Motivation and emotion/Book/2013/Learning meta-cognition

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Learning meta-cognition:
How and why to learn "how to learn"

Overview[edit | edit source]

My father has a preference for telling jokes, he's been at it for years and one of the key ones I remember from growing up is the following:

A student arrives at a young professor's office. She glances down the hall, closes his door, and kneels pleadingly. "I would do anything to pass this exam," she says. She leans closer to him, flips her hair back, and gazes seductively into his eyes. "I mean," she whispers, "I would do anything ..." He returns her gaze, his voice softens "Anything?" "Anything," she repeats again. His voice turns to a whisper. "Would you ... study?"

Upon hearing this joke recently though, I started to wonder. Study, a word we have all heard at some point in our academic careers, but what is it exactly? How do you do it? How do you gain the most out of it? Why do some people to seem to be better at it than others? And why did the girl in the joke not even consider it as an option?

When I started this research into learning metacognition, I was under the illusion that I would be in for an easy time, a book chapter on learning about learning. How hard could it be? Famous last words. 12 weeks later, after weeks of research, writing, editing, scraping, phone calls to my lecturer, and genuinely hours of tears, I still felt lost on how to convey everything I had come to learn into one single book chapter. However do not get discouraged from this topic based on my own personal experience. This chapter has the ability to open your mind to a whole new way of relating, not just learning but to the process of thoughts, self-belief, behaviour and abilities in general. I know this as I am one of those students who has benefited the most from the clarity provided by this topic, and personal reflection is brilliant in hindsight.

So starting off, the main information I wish to share with you at this point is what I’ve come to learn what learning metacogniton is, how you can use it and why would you want to. To do this, we will be looking at three differing perspectives of learning; socio-constructivist, cognitive constructivist and behavioural, and we will be looking at the differences, similarities, conflicts and interchangability of the concepts of metacognition, self-regulation and self-regulated learning. This sounds rather technical, I know, but bear with me, we will get your head around it.

What is learning metacognition?[edit | edit source]

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Background[edit | edit source]

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Metacognition[edit | edit source]

The term meta-cognition was conceived by John H. Flavell (cited in Schmitt and Sha, 2009) as a reference to a persons’ awareness over their cognitive operation and the associated outcome. Flavells' description for metacognition (cited in Lajoie, 2008) claimed that by being conscious of one’s own cognition processes, behaviours and skills which are brought about by external factors such as experience, goal setting and strategic approach, an individual can educated themselves to evaluate and manipulate their own thought process towards goal achievement. Seems like an awfully technical explanation but I did ask you to bear with me. In a nutshell, this basically means that when you are aware of what you are thinking, you have in yourself the ability to craft your own thoughts, beliefs and skills, which you can then use to motivate yourself to better achieve your goals. Awesome, brilliant but how does this relate to learning?

Learning[edit | edit source]

OK, so again we are going to get a little technical. Broadly speaking, learning or studying, which can sometimes be used interchangeably, generally refers to any methods, the most common example being the acquisition of knowledge, that results in changes to ones abilities or behaviour that are produced from experience (Krull, Koni & Oras, 2013), this implies that anything from a person, to an event, or even an inanimate object can teach as long as there is an experience attached to it. The problem with this broad approach to the concept of learning, however, is that there are three key perceptive from which this concept can be broken down, the behaviourist perspective, the cognitive-constructivist perspective and the social-constructivist perspective (Krull et al., 2013). Easy enough to understand, though on a personal note, I find this more an opportunity for collorabation than a problem, but hopefully, if I have done this topic justice, you will come understand why I believe that when we get alittle bit more deeper into the self-regulation, metcognition and self-regulated learning debate. For now lets have a look at these three perspectives in learning that Krull et al. (2013) has already so kindly outlined for us.

Behaviourist Perspective
The behavioural perspective is most commonly known via theorists and psychologists such as Pavlov, Watson, Skinner, Thorndike and Hull. The behaviourist perspective places more emphasis on learning being an unconscious process where behaviour is a result of reactions and responses to stimulus, and information is linked involuntary (Krull et al., 2013). Learning is also achieved through reinforcers and punishment, where reinforcers are seen as any stimulus that promote and strengthens a behaviour and punishments are any stimulus that weakens them (Delamater, 2011). The most common examples being classical and operant conditioning, Thorndike's law of effect and Hull's drive theory.
Cognitive-Constructivist Perspective
The cognitive-constructivist perspective of learning revolves around an information processing type framework were cognitive processes such as perception, memory, problem-solving and reasoning help to obtain information and promote and develop comprehension (Delamater, 2011; Krull et al., 2013).
Social-Constructivist Perspective
Two of the most common theorists in the social-constructivist approach to learning are Albert Bandura and Robert Sears (Grusec, 1992). The social constructivist perspective focuses around social learning theory where development and learning occurred within significant social context as a result of interactions between the environment, cognition and behaviour (Krull et al., 2013).

What we can grasp from the above perspectives is there is more than one way to approach learning, and as a result there is more than one way to approach learning about learning. I did have the desire to insert the ‘more than one way to skin a cat’ cliché there, but replaced it out of the grotesque imagery that the cliché conjures.

This is what I found myself doing

Where we are currently at[edit | edit source]

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Metacognition and self-regulation.[edit | edit source]

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This is an area where I personally had some difficulty wrapping my head around. After reading a variety of different literature in these areas these are the main question that kept popping up in my head; Are metacognition, self-regulation and self-regulated learning separate concepts? Are they different names for the same thing? Are they interwined? Or is there a hierarchical nature to them? The best way I could approach this area was to break each one down one by one by authors, and have a look at the similarities and the differences.

Cohen’s (2012) Self-Regulation Hierarchical Approach
Cohen (2012) refers to self-regulation as a socio-constructivist approach that stems from Bandura’s (1978) theory of Reciprocal Determination Cohen (2012) claims self-regulation is a circular model where modification of current practices relies upon feedback obtained from previous accomplishments. This particular approach insinuates metacogitive knowledge, metacognitive skills, self-efficacy and methods relating to behaviour and motivation as subcategories under a higher arching self-regulation concept (Cohen, 2012). It is somewhat understandable how this approach conflicts with the metacognition hierarchical approach as suggested by Schmitt and Sha (2009).
Schmitt and Sha’s (2009) Metacognition Hierarchical Approach
Schmitt and Sha (2009) argue that the concept of metacognition, especially in tasks such as learning and reading, refers to both the awareness of, and the regulation or control over, an individuals cognitive processes and the results obtained from those processes. Schmitt and Sha (2009) approach metacognition as an overarching concept that encompasses both metacognitive knowledge and self-regulation. This differs only slight from Miller and Geraci's (2011) approach with along with metacognitve knowledge and metacogntive control (self-regulation), they also include metacognitive monitoring. However for Schmitt and Sha (2009), self-regulation is regarded as a self-generated cognitive process where an individual will intentionally attempt to match their cognition process, such as their judgments, beliefs, feelings, and their behaviours to an exterior goal or belief (Barber, Grawitch & Munz, 2012; Schmitt & Sha, 2009) whilst Metacognitive Knowledge, the knowledge about knowledge, could be broken down into three separate areas: the declarative, the procedural and the conditional. Declarative metacognitive knowledge referred to knowledge about a certain metacogniton attribute, procedural metacognitive knowledge referred to the knowledge of how the strategies were to be undertaken, and conditional metacognitive knowledge referred to the knowledge of the contextual environment and why and when a task should be performed (Schmitt & Sha, 2009).
Lajoie’s (2008) Concept Separation Approach
If things do not seem complicated enough, Lajoie’s (2008) disagree with both the above approaches to learning metacognition. Lajoie’s (2008) separation approach to metacogniton and self-regulation stemmed from the belief that interchangeability of these terms has lead to confusion, primarily due to the lack of definition. For Lajoie’s (2009), metacognition referred to internal processes of a person’s self-awareness whilst self-regulation referred to the persons’ self-awareness via external factors, such as beliefs, judgments and expectations.

The beauty in all these approaches, which differs slightly from the differences found in perspective of learning, is that whilst it suggests that there is more than one way of approaching metacognition, there is two reoccurring themes found within each approach, the first being a form of self-monitoring where person’s awareness and control over their own internal processes and the second being a form of self-evaluation where a person’s awareness and control over themselves within a social context. These two reoccurring themes we will be examining in the next section.

Application Activities

Check out these external links for a variety of study strategies

How and why would you use it?[edit | edit source]


Self-Regulated Learning[edit | edit source]

Literature on the topic of self-regulated learning regards it as an overarching term which consists of a multitude of diverse characteristics, such as goal setting, metacognition and self-evaluation, where theorists have debated over how performance and learning regulation can encourage active learners (Mega, Ronconi & De Beni, 2013; Loyens, Magda & Rikers, 2008), however whilst multiple different theories exist, the general consensus agrees with two main criteria for self-regulated learning; the first is that the learner have a active role in creating metacognitive knowledge, and the second is that the learner optimize their learning by evaluating their knowledge by using self-regulatory strategies and tactics (Mega et al., 2013).

Within the concept of self-regulated learning, Ariel (2012) suggest that there are a multitude of factors that can impact on self-regulated learning, such as the level of interest in the area of study, the associated weight of reward, a students level of intrinsic motivation or even their habits relating reading.

Students who are actively engaged in self-regulated learning are more likely to employ behaviours and cognitive processes which are beneficial to their academic development and circumvent activities that do not (Mega et al., 2013) and are able to discriminate between these two factors by being aware of both their own personal need and the set requirements of the tasks (Mega et al., 2013).

During learning processes, actively engaged students are more like to plan, organize, monitor and evaluate their progress through setting standards or goals which are in turn are planned, organized, monitored and evaluated against their desired achievement (Mega et al., 2013, Loyens et al., 2008). This processes of goal organization and evaluation is established as a means of directing the learning process (Muis, 2007, cited in Mega et al., 2013).

Learning approaches[edit | edit source]

Bandura's Model of Reciprocal Determination.

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Reciprocal determination theory[edit | edit source]

Within Bandura's (1978) reciprocal determination theory, learning does not occur in isolation, it is believed to occur within multi-directional interactions that are established between behaviour, cognition and other internal factors, and the environment. The theory of reciprocal determination proposes that each of these three factors are not only affected by the other factors but also has the capability to be affected in return (Bandura, 1978).

This type of learning approach allows for considerable influence from external factors.

Venn's model of self determined theory.

Self-determined theory[edit | edit source]

Another type of learning approach is the self-determined theory, which stems from the cognitive-constructivist perspective of learning. The self determined theory relies on an individuals’ autonomous decision to make a change in their behaviour, cognition or ability (Ryan, 2013). The self determined theory proposes that, whilst external factors, such as authority figures, rewards, challenges, choice and praise, may motivate change, the process of change relies on a balance between competence; one’s ability to perform a task, relatedness; one’s ability to relate to a task or topic, and autonomy; one’s ability to make their own choices (Ryan, 2013).

This type of learning approach offers the student a more internal insight into their commitment to goal setting framework. Ryan (2013) argues that, over time, the self-determined theory can provide a student with more motivation, more commitment and better outcomes.

Self-monitoring[edit | edit source]

Barber et al. (2012) refer to self-monitoring as an individuals direct awareness and focus on their goals. When it comes to self-study, the ability to self-monitor can impact on task performance (Loyens, et al. 2008). Balkis, Duru & Bulus (2012) suggests that lower level displayed in performance tasks have been linked to academic procrastination, and that irrational beliefs about self-performance, such as overestimating or underestimating of perceived time and motivation requirements and being in the correct frame of mind, correlate positively with academic procrastination. However, effective self-monitoring tactics might be used to reduce irrational beliefs. This suggestion stems from the social learning theory that people develop expectations depending on their experience to certain situations and that a person's actions can be predict by those expectation (Balkis et al., 2012). The use of an accurate evaluation between a students desire goal and their current progress can lead to effective self-monitoring (Barber et al. 2012).

Goal setting[edit | edit source]

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Agenda-based regulation[edit | edit source]

One of the specific types of goal setting approach is the Agenda-Based Regulation. The agenda-based regulation theory is a social-constuctivist theory where goal achievement is obtained through the construction of agendas that are based on external influences (Ariel, 2012). Ariel (2012) describes agenda-based regulation as a framework where allocations of items, such as time or task load, are determined by their potential weight of reward and associating decisions are made according to that framework.

This type of goal setting approach is particular useful when a students is aware of the weight or reward for a particular task as students can plan, organise, monitor and evaluate their progress so more time or energy is investing into tasks that will more likely produce better grades (Ariel, 2012). A key fault with the agenda based regulation’s use of the weight of the potential reward, however, is that not all tasks have a numerical value associated with them (Ariel, 2012)

Feedback[edit | edit source]

Feedback Loop.

Of all the topics covered up until now, the concept of feedback is one of the most important to the concept of self-evaluation. It is upon feedback we receive from external sources that we are able to determine whether an action, a behaviour, or a specific cognitive process is beneficial or detrimental to our wellbeing or to our goal achievement.

Loyens et al. (2008) suggested that more motivation was displayed in task planning and goal setting when students were given direction and encouragement. Additionally, when students are presented with feedback they are given the opportunity to further develop their skill in comparing their current progress to their desired (Miller & Geraci, 2011). Miller & Geraci (2011) claimed that even students with low levels of performance would find improvements in their metacognitive calibration skills, if the feedback they received was solid, relevant and detailed.

For additional book chapter containing similar concept please refer to:

Self Regulation Theory in Avoidance Motivation

Self Determined Theory in Uninteresting tasks and motivation

Goals within Alcohol and university student motivation

Application Activities

What type of student are you?

Check out how regulative you are at:

How productive are your goal setting skills?

Put your goal setting skills to the test at the link below.

Associated Clips

Check out these videos

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

Hopefully now you have a better understanding about what learning metacognition might be, how it can change depending on the learning perspective or the metacognitive/self-regulatory approach it has been taken from, how it might be useful, and why it might be important. Whilst the chapter had to come to an end at some point, I do look forward to knowing that my research into the area of learning metacognition is just beginning, and hopefully I have peeked your interest enough to start your own critical research.

References[edit | edit source]

Ariel, R. (2010). Learning what to learn: The effects of task experience on strategy shifts in allocation of study time. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition. Advance online publication. doi:10.1037/a0033091

Balkis, M., Duru, E. & Bulus, M. (2013). Analysis of the relation between academic procrastination, academic rational/irrational beliefs, time preferences to study for exams, and academic achievement: a structural model. European Journal of Psychology of Education. 28(3), 825-839. DOI: 10.1007/s10212-012-0142-5

Bandura, A. (1978). The self system of reciprocal determinism. American Psychologist. 33(4), 344-358. DOI:10.1037/0003-066X.33.4.344

Barber, L. K., Grawitch, M. J. & Munz. D. C. (2012). Disengaging from a task: Lower self-control or adaptive self-regulation. Journal of Individual Differences. 33(2), 76-82. DOI: 1-.1027/1614-0001/a000064

Cohen, M. T. (2012). The importance of self-regulation for college student learning. College Student Journal. 46(4), 892-902

Delamater, A. R. (2011). At the interface of learning and cognition: An associative learning perspective. International Journal of Comparative Psychology. 24(4), 387-411. Retrieved from

Grusec, J. E. (1992). Social learning theory and developmental psychology: The Legacies of Robert Sears and Albert Bandura. Developmental Psychology. 28(5), 776-786. DOI: 10.1037/0012-1649.28.5.776

Krull, E., Koni, I. & Oras, K. (2013). Impact on student teachers' conception of learning and teaching from studying a course in educational psychology. Asia-Pacific Journal of Teacher Education. 41(2), 218-231. DOI: 10.1080/1359866X.2013.777026

Lajoie, S. (2008). Metacognition, Self Regulation, and Self-regulated Learning: A Rose by any other Name. Educational Psychology Review. 20(4), 469-475. DOI: 10.1007/s10648-008-9088-1

Loyens, S. M. M., Magda, J., & Rikers, R. M. J. P. (2008). Self-directed learning in problem-based learning and its relationships with self-regulated learning. Educational Psychology Review. 20(4), 411-427. DOI:10.1007/s10648-008-9082-7

Mega, C., Ronconi, L. & De Beni, R. (2013). What makes a good student? How emotion, self-regulated learning, and motivation contribute to academic achievement. Journal of Educational Psychology. Advance online publication. DOI: 10.1037/a0033546

Miller, T. M. & Geraci, L. (2011). Training metacognition in the classroom: the influence of incentives and feedback on exam predictions. Metacognition Learning 6(3), 303-314. DOI: 10.1007/s11409-011-9083-7

Ryan, R. (2013). Thoughts on the genesis of self-determined theory. American Journal of Health Promotion. 27(6), 8. Retrieved from

Schmitt, M. C., & Sha, S. (2009). The developmental nature of meta-cognition and the relationship between knowledge and control over time. Journal of Research in Reading. 32(2), 254-271. DOI: 10.1111/j.1467.9817.2008.01388.x