The learning process is fascinating to me. We are created unique in every area of our lives. Is it any wonder why every few years there are new break-throughs in slowing the aging process, fitness, health, mental capacity, technology and learning. Ever heard of “metacognition”? I hadn’t until more recently.
What you are about to read is something we should be doing naturally… and in-fact many do, but most don’t. Lets learn to “think about thinking” again shall we?
Metacognition is one’s ability to use prior knowledge to plan a strategy for approaching a learning task, take necessary steps to problem solve, reflect on and evaluate results, and modify one’s approach as needed. It helps learners choose the right cognitive tool for the task and plays a critical role in successful learning.
Metacognition refers to awareness of one’s own knowledge—what one does and doesn’t know—and one’s ability to understand, control, and manipulate one’s cognitive processes (Meichenbaum, 1985). It includes knowing when and where to use particular strategies for learning and problem solving as well as how and why to use specific strategies. Metacognition is the ability to use prior knowledge to plan a strategy for approaching a learning task, take necessary steps to problem solve, reflect on and evaluate results, and modify one’s approach as needed.
Cognitive strategies are the basic mental abilities we use to think, study, and learn (e.g., recalling information from memory, analyzing sounds and images, making associations between or comparing/contrasting different pieces of information, and making inferences or interpreting text). They help an individual achieve a particular goal, such as comprehending text or solving a math problem, and they can be individually identified and measured. In contrast, metacognitive strategies are used to ensure that an overarching learning goal is being or has been reached. Examples of metacognitive activities include planning how to approach a learning task, using appropriate skills and strategies to solve a problem, monitoring one’s own comprehension of text, self-assessing and self-correcting in response to the self-assessment, evaluating progress toward the completion of a task, and becoming aware of distracting stimuli.
So we have a combination of Awareness (metacognition) and Strategy (cognition).
Metacognition is about knowing the process… one’s own process of learning, problem-solving and the adjustments needed to control the process of learning; planning, strategies monitoring, progress, and goals. We can boil these areas down into 3 categories:
- Personal Variables – a person’s own strengths and weaknesses
- Task Variables – One’s own task processing and what is required of them to complete a task
- Strategy Variables – Strategies that one already has ready in order to navigate and accomplish tasks and solve problems, as well as goals
Bringing this closer to home, we build or construct (things) off our own knowledge base… “this is an anchor”, “this is a pulley system”, “this is what it looks like to pull on a rope, see the pulley system get smaller as the load gets closer” and we use tidbits of information to begin the bridging chunks of “otherwise” useless information into something more practical. This building process is the cognition side of learning. However, it is when we begin the formal command of “thinking about the thinking” that the acceleration begins. Metacognition is the accelerant, caffeine, octane… that puts learning into another gear.
The use of metacognitive skills rapidly increases confidence and independence.
Vision isn’t a concept without application. Vision isn’t an ethereal form of “seeing into the future”. More often, visionaries have a high level of problem-solving. They see what they see because there is little to no impedance to what is being presented to them… because they can see past obstacles that would have stopped the processes with others. Obstacles are “solved” when individuals or teams think through strategies and make decisions that resolve the problem. It is the process of thinking about what is being thought through… purposefully. How is this done?
Metacognitive processing is done in blocks. The tool needed as blocks of use, these are applied appropriately to a given job or task that is aligned perfectly to ensure successfully completing what is required. When done well, it is seamless. Strategies are formed through “being aware” of the blocks (tools) needed to build and complete something. It is a magical process. This is way past computers or AI. Metacognition is beyond this. The hypotenuse is something a computer will figure out and can “learn”. However, the “WHY IS?” a given configuration used… is not something automation does. Reasoning is such a gift.
I believe that learning systems, knots, rules of when to do something, and not do something are fine and they have a place, but in today’s world, having the ability and freedom to think are two completely polar skills. Giving someone the freedom to think and resolve is frightening to many and especially those who have something to lose (at the hands of the one who can think through something before acting). They are dangerous to weaker people.
- Develop a plan before jumping into a multi-task scenario.
- Monitor the process and create a “fix-up” should something break down. Fix Up Strategies are generally about comprehension and it is the comprehension that makes or breaks learning.
- Evaluate the thinking process used alongside the completed task.
Now in all honesty… this stuff is so foreign to people with short attention spans (like me). This metacognitive process is very detailed and yet… will and does work extremely well for the visual and kinesthetic learners. The “I need to see, touch it and experience it” people must still have the ability to “think past, through and along” with the task.
I remember standing in Neverland (our new rigging film studio) wanting to set up a two tension system employing a dynamic directional. Simple enough right? No! Platforms are not equally the same. Elevation gain and loss are different. Anchors were dissimilar and so on. However, when I sat back and built a storyline around what I was doing. Envisioned a smaller team. Took note of what little equipment I allowed for “myself” and then… realized I had not considered the multiple vector forces working with and against me. It took me forever to run the system back and forth. Numerous times my load touched down because the “person” was out of eye contact (because there was no other person on the other side– I was on the near side and myself hadn’t yet jumped to the far side).
Failure was at every corner, but defeat never occurred. Why?… I had a plan. I monitored everything I was doing. I evaluated the outcome. Muscle memory, sight, sound, sense, feel, understanding, and knowledge all stacked up ready to be thought through. It was a blast.
So for the Instructors out there… Here are some thoughts for your students… Remember, as an instructor, you must always be learning, learning, learning. You are your own student!
- During the planning phase
- What are you supposed to be learning?
- What knowledge did you come here with?
- How much time is allotted to complete a given task?
- What directions should my “thinking” take me?
- During the monitoring phase
- How am I doing?
- Am I on the right track and how should I proceed?
- What is the priority piece of information I need to take in?
- How is my pace and direction?
- Does this look like what I thought it would look like?
- During the evaluation phase
- What did I learn?
- Did get what I expected?
- What should I have done differently?
- Besides this current application, what other applications might this work for or in combination with?
- What gaps do I need to fill?
So in short… metacognitive skills help us to become comfortable with unfamiliar terrain and challenges. It elevates our learning, focus and attention span, meaning and purpose.
I believe if you can see it, you can do it.
Peace on your days…