What is metacognition?

Metacognition is a belief about the learning process, or its outcomes. Not about the content, e.g., programming, writing, or math. A belief about the process of learning programming, learning writing, or learning math, or what happens when someone has learned programming, writing, or math.

Here’s a common belief that affects how students value writing skills:

Engineers don’t do much writing.

Why spend time learning to write, if you want to be an engineer?

Some metacognition is about the processes used to form beliefs. For example, students can overestimate their knowledge, because when they flip through the textbook, they recognize the terms. However, that doesn’t mean that they can recall information, or use it to complete tasks. Task completion and recall are cognitively more difficult than recognition.

Then there are attribution beliefs. Suppose Jack does poorly on a math midterm. He attributes this to his innate lack of math ability. There’s nothing he can do to change innate characteristics. The result: he gives up, and drops the course.

Suppose Jill does just as poorly, but she attributes this to poor instruction, and not knowing how to learn math. The result: she finds a good tutor.


CyberCourse pseudents can help. They can model responses to things. For example:

I just can’t get arrays! I’ll never figure them out!
Don’t worry, Cai. I know you. You can do it.

I couldn’t figure it out at first, either.

But you’re great at this stuff!
Not at first. Arrays confuse everyone to start with. What helped me was when I realized that each array element is just a variable, and the array index is part of the variable’s name. Or at least, you can think of it that way.

A tutor at [custom:tutor-center-name] helped me figure it out.

If you don’t understand something, don’t give up. Get help.

Hey, if [custom:tutor-center-name] worked for you, I’ll give it a try.
`[custom:tutor-center-name]` is a token. It’s replaced with different values for different students. For example, a student at one university might see “A tutor at the Campus Learning Center in Smith Hall helped me figure it out.” A student at another university might see “A tutor at the open programming lab helped me figure it out.”

Pseudents help students learn about:

  • Learning
  • Self-assessment
  • Responses to confusion
  • Asking questions
  • Interacting with professors

Pseudents have a thousand and one uses.