Roles of self-awareness and self-regulation in robust learning

Principal Metaphors

Metacognition does not explicitly align with particular theories of learning, which means that almost any theory of learning can be aligned with it. Consequently, the theory makes just as much sense whether invoking the Acquisition Metaphor or the wildly incompatible Radical Constructivism. That said, on close analysis, the perspective most often invoked within Metacognition appears to fit most closely with the Illumination Metaphor:
  • Knowledge is … enlightenment; all that has been illuminated
  • Knowing is … seeing
  • Learner is … a see-er (individual)
  • Learning is … coming to see (pulling into the light; overcoming darkness)
  • Teaching is … showing; highlighting; shining a light on)




Literally meaning “beyond knowing,” Metacognition refers to “thinking about thinking” – that is, being critically aware of perceptions and interpretations as they happen. More pragmatically, as a theory, Metacognition attends to abilities both to self-monitor and self-regulate. The principle that drives the theory is awareness of and control over study habits, attentiveness, memory, biases, comprehension, and other related capabilities will enhance learning. In the popular literature, Metacognition is often encountered in or as:
  • Cognitive Coaching – a formalized (and marketed) process aimed at mining and interrogating the personal assumptions and convictions that shape one’s practice – that is, to apply principles of Metacognition to one’s professional activity
  • Conditional Knowledge – based on a distinction between Knowing-How / Knowing-That (see Expert–Novice), knowing when and why each is appropriate
  • Critical Thinking – a process or competency associated with making decisions and solving problems, typically described as involving the collection, assessment, and use of information, as well as conscious awareness of one’s biases and thinking processes
  • Judgment of Learning – awareness of the extent to which one has already learning material that is to be learned
  • Know Thyself (Greek: γνώθι σε αυτών) – a dictum inscribed over the entrance of the Temple of Apollo, urging visitors to be self-aware. It has been associated with Metacognition since the term was coined.
  • Learning How to Learn – a hodgepodge of techniques and (often commercial) programs that coalesce around the core principle of Metacognition – that is, awareness of and control over one’s cognitive habits enables and amplifies learning. Beyond that point, advice varies dramatically, depending on promoters’ beliefs and motivations.
  • Meta Learning – a subfield comprising many programs, strategies, and evaluations that have been produced to support learners and teachers in developing metacognitive skills.
  • Self-Awareness Theory – an umbrella term that applies to any theory involving paying attention to oneself – including Metacognition, but most often with a focus on understanding self in comparison to and in relationship with others
  • Thinking Through – a multistage process of trying to understand into one’s own thought processes, automatic reactions, habits, and so on
Prominent subdiscourses include:
  • Metacomprehension (various, 2000s) – the ability to monitor and reflect on understanding of texts
  • Metamemory – one’s awareness of memory processes, usually engaged for the purposes of honing memory


There are two major categories of criticism of Metacognition. Firstly, the theory is inattentive to the natures of learning and cognition, thus offering a theory that can be pasted onto naïve and trivial theories of learning. Secondly, the theory is usually focused on the self, thus underplaying the importance of context and culture. (Compare Social Metacognition and Organizational Metacognition.)

Authors and/or Prominent Influences


Status as a Theory of Learning

Metacognition is not a theory of learning. Metacognition does not include consideration or critique of its own assumptions about the nature of learning or the metaphors used to characterize learning.

Status as a Theory of Teaching

Metacognition is quite popular among educators, as might be inferred from the associated discourses mentioned above.

Status as a Scientific Theory

Metacognition and its associated discourses have been bolstered by evidence both that (1) metacognitive skills can be developed with support and effort and (2) those with stronger metacognitive skills work more efficiently, are less distracted, and do better on examinations.


  • Cognitive Coaching
  • Conditional Knowledge
  • Critical Thinking
  • Judgment of Learning
  • Know Thyself
  • Learning How to Learn
  • Meta Learning
  • Metacomprehension
  • Metamemory
  • Self-Awareness Theory
  • Thinking Through

Map Location

Please cite this article as:
Davis, B., & Francis, K. (2021). “Metacognition” in Discourses on Learning in Education.

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