Metacognition: Discussing a definition

‘Thinking about thinking’ had been cited by Flavell before the eighties as a “promising new area of investigation” coining the term metacognition. “Metacognition refers to one’s knowledge concerning one’s own cognitive processes and products or anything related to them. […] Metacognition refers, among other things, to the active monitoring and consequent regulation and orchestration of these processes in relation to the cognitive objects on which they bear, usually in the serve of some concrete goal or objective”. (Flavell, 1976, p. 232)

Still fuzziness continued in the fields of psychology and education around terms such as ‘strategic knowledge’. Great discrepancy existed in the definition of strategic knowledge, most apparent in the research area of problem solving, even though a debate on this issue had been in the literature for over a decade at that time.

“To some, strategies are general processes that operate across domains (e.g.,Gillingham, Garner, Guthrie, & Sawyer, 1988; Roth, 1985), whereas to others they are compilations or extensions of domain-specific knowledge  (e.g.,Chi, 1985; Rabinowitz & Chi, 1987). Furthermore, while some researchers investigate a singular strategy, such as mapping (Resnick,1982), others investigate complex, interrelated groups of strategies such as summarizing, predicting, and verifying (e.g.,Palincsar & Brown, 1984; Schoenfeld, 1985).” (Alexander & Judy, 1988, p. 381.)

After having discussed the concepts of strategic knowledge and metacognition for another two decades in the fields of cognitive research and learning theories, a need was clear for a higher level connection of concepts:

“Traditional developmental research in memory and reasoning, as well as current investigations in such disparate areas as theory of mind, epistemological understanding, knowledge acquisition, and problem solving, share the need to invoke a meta-level of cognition in explaining their respective phenomena.” (Kuhn, 2000, p. 178).

At that time there were several models and definitions of metacognition (which had replaced strategic knowledge as the umbrella term). These models and definitions are discussed, summarized and distilled in 2002 by Pintrich:

“Metacognitive knowledge includes knowledge of general strategies that might be used for different tasks, knowledge of the conditions under which these strategies might be used, knowledge of the extent to which the strategies are effective, and knowledge of self (Flavell, 1979; Pintrich et al., 2000; Schneider & Pressley, 1997).” (Pintrich, 2002).

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