Scenario 1: You’re a grade school teacher eager to start an online master’s program in education, looking to transition into the next stage of your career—educational leadership. You’ve been teaching primary education for more than a decade and are ready for a change, but you’re also nervous about being a student again. Your master’s program will require you to reevaluate your professional experiences, style of teaching, and revisit educational theory through the lens of social justice and leadership. Are you ready to do that, do you want to do that, and do you know how?
Scenario 2: You’re the lead instructor developing and teaching the first core course in a new online master’s program in educational leadership. Your goal is to design an online classroom experience that will help students evaluate their approach to and style of teaching by identifying what they already know, build on prior knowledge, and nurture the development of new skills and insights needed to lead others. How will you design an online course that capitalizes on the wealth of experiences that students bring, but also expands upon their knowledge and enhances their leadership potential?
Whether you are the teacher or learner, metacognition may provide the keys that unlock the answers to these questions. Psychologist John Flavell and other learning theorists have often described metacognition as “thinking about your thinking.” As course developers and teachers, not just in education, but of various subjects, you can build your design toolkit by providing ample opportunity in your courses to help learners assess what they know and why they know it (planning), how well they are doing in acquiring new knowledge (monitoring), and how to apply this new knowledge to their professional lives (evaluation). Fogarty (1994) suggests that these three phases, planning, monitoring, and evaluation, help students become successful thinkers. Approaching course design with metacognition in mind helps students learn, while also allowing you to see yourself as a learner. The utilization of metacognitive strategies may help you grow as an instructor, through planning, monitoring, and evaluating your content to determine where modifications to course design can ensure your students meet course, program, and long-term goals.
Planning: Accessing Prior Knowledge
Good design not only takes the content to be learned into consideration, but also what students bring to the learning experience. Linda Darling-Hammond and her colleagues (2003) identified two types of metacognition: reflection, or “thinking about what we know,” and self-regulation, or “managing how we go about learning.” When planning metacognitive activities, we must strive not only to introduce students to new concepts, but also to facilitate reflection and conversation about how new concepts connect with knowledge and professional frameworks with which students are already familiar.
Simple questions like the ones below can spark discussions or help students begin the reflection and self-regulation process.
- What do I already know that can help me be successful?
- What do I already know that I need to reevaluate?
- What do I need to do that can help me reach my goals.
Another simple and effective way to help students “reflect and connect” is to incorporate a short reflective journaling activity into each or several modules of your course. You can ask students to respond to a prompt at the beginning of each module, such as: What questions do you have about the topics and materials for this module?, What can you do to best support your learning in this module?, or What are your personal learning goals for this module?
Monitoring: Assessing Progress of Learning
There are a variety of metacognitive activities that can help facilitate continual student monitoring of their own progress, such as: quizzes with robust feedback, polls that survey students about what they struggle with and then utilize results to stimulate discussion, as well as journal assignments with prompts geared toward helping students explore challenging concepts, and make real world connections to readings, or professional experiences.
What? So what? Now what? is an example of a self-regulation activity that requires students to engage in structured and sequenced reflection. Students are asked to describe (What happened?), analyze (Why is it significant?), and take action (What did you learn?) as a way to examine an experience, topic, or process. This activity can be applied to assignments, or projects, and may assist with the formation of both short and long-term goals and identifying strategies to achieve those goals.
Evaluating: Reflect on What Metacognition Skills Were Learned and How
Most online courses conclude with some form of evaluation. Often these are student evaluations of the instructor, or major course assignments. However, at the conclusion of a learning experience, it is vital that students conduct an in-depth evaluation of their learning and the process they used to move through new material and navigate all aspects on an online course. Self-evaluations should go beyond surface level observations or multiple-choice questions. Metacognitive self-evaluations should include questions like:
- How did I do?
- What could I have done differently?
- What did I learn?
- How will I use my new knowledge?
Self-evaluations should also help students identify and celebrate achievement.
Wrap Up & Resources
Metacognition is a large and complex field of study. We have just scratched the surface in this post, but we hope some of these metacognitive strategies and activities resonate with you and align with your ideas about instruction and course design. The creative and consistent use of metacognitive strategies can open exciting doors in students’ personal and professional lives and enliven your teaching. Designing with intentionality about including opportunities for students to assess, monitor, and evaluate their learning along with your expert feedback and redirection, when necessary, is key to ensure students are beginning and ending their learning path with all the support and strategies they need to be successful.
- TEAL Center Fact Sheet No. 4: Metacognitive Processes
- Activities for Metacognition
- Strategies for Improving Learner Metacognition in Health Professional Education
- How to Assess Students’ Prior Knowledge
- Use Mind Watch Journals to Reflect and Connect to Content
- Promoting Student Metacognition
- 5 Metacognitive Questions for Students Learning New Material
- Using Self-Assessment to Develop Metacognition and Self-Regulated Learners
- Fogarty, R. (1994). How to teach for metacognition. Palatine, IL: IRI/Skylight Publishing.
- Meichenbaum, D. (1985). Teaching thinking: A cognitive-behavioral perspective. In S. F., Chipman, J. W. Segal, & R. Glaser (Eds.), Thinking and learning skills, Vol. 2: Research and open questions. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
by Dolly Lemke, Learning Designer & Caralyn Sheehan, Senior Learning Designer