To become self-directed learners, students must learn to monitor and adjust their approaches to learning.

As a member of faculty, it’s probably fair to assume that you were successful as a student and that over the years you have developed and honed your ability to learn. When faced with a new challenge or subject, you use these skills to analyse what is needed, determine the approach to take, and check your progress.

Because we have these interdisciplinary skills, we often assume that our students will too. We overestimate their study skills and are then surprised when their assignment fails to answer the question, or when they spend time and effort on irrelevant areas.

What the research tells us is that metacognition skills are something that need to be taught and practiced. They are underpinned by the student’s self-belief in their own intelligence and their power to affect outcomes.

Let’s start by looking at the cycle of metacognitive skills an expert or successful learner will typically follow. We will then look at each of these stages in more detail and some strategies you can adopt to support your students at each stage of the cycle.

Assess the task
Evaluate strengths and weaknesses
Apply strategies and monitor performance
Reflect and adjust if necessary
Assess the task at hand, taking into consideration the task’s goals and constraints.
Evaluate their own knowledge and skills, identifying strengths and weaknesses.
Plan their approach in a way that accounts for the current situation.
Apply various strategies to enact their plan, monitoring their progress along the way.
Reflect on the degree to which their current approach is working, then adjust and restart the cycle as needed.