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What is Meta-Cognition?

Meta-Cognition is thinking about thinking – what we know about how we think and how we learn and use new information. Metacognition is a reflection of how people think about themselves, about others and about the future based on their beliefs about their own thinking processes. Learning how we think can help us not only to understand ourselves and how we think and act and what makes us who we are, but can also help us make wiser decisions in all aspects of our lives (Roebers & Feurer, 2016). Knowing how we think, and how we learn, can make us better learners in many different aspects of life.

Over the past decade, the wave of meta-cognition specially the procedural meta-cognition has been big especially as it related to kids and their development (Kuhn, 2000). By age 4, kids are able to distinguish between their own beliefs and that of their surroundings and are able to understand that their beliefs may not always match that of their surroundings. This is the early stage of self-awareness and serves as a foundation for early metacognitive achievements.

The two primary types of meta-cognition are declarative and procedural. Declarative is the what (factual information) and procedural is the how (how something is performed)

For this writing, we will only be looking at procedural meta-cognition. Procedural meta-cognition is our knowledge of how we do things, the steps required to get a task done, what we need to do to accomplish certain things in our environment. Procedural meta-cognition affects our performance directly. According to Flavell’s early definition, procedural meta-cognition involves self-reflective, higher order cognitive processes used for regulating ongoing cognitive processes. (Roebers & Feurer, 2016). Procedural meta-cognition may seem simple, but upon further analysis, can be seen to be quite complex.

For example, when teaching a child to ride a bicycle, as a protective parent the tendency is to continue to support the child, even if they are doing fine. This can inhibit active learning. Meta-cognitively, it is important to recognize that the best way to teach is to let the student do, even if they may fail sometimes. Even if the child falls from the bike a few times, they will learn how to ride that bike by themselves quicker than if a parent continues to support them and act as their training wheels (Larkin, 2010). Again, this requires not only an understanding of how the child will learn the procedure of riding that bike, but the active steps you are taking in teaching them how to ride that bike. And that can include reflections on your own experiences when you were being taught that skill.

However, procedural memory may not be as accessible to declarative memory and active description as other types of information. Many times, we learn new skills, but can find it very difficult to teach that new skill to another or explain to another in words how to complete that kind of task. However, demonstrating how to do it is easy enough. This makes procedural meta-cognition a more difficult topic to discuss as compared to other types of meta-cognition. While we may learn how to do new tasks, it may be difficult to understand how we learned how to do those things.

The classic example of this is driving a stick-shift car. While it can be relatively easy to learn how to do this, may people report that teaching another person how to do this is very difficult, because shifting can be very difficult to explain. This is one of the many occasions where a recognition that producorial meta-cognition does not always lend itself to verbal report, can emphasize the importance of demonstrating a new skill of behaviour, in addition to just explaining how to do it.

While meta-cognition is quite fascinating for a number of reasons, as an active student and a learner, although procedural meta-cognition is a type of thinking about thinking that can be very useful to many different kinds of people, it can be extremely valuable particularly for students at all levels. Knowing more about how we learn new types of information, particularly behavioural skills as well as knowledge, can be invaluable in improving our skills as a learner, increasing our capacity to learn more. Even more important, an understanding that sometimes showing, rather than explaining, can be the best way to teach someone something new can make you a much better teacher, as well a better learner.


Larkin, S. (2010). Metacognition in young children. London ; New York: London ; New York : Routledge.

Roebers, C. M., & Feurer, E. (2016). Linking Executive Functions and Procedural Metacognition. Child Development Perspectives, 10(1), 39-44. doi:10.1111/cdep.12159

Kuhn, D. (2000). Metacognitive Development. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 9(5), 178-181. doi:10.1111/1467-8721.00088

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