Metacognitive Education: Going beyond Critical Thinking

Joe Y. F. Lau

Critical thinking is one of the central aims of education, and many schools and universities have courses specifically devoted to critical thinking. Ennis (1989) defines critical thinking as "reasonable reflective thinking focused on deciding what to believe or do." There are of course many other definitions of critical thinking, but most of them emphasize the importance of rationality, clarity, analysis, and independence of thought. In a typical university course on critical thinking, students might study logic, argument analysis, basic scientific methodology, fallacies, and other related topics. They learn how to distinguish between good and bad reasoning, and use this knowledge to improve their own thinking.

As such, critical thinking necessarily involves a certain amount of "metacognition," or "thinking about thinking." The concept of metacognition started to gain prominence in developmental psychology around the 1970s (Flavell 1976). It is usually understood as having two components: knowledge about cognition, and the use of this knowledge in "self-regulation," which is the monitoring and control of cognition. Critical thinking must involve some amount of metacognition, since a critical thinker ought to be able to reflect upon the reasons for her beliefs, and take careful steps to ensure that her reasoning is correct. The main thesis of this paper is that the teaching of critical thinking should be expanded and re-conceptualized as part of a broader educational program for enhancing metacognition. One of the most basic reasons for teaching critical thinking is to help students improve their decisions about what to believe or what to do. This paper argues that in order to better achieve this goal, we need to go beyond critical thinking. It involves teaching more about other aspects of cognition such as the psychology of learning and reasoning and creative problem solving. We also need to help students gain better insight and control over their work habits and personality. This training in metacognition can improve the quality and effectiveness of thinking. It will in turn strengthen the learning of critical thinking and bring about more lasting cognitive gains.

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