Metacognition (Flavell)

Metacognition is defined in simplest terms as “thinking about your own thinking.” The root “meta” means “beyond,” so the term refers to “beyond thinking.” Specifically, this means that it encompasses the processes of planning, tracking, and assessing your own understanding or performance.

The phrase was termed by American developmental psychologist John H. Flavell in 1979, and the theory developed throughout the 1980s among researchers working with young children in early cognitive stages.


  • John H. Flavell

Key Concepts

Flavell identified what he believed to be two elements of metacognition: knowledge of cognition and regulation of cognition (Flavell, 1985).

Types of Metacognitive Knowledge

Declarative knowledge — “person knowledge,” or understanding one’s own capabilities. This type of metacognitive knowledge is not always accurate, as an individual’s self-assessment can easily be unreliable.

Procedural knowledge — “task knowledge,” including content (what do I need to know?) and length (how much space do I have to communicate what I know?). Task knowledge is related to how difficult an individual perceives the task to be as well as to their self-confidence.

Strategy knowledge — “conditional knowledge,” or one’s ability to use strategies to learn information, as well as for adapting these strategies to new situations. This is related to the age or developmental stage of the individual. For example, a kindergartener can be taught strategies, but needs to be reminded to use them, such as sounding out words when learning to read. In contrast, an upper elementary student understands this strategy and knows when it will be effective under different circumstances.

Metacognitive Regulation

Regulation is used to describe how individual monitor and assess their knowledge. This includes knowing how and when to use certain skills, and helps individuals to control their learning. An example of this would be a student reflecting on his or her own work, a task that is often assigned while in school. Later on, individuals assess themselves by asking, “How am I doing? How could I do this more efficiently or accurately next time?”

Metacognitive Experiences

Metacognitive experiences are the experiences an individual has through which knowledge is attained, or through which regulation occurs. For example, declarative knowledge of one’s own abilities could be attained by receiving a series of A+ spelling tests in a row. This would give the individual the knowledge that they have high achieving capability in that spelling area.


Metamemory is knowledge of what memory is, how it works, and how to remember things. These skills develop over time and improve more readily with instruction. An example of this would be students utilizing a pneumonic device or acronym to learn and easily recall information to prepare for a test.

Key Factors in Metacognition

Motivation is essential in metacognition. Students who are not motivated to complete tasks may struggle with self-reflection. Though metacognitive strategies can be taught and learned over time, students must be motivated in order for them to be effective. To help these individuals to succeed, it may be necessary to teach self-evaluation skills and to identify what finished work looks like.

Additional Resources and References



  1. Flavell, John H. (1985). Cognitive development. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
  2. Flavell, J. H. (1992). Cognitive development: Past, present, and future. Developmental psychology, 28(6), 998.
  3. Flavell, J. H. (1976). Metacognitive aspects of problem solving. The nature of intelligence, 12, 231-235.
  4. Flavell, J. H. (1980). Nature & Development of Metacognition. Audio Transcripts.