upon their learning while it is happening, considering the success or not of any strategies they are using and then revising them as appropriate. Once teachers have identified where their learners are on this continuum of ‘tacit’ to ‘reflective’ they can plan their support accordingly.