School & District Management Opinion

Beyond the Buzzword of Metacognition

By Beth Holland — September 25, 2015 2 min read
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In 2001, during my first semester of grad school, professors consistently referenced the need for students to engage in metacognition as a means to further their understanding of concepts. If students could consider not only what they might be learning, but also the thought processes engaged in actually obtaining that content knowledge, then theoretically they should gain a deeper conceptual understanding. Since that time, I have seen the concept of metacognition referred to with such regularity that it has almost reached buzzword status. This past week, in my doctoral work, the concept appeared in our readings as we explored concepts of social cognition.

Bandura (1986) describes the capability to engage in self-reflection as a quality that makes us innately human. When learners reflect on their experiences as well as their knowledge, they increase their understanding as well as their thinking about the world around them. These metacognitive activities ultimately shape how they perceive the content as well as the context of their learning. Flavell (1979), further elaborates on this notion and describes four classes of cognitive monitoring activities:

  • Metacognitive Knowledge - stored understanding that relates to the “tasks, goals, actions, and experiences” of individuals.
  • Metacognitive Experience - “conscious or affective” experiences that result in the formulation of new thoughts about understanding.
  • Goals or Tasks - the objective of the “cognitive enterprise”
  • Strategies or Actions - the behaviors used to engage in the cognitive process

Unfortunately, most students - and adults - don’t monitor their own thoughts, cognitions, and memory (Flavell, 1979). It does make sense, then, to try to teach this concept so that students can begin to identify not only what they learn but also how and why. However, this idea of teaching metacognitive skills often focuses specifically on the strategies and actions. To be honest, I took this approach when designing activities to scaffold student reflection with digital portfolios. On the other hand, when all four classes of cognitive monitoring are taken into account, the concept of metacognition certainly resurfaces as a critical component to learning maybe in spite of its buzzword status.


Bandura, A. (1986). Models of human nature and causality. In Social foundations of thought and action: A social cognitive theory. (pp. 1-46). Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall.

Flavell, J. H. (1979). Metacognition and cognitive monitoring: A new area of cognitive-
developmental inquiry. American Psychologist, 34, 906-911.

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