Central role of metacognition in improving the academic outcome of learners in biological sciences | Adamas University

Central role of metacognition in improving the academic outcome of learners in biological sciences

Metacognition, Science

Central role of metacognition in improving the academic outcome of learners in biological sciences


Higher education in colleges and universities present unique challenges to students where the use of previous learning strategies in high schools may not be ideal for a desirable positive academic outcome. Students using such earlier learning strategies may think that they are working hard but may not be receiving the desired results. In higher education, apart from remembering information, students are also required to think, reflect, and interpret information and to make the information or knowledge useful or apply new knowledge in real-world scenarios. In this new environment, students would require to adapt strategies that would require students to think about their own thinking which in essence is metacognition.

Metacognition is a reflective process where a student might ask questions such as –

* What problem I need to solve?

* How can I solve a problem?

* What strategy might be most relevant to solve a problem?

* How am I doing?

* What do I need to do differently to improve or better my academic outcome?

Importance of metacognition for bioscience students

Metacognition is the process of reflecting and directing one’s thinking or processes so that students become self-reflective or self-directed or self-regulated or lifelong learners. Metacognitive skills are crucial for students pursuing higher education as well in their professional lives. It involves an assessment of one’s own learning and performance and adapting suitable strategies for academic excellence. Metacognition can not only predict outcomes of learning but also correlates with academic achievement and problem-solving skills. This is very much relevant to biological concepts which would require problem solving skills and students should adapt and identify suitable strategies for problem solving. Problem solving skills require metacognitive skills as synthesis or construction of a solution is dependent on the given information instead of relying on memory alone. Students of life sciences in the 21st century are also required to integrate and apply knowledge and information from diverse fields and concepts which also require metacognition.  Metacognition is required in complex tasks such as academic writing, presentation of scientific articles, independent projects, etc. These activities would require students to better manage and regulate their learning. A schematic diagram exhibiting the metacognitive skills that result in better academic outcome is illustrated in Figure 1.

Self-regulated learning strategies for bioscience students

To become self-directed learners, students must learn to assess demands and constraints of task, evaluate their own knowledge and skills, plan their approach, monitor progress and adjust as and when necessary. Learning to assess the task at hand is often missed or misunderstood by students. Assessing the task at hand requires students not only how to carefully read and assess the task, but also to plan and implement a suitable learning strategy and receive feedback to check accuracy of understanding of their task before they begin the work. Students often underestimate or overestimate strength and weaknesses both of which could influence the desired academic outcome. Understanding of one’s strength and weaknesses realistically enable students to formulate strategies could lead to better academic outcome. Planning appropriate strategies to complete tasks in hand can give students not only the right start but it can also improve quality of work. Continuous monitoring of understanding and performance is critical to determine if the strategy used is effective or ineffective or partially effective to achieve the desired academic outcome. Furthermore, students are required to adjust as and when necessary to retain the strategies that are effective, discard ineffective strategies and incorporate newer and better strategies to reach the desired outcome. A flow chart of how metacognitive process can be used for self-directed learning is illustrated in Figure 2.

Support of metacognitive skills in digital learning platforms

In the context of online learning and lifelong learning, students are expected to be self-regulated learners and hence the metacognition in education is more relevant in the current pandemic when there is a clear transition from physical classroom to online mode of learning. Technology driven innovative pedagogic processes can support and facilitate metacognitive learning among students. For example, a typical online peer to peer review of assessments based on certain review criteria would require a student to use metacognitive skills for assessment of academic writing. Students can also be instructed to write review of literature which would require students to read, organize and synthesize a creative work which then would facilitate metacognitive process. Use of think pair share exercises in the context of online learning enable students to collaborate in pairs or groups who then can share their ideas or reflections to a larger audience. Similarly, wikis, blogs and posts can allow students to comment and provide critique on each other’s work. Such collaborative and peer to peer learning can lead to innovative problem solving and positive academic outcome. Digital spaces allow students work to be documented and enable students to become good planners and strategists and not rely just on memory-based learning or procedural work. A schematic of metacognitive skills that can be supported in the digital learning platforms is exhibited in Figure 3.

Role of instructors in imparting metacognitive strategies

Metacognition is a vital component but often neglected in education. Using metacognitive knowledge and regulation, classrooms can be shifted from non-engaging to that of an active learning mode. It is important that students have the right tools and awareness of how to learn effectively in a college environment. Metacognition is a learned skill and may not develop on its own and is developed typically based on a long developmental process. Instructors can help students to develop metacognitive skills via clear explicit instructions on how to use metacognitive strategies. Classrooms that promote reflection, problem solving, collaborative or peer learning, peer review of assessments, writing original essays and activities that require metacognition can advance self-regulated learning behaviour in students. Learning about metacognition and developing metacognitive skills should preferably be introduced to young minds which not only positively influence their academic outcome but also equip them with tools to face life. 


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