The elements of metacognition: definitions and examples

Metacognition, as the key to learning in the absence of an external source of knowledge and control (a teacher), is subject to the most granular level of analysis. This decision is informed by the fact that the data shows that metacognition controls not only the cognitive processing within the ILE but also the affective, physical, and off-task processing. In short, it controls (or is the function that could possibly control) all conscious thought. In this study, both monitoring and control of affective and physical processing are considered metacognitive monitoring and metacognitive control. This is the position that monitoring or controlling such states, which we see in the data, means that have been necessarily cognised prior to this (e.g. if we are aware that we are experiencing an emotion, that emotion has been cognised).

The data shows that metacognition involves three different types of processing: metacognitive knowledge, metacognitive monitoring and metacognitive control, which are defined in Table 4.3. All the definitions that follow in this chapter are built from the data.

These three categories break down in the following way to provide a more detailed picture of metacognitive activity. Tables 4.4-4.6 provide definitions and examples of each sub-category of metacognition at a more granular level.

Table 4.3 Upper Categories of Metacognition and Their Definitions





Knowledge learners possess about how to learn that can be used to influence the learning process. This knowledge can be strategic knowledge, self-knowledge or task knowledge



Any judgements or queries made by learners that concern how learning is progressing or how learning should progress



Any decisions or actions taken by learners that affect the progress of the learning task

Table 4.4 Types, Definitions, and Examples of Metacognitive Knowledge






Knowledge about cognition and cognitive strategies

Compare the letters which I write...the letters which I write every week.

(Student illustrating knowledge of comparisons as a way of evaluating her work)

Website, read an article on web and get some vocabulary... three to five a week...use those words in letters

(Student illustrating knowledge of the need to use new vocabulary to assist memorisation)



Knowledge of self; strengths and weaknesses, motivations and needs

Ah, I hate learning vocabulary, but maybe I should do because I need vocabulary

I don’t like using that textbook

I’m interested in life, ahh, people, so I can keep, I think I can keep my motivation.

(Student thinking about using movies as a source of new language)



Knowledge of task and how it will influence how learning should proceed

I must answer all the sections

Not every day but twice a week during the class for eight weeks, that means I should be planning for 16 study periods

Mapping the role of metacognition required the delineation of its categories and sub-categories. In the presentation of findings that follows, an instance of metacognitive activity is an instance of any one of the categories listed earlier. If an instance of a metacognitive processing activity, for example, ease of earning, is followed by a control of behaviour, this is considered as two instances of different aspects of metacognition, even though it is not interrupted by non- metacognitive behaviour (i.e. cognitive or affective processing). It should also be noted that the instances discussed are not time-dependent, and so a high instance of a certain type of activity does not necessarily mean that more time overall was spent on that activity than on another with lower instances of occurrence. At times, learners spend only a microsecond in a certain type of processing, while in other instances, duration can be much more prolonged.

Table 4.5 Types, Definitions, and Examples of Metacognitive Monitoring




Ease of learning

Making an assessment of how easy or difficult a learning task or element of the task will be to undertake

Difficult Easy, right?

Ah this section is going to be the most painful to do

Judgement of learning

Monitoring of comprehension, progress and appropriacy of ongoing learning

I don’t know if we have got all the points we need What way should I do this?

I think this is ok

Yeah that part is finished well now

Monitoring of environment

Monitoring how the

environment is affecting the progress of learning

Can I leave this room and work somewhere else? It is too hot?

I am going to use the computer over there

Monitoring of affective processing

Judging one’s affective or emotional state and its impact on learning

I’m very depressed when I think about my job Why can’t I concentrate?

Monitoring of physical processing

Judgements of positive or negative physical states, and the possible causes and/or impacts of this

I’m tired because I’m stressed My stomach hurts. Maybe I ate too much I think I should eat something

Table 4.6 Types, Definitions, and Examples of Metacognitive Control




Control of behaviour

Taking action to maintain or change the course of learning activity

Let’s come up with some interview questions.

Let’s think what kind of questions will come up Student erases and rewrites

Control of environment

Taking action to change or maintain environmental conditions affecting learning

huh.... right...resources, maybe I will go to SALC to see some books

(Student choosing to change location to a location where more resources for the task are available)

Control of affective processing

Taking action to change or maintain affective or emotional state

I need to just forget about the microphone and concentrate

Control of physical processing

Taking action to change or maintain physical state

I am sleepy, so I will turn off the heater

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