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Wander behind the Blue Door for long enough and you will come across the concept of Metacognition. It is a higher-level concept than some of the more practical skill-based tasks you will find in the personal development section: it is equally important.

Successful use of the RESOLVE model demands mastery in several different areas: learning is at the heart of the process, if you are going to reach the levels of unconscious competence. It makes good sense to think about how we learn and develop.

Meta-cognitive and self-regulation strategies (sometimes known as thinking about thinking or ‘learning to learn’ strategies,) are teaching approaches which make learners think about learning more explicitly.

Researchers distinguish between metacognitive knowledge and metacognitive regulation; Flavell, 1987 and Schraw & Dennison, 1994 being the most widely referred to authors.

Metacognitive knowledge refers to what individuals know about themselves as cognitive processors, the different approaches that can be used for learning and problem solving, and about the demands of a particular learning task. This is a body of knowledge which sits comfortably under the genre of personal or self-development.

Metacognition is an ability to use prior knowledge to:

  • plan a strategy for approaching a learning task,

  • take necessary steps to problem solve,

  • reflect on and evaluate results,

  • and modify one’s approach as needed.

It helps learners choose the right cognitive tool for the task and plays a critical role in successful learning.

Metacognitive regulation refers to adjustments individuals make to their processes to help control their learning, such as planning, information management strategies, comprehension monitoring, de-bugging strategies, and evaluation of progress and goals.

From a personal development point of view, understanding these two concepts, and appreciating how to apply the principles to our own learning, will stand us in good stead as we progress down the route to RESOLVE mastery. Developing our own metacognition skills will further develop our understanding of ourselves, in addition to our thinking and behavioural processes: all of which will allow us to make more informed choices relating how we personally move forward.

Overall, these strategies involve being aware of one’s strengths and weaknesses as a learner, such as by developing self-assessment skills, and being able to set and monitor goals. They also include having a repertoire of strategies to choose from or switch to during learning activities.

In theory, these approaches can be straight forward; however, the challenge to be overcome involves you taking a far greater responsibility for your learning.

A useful way to develop an understanding of this concept is to examine the process through two perspectives – that of a novice with no knowledge of metacognition and that of an expert – as they apply their different levels of skill to a problem solving process:

NoviceExpertNovices jumps straight in and try to solve a particular problem as soon as it’s set. They quickly concentrate on specifics and pay little regard to structure and processes.

Metaphorically, they look at the trees in the wood, they can only see one or two, and can’t see any great distance in any direction.

Despite trees being all around them, there is so much wood to consider that they find little clues as to where to start, particularly since there is little light in the woods and none of the myriad of paths offers any clue as to which way to go.

Consequently, novices only plan small stratagems, which will take them a short way, and hope for the best.

It’s seldom absolutely clear whether any path will take them in a useful direction towards a solution to the problem; they often have to retrace steps and abandon particular paths.

It is often difficult to tell whether a path has been tried before previously, and they end up using a trial and error approach.

Novices quickly forget most of the relevant details of a problem and lose the sense of the route taken to reach a solution

The expert remains outside, and is aware of the need to think about the nature and structure of the problem: they deliberately consider walking away from the wood to some higher ground for a better overview.

Experts, remember to consciously consider other previous woods, and the general and specific structures of problems they have posed in the past.

The expert stops to review knowledge of woods in general and specifically, and think about structure. They also stop and assess the solution – what do we really want from addressing this particular wood and is it worth addressing?

The expert recognises the value of thinking time away from the situation, and indulges in reflection over a cup of tea and some inner contemplation. They think ahead and may research information on the internet which they foresee they might need.

The expert may enter the wood in a while, but will then be concerned only with particularly meaningful trees, or patterns of trees, or topographical features, or alignment to the sun, or wind direction, or the tracks of particular animals …

The expert will be safe in the knowledge that it is worth working in this wood at all and, if so, what to look for, why and where. Experts only look for, and at, particular features and l know what they all mean. There will be few surprises in there.

An expert ends up consciously understanding the particular problem, but also the generalities and context of this kind of problem. An expert will recognise the similarity of this wood to others woods and will to consider this deliberately before proceeding swiftly, and directly, to their goal. The expert is highly likely to learn something that will be of value for the next time a similar problem is encountered.

Working in that wood as a novice can be can be stressful and debilitating. Their reactive behaviour will have only created general impressions: they will not be able to recall many important details. Worse, little of what they recall will make much sense and almost none of it will be memorable, or remembered.

Consequently, the novice will soon run out of steam and become frustrated, and even become demotivated by further difficulties they encounter. A proactive expert is aware of the fact that they remain interested, especially if they feel they have been challenged.

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