Metacognitive Learning Skills

Rethinking the notion of "noncognitive"

A name can matter a lot. Perhaps it’s time to move beyond our current, overly-cautious approach to measuring elements of the learning process that extend beyond content knowledge. Perhaps it’s time to think of "noncognitive" dimensions of learning as forms of thinking, rather than as a process that does not involve cognition. 

Metacognitive Learning Skills refer to any student-­level variable, that is not subject‑specific (e.g., math, science, or reading), including:
  • personality and motivational factors;
  • experiential and contextual intelligence;
  • social skills and interests; and
  • adjustment and student perceptions.

Four Keys to College and Career Readiness

We might better describe what has previously fallen under the label of noncognitive factors in learning as “metacognitive learning skills.” While metacognition is a broad term, in this context it includes all learning processes and behaviors involving any degree of reflection, learning-strategy selection, and intentional mental processing that can result in a student’s improved ability to learn. 

If we were to apply the term metacognitive learning skills to describe the full range of behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs students demonstrate while engaging in the learning process, we could establish semantic parity between cognitive knowledge and noncognitive skills. This would be a monumental accomplishment that could lead to a dramatic increase in the development and use of new tools and techniques designed specifically to help us develop insight into student learning strategies. Gaining this type of insight would enable educators to teach students how to learn, as well as what to learn. It would also enable students to take more ownership and control over their own learning. 

MetacognitionWe need to know all we can about students’ content knowledge. But we also need to know much more about how students manage the learning process, and how their beliefs about themselves as learners affect their ability to understand and retain content knowledge. By elevating noncognitive information to an equal position relative to content knowledge, we may find the missing link needed to close the achievement gap more rapidly and effectively for the many students who possess the cognitive ability to improve their capacity to learn, but are limited by a lack of effective learning strategies and the appropriate mindset. As a first step down this road, educators, researchers, and policy leaders must be willing to rename “noncognitive measures” as “metacognitive learning skills.” 

Go Deeper: Metacognitive Learning Skills