Why is Metacognition Important?

Updated: Aug 23, 2019

Why is metacognition important? What benefits can be derived from a throughout metacognitive training? What advantages does metacognition bring to learners? Here are our top ten reasons for developing metacognition in your students:

  1. Research evidence suggests that metacognition boosts educational attainment and performance. Research from the Sutton Trust has provided schools with a detailed analysis of the most effective strategies to raise attainment and close the achievement gap. Hattie’s (2017) research lists metacognition as having a 0.60 effect size on educational attainment, it is one of the most effective factors and numerous other practices closely related to metacognition (such as “Cognitive Task Analysis”) are very highly rated in the research. An Analysis of Research on Metacognitive Teaching Strategies (Ellis et al 2014) concludes metacognition to be an effective strategy especially when used regularly and accompanied by effective teacher modelling. In ‘How People Learn, the National Academy of Sciences’ synthesis of decades of research on the science of learning, one of the three key findings of this work is the effectiveness of a “‘metacognitive’ approach to instruction” (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 2000, p. 18).

  2. Metacognition has cross-curricular benefits. For example, this research concludes that: “There is strong evidence that successful HOT [Higher Order Thought] in science education requires both metacognitive knowledge and metacognitive skills.” Metacognition helps to develop higher order and critical thinking skills which can be used across all school subjects: when one teacher works on metacognition with their students, it is likely to create benefits in other subjects as well. Imagine what a cohesive whole-school metacognition initiative could achieve!

  3. The absence of metacognition connects to the research by Dunning, Johnson, Ehrlinger, and Kruger on “Why People Fail to Recognize Their Own Incompetence” (2003). They found that “people tend to be blissfully unaware of their incompetence,” lacking “insight about deficiencies in their intellectual and social skills.” Perhaps the best way to appreciate the value of metacognition is to take a moment to imagine what a school would look like with no metacognition present whatsoever: wrote learning, regurgitation of facts, poor engagement, inefficient assessment practices, and the “traditional” teaching-style that educators are quite rightly keen to avoid.

  4. Metacognitive practices increase students’ abilities to transfer or adapt their learning to new contexts and tasks (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, p. 12; Palincsar & Brown, 1984; Scardamalia et al., 1984; Schoenfeld, 1983, 1985, 1991). They do this by gaining a level of awareness above the subject matter: they also think about the tasks and contexts of different learning situations and themselves as learners in these different contexts. Since this is true, it stands to reason that metacognition enhances the learning-skills young learners will take into adulthood and assist on their journey as life-long learners. The metacognitive insights, awareness, skills and strategies students are taught in school will have a profound impact on their lifelong learning-power: in this sense, metacognitive learning carries a value and weight to them that overshadows specific subject content.

  5. A comprehensive metacognition initiative will include metacognitive reflection on how lifestyle factors such as diet, sleep, hydration and exercise can have both long and short-term impacts on learning-power. Consequently, a thorough approach to metacognition will have wider physical health benefits. Check-out our resource pack that focuses on how to boost learning-power through healthy living!

  6. Similarly, there are mental health benefits to engagement in metacognition: students must gain insight into the impact of emotions, moods, attitudes and their own, inner, psychological makeup in order to become fully actualised learners and reach their full potential. Learning how to manage emotions like anxiety and stress, which can be serious obstacles to learning, is an essential component of metacognition. One example of a metacognitive skill that can be used to help deal with problematic emotions is mindfulness meditation. Make sure you have a look at our ‘Meditation, Mindfulness & Metacognition Resource Pack’. It is reasonable to conclude therefore that teaching metacognitive skills and strategies can have a positive impact on the mental health of our students and their inner emotional lives.

  7. Metacognitive practices help students become aware of their strengths and weaknesses as learners, writers, readers, test-takers, group members, etc. A key element is recognising the limit of one’s knowledge or ability and then figuring out how to expand that knowledge or extend the ability. Those who know their strengths and weaknesses in these areas will be more likely to “actively monitor their learning strategies and resources and assess their readiness for particular tasks and performances” (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, p. 67).

  8. Metacognition can be used to enhance the value of practice assessment papers and tests by using ‘Assessment Wrappers’ or ‘Exam Wrappers’ (examples here). A wrapper is a quick worksheet that students complete along with an assessment or exam that focuses on the learning process rather than on the content itself. Good exam wrappers will feature a before and after assessment reflection and are focused on creating useful targets for improvement over time.

  9. Student engagement in the evaluation and monitoring of their own progress is fostered through metacognitive strategies: long-term approaches to boosting learning-power. A large part of metacognition is actively monitoring one’s own learning and making changes to one’s own learning behaviours and strategies based on this monitoring. David Perkins (1992) defined four levels of metacognitive learners which provide a useful framework for teachers, this framework makes it clear as to how metacognition transforms individual learners in a very fundamental way: a. 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. b. 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. c. 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. d. 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.

  10. Metacognition is useful across a range of ages and subjects. Metacognitive practices are useful for all learners from primary level upwards. Using metacognition improves students’ academic achievement across learning domains. Metacognitive skills help students to transfer what they have learnt from one context to another or from a previous task to a new task. This includes reading and text comprehension, writing, mathematics, reasoning and problem-solving, and memorising.


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