Organizational Metacognition


Organizational self-awareness

Principal Metaphors

  • Knowledge is … the scope of possible activity of an organization
  • Knowing is … current activity of an organization
  • Learner is … an organization
  • Learning is … changes in practice that enhance the scope of possible activity
  • Teaching is … effecting and measuring adaptation




Organizational Metacognition refers to an awareness of what an organization knows. Such knowledge includes insight into what enables and constrains learning. Associated discourses include:
  • Organizational Cognition (Linda Smircich, 1980s) – a system of common knowledge and shared convictions within an organization, enabled and sustained by joint knowledge structures and collective communication rules
  • Transactive Memory (Daniel Wegner, 1980s) – a hypothesis on collective knowledge that looks across each individual’s memories, the possibilities that arise in interactions among individuals, and the information encoded in the collective’s structures and records.
  • Organizational Memory (V. Anand, C. Manz, & W.H. Glick, 1990s) – the combination of a group’s explicit knowledge (available through policy documents, data bases, etc.) and tacit knowledge (enacted in interactions and communications)
  • Institutional Memory – an older, more common, and less formalized notion than Organizational Memory (see above) that is typically defined in much the same way. By way of subtle difference, Institutional Memory is perhaps more often seen to reside in the personal memories and experiences of veteran members of the organization.
  • Negotiated Belief Structures (James Walsh & Liam Fahey, 1980s) – webs of power and belief – both tacit and explicit – that format interactions and collaborations within organizations


Like Metacognition and Social Metacognition, Organizational Metacognition is inattentive to the natures of learning and cognition, thus offering a theory that can be pasted onto naïve and trivial theories of learning. Additionally, the perspective is not entirely clear on (or, depending on the version, consistent about) who or what is aware of the organization’s knowing.

Authors and/or Prominent Influences


Status as a Theory of Learning

Organizational Metacognition is not a theory of learning.

Status as a Theory of Teaching

Organizational Metacognition is not a theory of teaching, but it is typically utilized in efforts to interpret and affect the functioning of an organization. In a sense, then, Organizational Metacognition is theory of organizational teaching – that is, it serves to inform strategies intended to enable and tools used to measure an organization’s adaptation over time.

Status as a Scientific Theory

Like Metacognition and Social Metacognition, Organizational Metacognition does not include consideration or critique of its own assumptions about the nature of learning or the metaphors used to characterize learning. Put differently, Organizational Metacognition opts for operational definition of learning (i.e., one stated in measurable terms) rather than a well-theorized account of the complex dynamics of learning. Consequently, it does not meet our criteria for a scientific theory.


  • Institutional Memory
  • Negotiated Belief Structures
  • Organizational Cognition
  • Organizational Memory
  • Transactive Memory

Map Location

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

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