Metacognition: Thinking about Thinking

By Sri Sindhu Bhatta

The fundamental cause of the trouble is that in the modern world, the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt. — Bertrand Russell

Metacognition is the term coined by an American cognitive scientist John H. Flavell back in 1976, the term refers to the ability to think about your own thinking. In simple terms, it is like a big brain watching and analysing your own brain. For example, the big brain asks questions like:“Is she just memorizing this chapter, or does she know it well enough that she could teach it to someone else?”.

It is important because oftentimes the way we learn a new skill is determined by the process through which we approach the learning. When you are analysing how you are learning that information and being able to plan the strategies that you require to learn a certain type of skill.

As Einstein once said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” Metacognition is what enables you to understand your understanding of the information. In order to master something, you have to go through the act of pretending that you are teaching it to someone else. Because teaching in itself is very different from writing or reciting the information looking at a book.

Being aware of your own learning patterns and behaviours allows you to move to higher mastery levels of learning than if we didn’t analyze how we are using our thought process.

Metacognition can be described in many different ways, like self-reflecting on one’s thought patterns and analyzing them, and using those strategies for problem-solving.

Metacognition is classified into three main categories and is further divided into subcategories:

1. Metacognitive knowledge

a. Content knowledge

b. Task knowledge

c. Strategic knowledge

2. Metacognitive regulation

a. Planning

b. Monitoring

c. Evaluating

3. Metacognitive experiences

The authors of “How Learning Works” describe metacognition as the following cycle.

It begins the potential to assess the task at hand, and understand the requirements to complete the task efficiently. Then they understand and evaluate their strengths and weaknesses. Afterwards, they visualize their plan of approach to tackle the task. Next, they apply the specific strategies required for the task and they monitor their progress along the way. In the next phase they reflect on their approach and strategies and adjust them accordingly. Here, they might implement new strategies which might lead them to reassessing the task.

Metacognition involves one’s thinking process leading to better study techniques, memory processing, and the ability to self-monitor one’s learning process.

Building and understanding requires both cognitive and metacognitive abilities. Individuals with good metacognitive strategies can think through a problem or approach a new skill, making decisions effectively. Thinking about one’s own thinking process enables you to learn from mistakes. Moreover, individuals who exhibit a wide range of metacognitive skills are shown to perform well on exams and complete the tasks efficiently by using the right tool for their job, and they can adapt to new learning environments more quickly than those who are not aware of their own thought processes.

Metacognition enables you to quality-control your thinking and reasoning and then redirect your cognition and behavior to improve your chances of successfully achieving your goals. Metacognition helps students to succeed in school, career and help them to be a better life-long learner. It can positively affect learning as one can effectively understand and analyze their thought patterns and adapt to their environment. It is helpful across a range of ages and subjects. Academic research on metacognitive processing across cultures is in the early stages. Still, there are indications that further work may provide better outcomes in cross-cultural learning between teachers and students.

Creative thinking can be regarded as a metacognitive process in which the combination of an individual’s cognitive knowledge and action evaluation results in creation. Specifically, creative thinking involves a series of cognitive processes, such as the acquisition of knowledge and skills, transforming knowledge into new forms, and verifying products from internal and external standards (Amabile, 1983).


Norman E (2020) Why Metacognition Is Not Always Helpful. Front. Psychol. 11:1537. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2020.01537

Baddeley, A. D., & Hitch, G. (1974). Working memory. Psychology of Learning and Motivation, 8, 47-89.

Wikipedia contributors. (2021, August 6). Metacognition. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 17:55, August 15, 2021, from =

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