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Adult Learner > Factors > Metacognition


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Metacognition is the ability to think about our internal cognitive processes, or to "think about thinking". By using metacognitive skills to continually monitor and regulate their thinking and understanding, learners are able to better plan their strategies and assess resources, ultimately becoming better problem solvers, decision makers, and critical thinkers.

Main Ideas

Metacognitive skills help adults adapt both their internal strategies and external behavior, allowing flexibility in varied settings. Though metacognitive skills stay relatively stable over the lifespan, the different facets of Metacognition show different developmental trends. There are several important components of Metacognition:

  • Metacognitive knowledge is the knowledge we have about our cognitive processes and provides a basis for metacognitive procedures. This facet of Metacognition has been found to decline with age. Metacognitive knowledge includes:

    • Knowledge about the strengths and weaknesses of our own cognitive abilities, including our abilities to minimize distractions and focus
    • Knowledge about the task at hand, including time allocation and understanding directions
    • Knowledge about strategies and when to use them
  • Metacognitive regulation is the use of metacognitive knowledge to guide behavior, and involves two important skills that continually interact to help us read and write more effectively:

    • Monitoring involves observing our own thinking and cognitive processes as we read, participate in certain tasks, and experience different situations. Metacomprehension refers to regularly evaluating understanding during reading. Learners often overestimate their comprehension of online texts compared to when reading on paper. This could ultimately impact how well they learn online.
    • Control is the ability to regulate our own thoughts and cognitive processes. This includes reviewing plans when writing and rereading text for understanding.

Metacognition is critical in "unlearning", or the process of replacing memories and habits that no longer benefit us. This allows learners to widen their perspectives and adapt to new information. Unlearning can range from adjusting to new processes at work to letting go of long-held biases.

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