What is Metacognition?

Cognition is thinking. Metacognition is thinking about thinking. There are various kinds of thinking and different categories of metacognition.

Meta-abilities and meta-awareness require a higher degree of selective attentive control than does the development of meta-knowledge (Bialystok, 2001). Using educational strategies that promote student reflection not only  on what they are learning but how they are learning and the progress they are making or the challenges they face and how to overcome them helps learners to attain this higher degree of meta-awareness. 

Cognition Metacognition
Knowlege refers to what your know. Meta-knowledge refers to one's ability to use knowledge in a conscious, deliberate manner. 
Ability refers to skill. Meta-ability refers to the awareness and conscious understanding of how to acquire and utilize those skills. This domain is sometimes referred to as procedural knowledge. 
Awareness indicates recognition of knowledge or circumstances. Meta-awareness is characterized by a deeper reflection on how we know what we know and how we might improve our ways of knowing.

Metacognition & Reflection

Metacognition is fundamental to reflection on learning, teaching and practice. Selective Attentive Control is the process of deliberately or directing one's attention to mastering or controlling a particular knowledge base and process. It is a form of metacognition we ask students to apply as they strive for mastery of the knowledge, principles and practice of medicine. 

"Reflection is particularly important in medicine, in which evidence-based practice and client-centered care require the physician to analyze best evidence while considering his or her values and assumptions vis-à-vis the values, beliefs, and goals of each patient." - Margaret Plack & Larrie Greenberg MD, Pediatrics*.

The logical counterpart to reflective learning is reflective teaching.


  • National Research Council. How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school. Committee on developments in the science of learning. Commission on Behavioral and Social Sciences, National Research Council,  Bransford J, Brown A & Cocking R. (Eds.) Wash. D.C.: National Academy Press;  1999.

  • Plack MM & Santasier A. Reflective Practice: A Model for Facilitating Critical Thinking Skills Within an Integrative Case Study Classroom Experience. Method-Model Presentation in, Journal of Physical Therapy Education, 18(1); 2004.