Student's Psychological Factors and Metacognitive Skills in Higher Education

Student's Psychological Factors and Metacognitive Skills in Higher Education

Adela Moraru (Dimitrie Cantemir University of Targu Mures, Romania)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-2218-8.ch009
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Metacognitive skills are a fundamental condition for the academic success of contemporary higher education students living in a knowledge-based society with abundant information, dynamic changes, and instant communication technologies. Although a student might have these skills in their repertoire, there are particular factors that might influence applying them during learning process, like: intrinsic motivation for the task, deeper processing learning strategies or having high executive control functions. The present chapter focuses on a few relevant psychological conditions of the student that might influence usage of metacognitive skills during learning in higher education. The author uses an interdisciplinary conceptual lens that brings together constructs from different theoretical perspectives in cognitive and educational psychology. A cross-sectional study was conducted to test the correlations and predictive power of the following constructs: learning strategies, motivation and executive functions on metacognitive skills, using a sample of 135 Romanian students.
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Sustaining the development of a high quality education in the 21st century is becoming a challenge for teachers and learners alike. Assuring this will become extremely complex as summarized by the Delors Report. This report to UNESCO in 1996 stated that educational system must teach students to:

  • Live together (value cooperation and peace)

  • Know (value knowledge and use it wisely)

  • Do (engage responsibly in productive work and recreation)

  • Be (build personal and family well-being); (Delors, 1996)

In 2008 UNESCO recommended two additional important factors: transform oneself and society, through active citizenship, futuristic thinking, responsible lifestyles, sharing of resources and adaptability.

Metacognition has a fundamental role in both knowledge management and personal development, by which the above recommendations would come alive, through teaching students lifelong learning abilities, which means teaching them how to learn before we actually teach specific study material.

In line with these challenges, universities would have to cultivate not only an expertise in knowledge but also promote development of lifelong competencies like: a) higher order thinking skills: metacognition, critical thinking, executive functions, creativity, problem solving and decision making; b) social abilities: cooperation and communication skills; c) emotional skills: empathy, emotional regulation abilities, tolerance of negative affect and frustration; d) learning motivation: self-efficacy, effort regulation and intrinsic motivation.

All these values and skills have at their core the principle of a lifelong learning, an active and continuous process of self-instruction, so that today’s students will become future, self-regulated learners. A self-regulated learner has a high degree of autonomy and control over their learning, abilities and resources, mostly due to highly developed metacognition.

Metacognition - defined as cognition about cognitive phenomena by Flavell in 1979 (p.906) - is the capacity to be aware of one’s own cognitive processes and learning strategies, to plan, perform, monitor, control and evaluate the learning process for optimal performance. Although different theoretical models and assessment methods have been proposed, there is a common agreement about two basic components of metacognition: metacognitive knowledge (or declarative aspect) and metacognitive regulation/skills (the procedural aspect), (Flavell, 1979; Brown, 1987; Schunk, 2005; Tobias & Everson, 2002). Both terms are used interchangeably in the literature, but the author prefers the term skills because it fits better with the idea that this component can be observed, measured and improved through academic training.

Metacognitive knowledge relates to information coded in long term memory that can be transient (modified according to a student’s experience) or permanent (implicit theories about cognitive functioning) and has basically three components: a) knowledge about their own cognitive abilities: how good one is as a cognitive processor - at memorizing, attention or decision making, and so on; b) knowledge about the task - what cognitive task has to be solved and what cognitive ability is required, how difficult that task is; c) knowledge about cognitive and metacognitive strategies required to solve that task, and when and how to apply them. Flavell (1979) also defines the term metacognitive experience (p.906) which is, in fact, a cognitive or emotional experience that accompanies intellectual activity and might influence metacognitive regulation (Mih, 2010).

The second component of metacognition is metacognitive skills and refers to planning, monitoring and evaluating the learning process before, during and after it has occurred (Brown, 1987; Schraw & Moshman, 1995; Tobias & Everson, 2002). Planning intends to set the proximal and intermediate goal for the task, evaluate the strategies, time and effort required for solving the task. Monitoring may take place before the task (judging how difficult it will be to learn a material), during the task (judgment of learning and feeling of knowing) or after the task (confidence judgment). Evaluation acts after the learning process has been completed and compares the expected results with the actual ones.

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