Metacognition – Concept, Characteristics, Knowledge and Skills



The American Psychological Association defines Metacognition as – “awareness of one’s own cognitive processes, often involving a conscious attempt to control them.”

The term refers to the knowledge about cognitive processes and how they function. In fact, the term metacognitive awareness refers to a person’s conscious monitoring of his or her own cognitive strategies.

Metacognition is an area of interest not only among researchers, but also among practitioners like teachers and students. Educational institutions encourage their teachers to use appropriate pedagogical skills to promote metacognitive abilities in the learners.

Understanding Metacognition

The notion was evident in the works of Jean Piaget, who worked on human cognition. In addition, Lev  Vygotsky’s work on social constructivism. Although, John Flavell is considered to be the first psychologist who coined the term ‘metacognition’ in 1976.

To understand the process of human learning. He was also greatly influenced by the works of Piaget on human cognition. One of the ideas of Piaget which contributed to the understanding of metacognition is the notion of intentionality. Moreover, it precedes cognition and gives direction to the cognition to happen.

In other words, no learning can take place in cognition so long as it is deliberately decided and directed by human mind. Broadly, it refers to ‘‘cognition about cognition or knowing about knowing’’.

However, Flavell (1976) defines it as ‘‘one’s knowledge concerning one’s own cognitive processes or anything related to them e.g: – relevant properties of information or data. For example, I am engaging in metacognition if I notice that I am having more trouble learning A than B; if it strikes me that I should double check C before accepting it as a fact’’.

Further he says: “A metacognitive approach instruction can help students learn to take control of their own learning by defining learning goals and monitoring their progress in achieving them”.

Flavell (1979) has highlighted the role of metacognition in areas such as –

Hence, metacognition plays an important role in human learning not only in cognitive areas but also in affective areas.

Characteristics of Metacognition

Based on Flavell’s explanation of metacognition, the following characteristics are identified.

i) Metacognition is intentional in nature. It begins before cognition takes place.

ii) It is both conscious as well as unconscious. Although Flavell understood it as a conscious activity of human cognition, but later on some researchers discovered that it could take place in unconscious stage of human mind.

iii) It is purposeful and foresighted. Metacognitive activity begins in the human mind with the purpose of learning.

iv) It is directed towards achieving a learning outcome.

vi) Metacognition can take place while learning both cognitive and affective learning tasks.

vii) It also involves active monitoring and self-regulation. Hence, learner continuously monitors his/her progress through the learning task.

From the above characteristics, it can also be said that metacognition is-

  • Self-Directed
  • Self-Monitored
  • Self-Regulated
  • Self-Assessed
  • Self-Evaluated

Meta Cognitive Knowledge and Skills

In metacogniton, both knowledge and skills play an important role. Flavell (1979) defined metacognitive knowledge as one’s knowledge or beliefs about the factors that effect cognitive activities. Metacognition cognition are mutually interdependent.

Metacognitive knowledge helps the learner to decide whether to go ahead with learning a new information or not. Flavell classified metacognitive knowledge into three categories:

i) Person Category: This category deals with knowledge of person variables. It includes the learner’s knowledge and beliefs about himself/herself as a thinker. In fact, what he/she believes about other people’s thinking processes. Flavell has given an example of this category by mentioning that a person believes that he can learn better by listening than by reading.

ii) Task Category: This category deals with knowledge of task variables. This category of knowledge guides the learner in the management of a task, and provides information about the degree of success that he /she like to produce. In other words, in this category, the learner is concerned with the processes involved in the learning of a new information.

iii) Strategy Category: This category is concerned with the knowledge of strategy variables. It involves identifying goals as well as sub-goals and selection of cognitive processes to be used in achieving these goals. In other words, this category deals with developing a strategy for the learning task beginning from setting learning goals to the achievement of learning tasks.

While engaging in learning tasks in these three categories , the learner uses metacognitive skills. However, these skills include

  • Taking conscious control of learning
  • Planning and selecting strategies
  • Monitoring the progress of learning
  • Correcting errors
  • Analyzing the effectiveness of learning strategies
  • Changing learning behaviors and strategies when necessary

The following are the metacognitive skills used by learner in the process of metacognition:

  1. Task analysis
  2. Planning
  3. Monitoring
  4. Evaluation
  5. Recapitulation
  6. Reflection


  • Anderson, J. R. (2015). Cognitive psychology and its implications. New York: Worth Publishers
  • Galloti, K. M. (2004). Cognitive psychology in and out of the laboratory. USA: Thomson Wadsworth.
  • Matlin, M. (1994). Cognition. Bangalore: Harcourt Brace Pub.

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