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Metacognition in Self-Directed Learning

Metacognition is often described as thinking about thinking (Flavell, 1976). This process involves the thinking that we bring to a task in terms of the skills and processes required to accomplish it.

Metacognition is integral to self-directed learning. The learner charts her plan for learning by being clear of her goals and considers how she will monitor the process to check if she is on track. She then evaluates if she has accomplished her task well and also thinks about her areas for improvement. Indeed, the literature on metacognition commonly notes the importance of these 3 strategies: planning, monitoring and evaluation.

I believe that these strategies form the bedrock for self-directed learning.

And this process can be taught.

Teachers can cultivate the metacognitive habit through the way we design the learning environment. John Loughran suggests some teaching procedures for metacognition in his book, What Expert Teachers Do (2010).

I will share 2 of these procedures that he notes in the chapter on Metacognition.

Predict-Observe-Explain (POE)

The POE strategy is a constructivist strategy developed by White and Gunstone (1992). It is typically used in Science teaching. It involves 3 tasks: Predict-Observe-Explain.

Predict: Present the students with a situation and ask them to predict what they will see when a change is made. They will need to explain the reasons for their prediction

Observe: Ask the students to describe their observation.

Explain: Ask the students to explain what actually happened and if there is a gap between their prediction and observation and explain the possible reasons for the discrepancy.

This strategy involves metacognition because students need to think about their reasoning and analytical process, their prior understandings and beliefs about that topic. Thus, for this strategy to be effective, students should have prior knowledge about the topic so that they are able to use that knowledge to demonstrate their reasoning and analysis. The task should not degenerate to a gimmicky guessing game nor one where the outcome is already typically known.


This strategy is useful as in an extended activity like a learning journey or a research project.

During an extended activity, students can be asked to make a list of the things they have learnt in the situation as well as those things which they do not fully understand or wish to learn more about. They can then write a review, reflecting on what they are clear about and what they are not clear of and importantly, think about those things which they have different perspectives on and note why. If time permits, they can share their learning in groups or through whole-class discussion.

This strategy compels students to be deeply engaged with the learning situation, explore what they have learnt and what they need to learn more about. The power in the learning lies in the fact that it arises from students’ own questioning. Moreover, there is intrinsic value in using language to express what is in our mind.

Exposure to such procedures in learning habituates learners to approach tasks with a questioning mind, viewing learning as what they can do as opposed to be done to.

I believe that metacognition provides the scaffolding for self-directed learning. Pedagogy that involves formulaic routines and front-loading of information without offering opportunities for information- processing, cultivates passive, disengaged learners. If students are comfortable with thinking about thinking and have opportunities to plan how they will learn or demonstrate their learning, monitor their progress and evaluate whether they have learnt, they are better placed for self-directed learning.

Two areas that we can formally apply the 3-step process- planning, monitoring and evaluating– are in the Performance Task and Research Studies. By articulating a consistent framework for thinking about thinking in these areas as a start, we can enhance students’ and indeed, our own comfort level with self-directed learning.


Posted by: Mary George Cheriyan

Director, Centre for Pedagogical Research and Learning


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