Monday, November 26, 2012

Using Metacognitive Strategies in Instructional Design

Metacognition refers to higher order thinking and involves actively controlling ones learning through planning, monitoring and evaluating the learning progress. Basically it is when we are aware of our thinking processes and are activities we engage in every day. Educational professionals are familiar with using metacognition and know the importance of incorporating strategies in the classroom but what about the online learning environment? 

How is learning different online? Our current instructional style for teaching in the classroom is teacher to student, where the teacher disseminates the new content to students who then passively absorb this new information. Usually this occurs synchronously, where everyone is together at the same time and where students have an opportunity to ask questions and teachers get a sense if the students are “getting it”. Online it is usually asynchronous where students are accessing the class materials at different times, 24/7. Teachers may not be aware of student’s comprehension right away because they lack visual clues so it is critical for students to be more independent and to have developed metacognitive awareness and strategies.

Why are metacognitive strategies critical to online instructional design? Metacognition is important to consider in online design because those skills assist students in connecting new information with prior knowledge and helps them to draw references. This can increase a students learning effectiveness. Metacognition controls the interaction between the student and the learning environment and helps them to be aware of their own learning and encourages them to reflect on their own cognitive processes. Without including these strategies, the student might get lost when navigating on the internet and may not have the ability to read and comprehend online resources. Students may also not be in-tune with their inner voice which helps them solve problems, strategize, and self-evaluate their performance. Educators have the responsibility to ensure student comprehension. 

What are some of the strategies used? Instructional designers could use any of the following specific strategies:

  • Become a role model by using think-alouds- A think aloud is a strategy where students voice their thoughts during the performance of a task which allows the teacher to ensure comprehension of information. By voicing out loud, a teacher can act as a role model to students, demonstrating the process. By sharing individual processes and experiences, including what works and doesn’t work, is a huge assistance in the construction of new knowledge and understanding. Some examples of think alouds would be blogs, journals, discussion forums, ePortfolio’s or demonstration through a video.
  • Concept mapping- Concept mapping can help students brainstorm and generate new ideas and can allow them to more clearly communicate ideas, thoughts and information. It also increases understanding and clarification of knowledge by visualizing the problem-solving process. By organizing and reorganizing, a student’ learning becomes more meaningful and new concepts are connected to existing ones. Examples of a concept map are using as a pre-reading strategy by inviting students to share what they already know about a particular concept, using it to summarize what was read and share it, and using it for collaborative work between students working in small groups to guide their learning. Putting these online allows everyone to access in their own time and space.
  •  Advanced organizers- Advanced organizers can help students comprehend new information more quickly based on prior experience and are used before direct instruction or before a new topic is introduced. Some of the different types of advanced organizers are expository, narrative, skimming and graphical. Venn Diagrams are a commonly used tool in the classroom setting. Software you could use to create your own advanced organizer:  Word & PowerPoint, Prezi, Cacoo

Shen, Chun-Yi & Liu, Hsiu-Chuan. (2011). Metacognitive skills development: A web-based approach in higher education. Retrieved from:
O’Hanlon, N. & Diaz, K. (2010). Techniques for enhancing reflection and learning in an online course.  Retreived from:
Kymes, A. (2005). Teaching online comprehension strategies using think-alouds. Retrieved from:
Rees, D. (2010). Tools for metacognition. Retrieved from: