developing metacognitive skills

A Better Method of Study Help

Over the past few years, academia has focused more and more on helping students develop study skills to help them succeed. One limitation of these efforts is that they tend to take the form of workshops or resources that provide general study skill information.

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Metacognition: The Skill Students Need and Often Don’t Have

Another of those loosely defined but favorite words in higher education, metacognition is mostly understood superficially—“thinking about thinking.” We consider it broadly, generically, as it relates to learning. The mental processes involved are not easy to observe or measure. Even though most academics have good

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postexam review assignment

An Innovative Postexam Review Activity

We need to work more with students on seeing exams as something more than just grade generating experiences. Exams can be powerful encounters through which students learn course content and learn about learning. However, given the importance placed on grades, I’m not terribly optimistic about

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active learning in the classroom

Active Learning: A Perspective from Cognitive Psychology

In recent years, the phrase active learning has become commonplace across the academic disciplines of higher education. Indeed, most faculty members are familiar with definitions that go something like this: Active learning involves tasks that require students not only to do something, but also to

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brief moments of inquiry in college classroom

Using Brief Moments of Inquiry to Enrich Student Learning

Who discovered Pluto?

 A colleague described this brief exchange he had with his young daughter as they crossed Tombaugh Street in Flagstaff, Arizona. My colleague, ever the professor, pointed out that the street was named for local astronomer Clyde Tombaugh who had discovered Pluto in 1930.

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tug of war

Why Students Resist Active Learning

The recent decades have seen growing faculty interest in learning. Increasingly, teaching is being understood in terms of how well it promotes and facilitates learning. Faculty are more familiar than ever with the evidence that favors active learning over lecture. And although many still lecture,

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female student studying in library

The Questions We Should Be Asking Our Students

How much do you know about how your students study? I’ve been asking the question a lot lately and I’d have to say most of the answers I’ve heard aren’t all that impressive. They’re more about how the faculty member thinks students study, how they

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Teaching Metacognition to Improve Student Learning

Metacognition can be a word that gets in the way of students’ understanding that this “thinking about thinking” is really about their awareness of themselves as learners. Most students don’t spend much time thinking about learning generally or how they learn specifically. In order to

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Over the past few years, academia has focused more and more on helping students develop study skills to help them succeed. One limitation of these efforts is that they tend to take the form of workshops or resources that provide general study skill information. Students easily forget the information from these resources or don’t understand how to apply it to a particular issue when they run into it in class. Offering targeted, specific support in class is more effective.

A group of educators from the University of Guelph instead looked at how course-specific study help can improve student performance (Bingham et al., 2021). The work offers ideas about how educators can do something similar in their courses and even expand on it using recent advances in technology.

Course-specific help

The authors point out that study skills are often grouped under broader terms, such as metacognitive or self-regulatory skills. Metacognition refers to thinking about thinking, and applied to learning represents the ability to manage one’s own learning. The authors then divide it into three categories that more or less represent the stages of implementation:

We might think of these categories as knowledge of self, knowledge of learning, and knowledge of time management.

The researchers wanted to provide students with the tools to foster all three types of knowledge across the course. They did so by providing students with a calendar of course activities, including study activities. A particular day might include “self-test/review of Unit 1” or “Review answers to Quiz 11.” The calendar also included lesson-specific self-test questions. Students could answer these questions to determine what material they needed to go back over to fill in gaps in their understanding.

Next steps

I love the course and lesson-specific nature of the guide, and I hope that academia builds on the model to provide course-specific rather than generalized student help. In particular, modern technology allows institutions to fine-tune the help beyond course- and assignment-specific help to deliver student-specific help. Imagine a world where the learning management system (LMS) provides personalized student support. Right now, the LMS provides students only with information on their grade and which questions they missed. But questions from multiple assessments within a class unit, both graded and ungraded, can be tagged by topic by the course designer so that students also get a report after each unit that shows students which topics within that unit they did well and poorly on. This report could then generate a list of resources and activities that the student could use to fill the gaps in their knowledge. It might be video tutorials, live tutoring, self-tests, or an AI-enabled chat that asks the student questions and provides corrections on wrong answers. More self-tests can then lead to an updated report on understanding that shows students their progress.

Finally, the system can be accompanied by a scheduling app that allows the student to plan study time within their days. They can input recurring activities, such as work or classes, and then when given information on a gap in their knowledge, schedule time for the activities to fill it. Of course, scheduling apps already exist; it just amounts to integrating them with an LMS and study recommendations.

Apps such as Duolingo already implement this type of system for learning languages, and similar apps exist for learning computer programming, math, writing, and more. Thus, the technology already exists. Hopefully, studies such as this can prod academia into investing resources that provide the personalized help that makes a real difference.


Bingham, B. E., Coulter, C., Cottenie, C., & Jacobs, S. R. (2021). A metacognitive instructional guide to support effective studying strategies. The Canadian Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 12(1).