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Thanks to reader Tianna T., who emailed this week and asked how we can use learning science to ‘rewire’ persistent misunderstandings and biases. Such a great question (and perfect timing to inspire this week’s issue!). One possible answer to Tianna’s question is metacognition. We’re dedicating this issue to this topic -- there’s a lot to cover!

What is Metacognition?

If you’re not familiar with metacognition, you might enjoy this overview from Vanderbilt’s Center for Teaching or this deep dive from Cambridge International. One simple definition of metacognition is that it’s thinking about thinking, or as the seminal work How People Learn describes it, “the ability to monitor one’s current level of understanding and decide when it is not adequate” (p. 47). It’s also been defined as “the processes involved when learners plan, monitor, evaluate and make changes to their own learning behaviours” (from the Cambridge site).

Why Is Metacognition Important?

Studies have suggested that children who are taught to use metacognitive strategies early on are more effective learners. Again, from How People Learn: “metacognitive approaches to instruction have been shown to increase the degree to which students will transfer to new situations without the need for explicit prompting” (p. 67). Have you heard of the Dunning-Kruger effect? This, in essence, is the absence of metacognition; some people, in certain situations, are incapable of recognizing their own incompetence (we’ve all been there, right?) and rely on their own cognitive biases to make decisions. This lack of metacognition can have serious consequences; in the medical field, researchers have suggested that explicit instruction for doctors in metacognition, including awareness of cognitive biases, has the potential to reduce diagnostic errors and improve patient safety (Royce et al., 2013).

Incorporating Metacognition In Workplace Learning And Customer Education

So metacognition is important. But what’s the relevance for workplace learning and customer education? Well, to go back to Tianna’s original question: metacognition can help us challenge deeply-held beliefs or biases that our learners might have. By encouraging them to activate their prior knowledge and engage in structured reflection about what they have learned, instructors can help learners leverage metacognition to learn more deeply. Specifically, it’s suggested that instructors help learners through the three phases of metacognition by encouraging them to ask the following questions:

  • During the planning phase, learners can ask: What am I supposed to learn? What prior knowledge will help me with this task? What should I do first? What should I look for in this reading? How much time do I have to complete this? In what direction do I want my thinking to take me?

  • During the monitoring phase, learners can ask: How am I doing? Am I on the right track? How should I proceed? What information is important to remember? Should I move in a different direction? Should I adjust the pace because of the difficulty? What can I do if I do not understand?

  • During the evaluation phase, learners can ask: How well did I do? What did I learn? Did I get the results I expected? What could I have done differently? Can I apply this way of thinking to other problems or situations? Is there anything I don’t understand—any gaps in my knowledge? Do I need to go back through the task to fill in any gaps in understanding? How might I apply this line of thinking to other problems?

Incorporating Metacognition into Your Own Practice

We reached out to Dr. Nikki James, learning scientist at Northeastern University, for her take on metacognition; she recently co-presented a paper, “The Importance of Metacognitive Regulation for Work-Integrated Learning” at the Australian Collaborative Education Network Conference in 2020. Here’s what she had to say about the subject.

As educators, teachers, and mentors, we take on the incredible responsibility of helping others grow. It is crucial, selfless work that requires more effort than we realize and gets less recognition than it deserves. Amid our endless encouragement, the outpouring of advice, and the transfer of information, we must not forget to turn the mirror on ourselves every once in a while. Has doing the task we are ‘teaching’ become so automated that we fail to communicate vital steps in the process and then wonder why our mentee is ‘not getting it’? In the rush of it all, are we taking the time to develop our students’ ability to use knowledge, or are we just injecting it into their brains and hoping they work out the rest? Are we putting ourselves in the ‘novice’ seat enough to empathize with our students and their learning process?

The next time you are frustrated with a student, employee, or mentee because they are ‘not getting it,’ try and turn the mirror on yourself for a moment, leverage that extraordinary power of metacognition, and see if you can use the moment to help yourself grow.

Recent Research On Metacognitive Training

Let’s take a look at a related article from the upcoming February 2021 issue of Learning & Instruction. In this study, researchers investigated whether metacognitive training could help students select reliable sources, comprehend inconsistent texts, and make knowledgeable decisions. Their results showed that training on metacognitive strategies prepared learners for the challenges of comprehending content that was often conflicting or went against the learners’ existing beliefs.

Key Takeaway: Researchers have demonstrated that teaching metacognition is a powerful strategy to encourage critical thinking and discourage disinformation.

Read More ($): Abendroth, J. & Richter, T. (2021). How to understand what you don’t believe: Metacognitive training prevents belief-biases in multiple text comprehension. Learning & Instruction, 71.

Suggest a Topic!

What would you like for us to focus on next? We have an ongoing list of reader suggestions that we pull from regularly, and we’d love to include your ideas, thoughts, feedback, pets, conferences, upcoming webinars, book releases, etc. Send ‘em on over to

LSW Podcast: Episode 4 Now Available

Want to hear how you can bridge the gap between learning science research and practice? Julia chats with educator Blake Harvard (aka the Effortful Educator) in this week’s episode about evidence-based instruction and the similarities between K-12 education and workplace learning. Next week we’ll hear from learning science legend Donald Clark.

Introducing: T. and April!

This week we’re welcoming two new doctoral students to the LSW research team: T. Forbes and April Taylor. We couldn’t be more excited to have these bright researchers join us.

T. Forbes

T. Forbes has worked in the media and communications industry for over twenty years and has divided her time between two passions, education and entertainment. She has a wide range of diverse professional experiences: she’s taught at the Los Angeles Unified School District, created new shows for CNN, started her own training company, and mentored young entrepreneurs. T. has an undergraduate degree in English as well as an MBA and is currently pursuing her PhD in the Department of Learning Sciences at Georgia State University (go Panthers!). At LSW, she’ll focus her time on furthering our research agenda.

April Taylor

April Taylor is currently pursuing an Ed.D. in Adult & Lifelong Learning from the University of Arkansas. Her research interests include workplace learning, adult learner motivations, and online education. April has served in faculty and administrative roles in higher education, along with human resources and talent development roles in the corporate sector. She holds a Masters of Education in Human Resources and Workforce Development from the University of Arkansas and a B.S.E. in Secondary Education from the University of Central Arkansas. In her spare time, she likes to mountain bike and hike.

Pets of Learning Science Weekly

Reader Linda K. pointed out that we’ve been featuring dogs almost exclusively in Learning Science Weekly, so this week, we’re including her adorable cat Daisy. Thank you for reading, Linda, and for ensuring we have equal pet representation!

If you have a cute pet you’d like to see in LSW (be it a dog, cat, fish, rabbit, turtle, or… whatever), send us a picture! You could see it featured here or on Twitter.

Send us your pet pics at

Wondering why we’re including animal photos in a learning science newsletter? It may seem weird, we admit. But we’re banking on the baby schema effect and the “power of Kawaii.” So, send us your cute pet pics -- you’re helping us all learn better!

The LSW Crew

Learning Science Weekly is written and edited by Julia Huprich, Ph.D. Our head of growth and community is Julieta Cygiel.

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