Trying to Include Metacognition in Asynchronous Self-Paced Modules

Keeping users engaged in my self-paced modules is a constant challenge. I’m always evaluating, re-evaluating, scrutinizing, and testing different methods of creating more engagement, trying to find the Goldilocks recipe for the perfect module. Recently, I’ve attempted to activate users’ metacognition as a means to make them more aware of their learning tendencies when using the modules.

Metacognition is the awareness of your own thought processes, and is especially beneficial in the learning process. Learners benefit when they are more self-awareness of their learning tendencies and can therefore correct their bad habits and better navigate their educational experience.

Looking into methods of instilling metacognition, I found it can be taught in different ways. Donna Wilson PhD, an expert in education and author of several books, lists a few methodologies for teaching metacognition in articles for Edutopia and TeachThought.

1. Explicitly tell students about metacognition. Wilson recommends using a metaphor for younger learners, like “driving their brains” like one drives a car The metaphor makes the concept more concrete and provokes them to think about how they can best learn.

2. Continuing with the driving brains metaphor, show learners what the benefits of metacognition are, and give them examples of how they may drive their brains well. Wilson gives the examples of putting on the brakes for reviewing a reading passage, or stepping on the gas for jotting down and organizing notes for an essay. She writes, “We need to keep our brains moving in the correct lane and along best route toward achieving our goals.”

3. Find opportunities to discuss and apply metacognition. Conduct discussions with students about how metacognition can be used inside and outside of school. Wilson gives an example of teaching metacognition to children in elementary school. She asks the kids to describe how parents might use metacognition (or brain driving) at work. Wilson also gives the example of asking high school students how they may apply metacognition in their jobs or in personal relationships.

4. Talk through problems. Wilson talks about how students learn from listening as their teachers talk through problems. She adds that students learn when their teachers realize their mistakes, stop, and proceed to correct their mistakes. This reveals to students that everyone makes mistakes, and how mistakes can be transformed into chances to improve.

5. You can also “catch students being metacognitive.” Recognize, even celebrate, when students reflect on their learning or engage in metacognitive discourse. Highlight how metacognitive thinking is important and extremely useful in school and in life.

6. Finally, Wilson adds that, whenever possible, utilize interest-driven learning strategies. Allow students to choose their projects’ topics, or read whatever books they prefer. Their genuine interest motivates them to learn.

I figured indulging the modules’ audience in metacognition my help them better navigate through the curriculum, and learn to be more engaged and responsive to the modules. However, my challenge was how could I create these types of metacognitive events that Wilson describes in modules that simulate software work cases to an audience or working adults.

Keep in mind that these adults are no longer in school. For many, they are “done learning.” Metacognition, or thinking about how they learn, may not be relevant to them; a waste of time. They only want to be trained on how to complete their daily tasks, and trained quickly. They want return to their jobs as soon as possible. They have no time, nor attention, for discussing or experimenting with the concept of metacognition.

Another challenge was teaching metacognition may require improvisation by an instructor, and as an asynchronous learning experience, these self-paced modules do not grant the opportunity for improvisation. To include some improvisation, other online education tools needed be integrated, such as discussion boards, social media, or webinars. However, these tools would require additional ownership and administration, which under my circumstances, are not feasible.

Without time, attention, or improvisation to foster metacognition, teaching my audience how to think about how they learn seemed impossible. Yet, I managed to implement perhaps the last remaining resorts of metacognitive teaching.

 Screenshot of module slide asking the user's level of confidence.

Screenshot of module slide asking the user's level of confidence.

I developed two solutions to try to “catch the students being metacognitive.” The first was to ask the learners to reflect about their knowledge before participating in the modules’ assessment portions. One method of assessing students before an exam is to ask them to predict the type of grade they may earn. In my modules, I asked the learners what their level of confidence was, whether they felt confident in their upcoming performance, or not confident, before being assessed.

By asking the learners to think about how they will perform in the assessment, they think about their learning strategies leading up the assessment. The learners begin to reflect about how they paid attention to the modules' content. They think about their learning tendencies.

The second metacognition practice I included was inspired by D Fawcett’s idea of “burning questions.” Burning questions is asking students if they have any additional questions at the end of the assessment. For example, ask if there was any content they want to learn more about? Or ask if there was any content that was not covered enough? Learners are prompted to reflect about the content, and are encouraged to be more curious. In my modules, I ask if they felt like any content was missing, encouraging to evaluate their learning and whether it was adequate. This strategy is interest-driven and promotes more conscientiousness about their learning.

 Screenshot of module slide asking if the user thought anything was missing.

Screenshot of module slide asking if the user thought anything was missing.

In theory, asking my audience to pre-grade, as well as provide feedback about the content should conjure more metacognitive thinking. It’s too early to tell yet, as these modules just went live on May 1, but I think the evidence will come from the modules’ data collected on the LMS.

If the audience shows climbing levels of confidence in their pre-grading, and if we receive progressively more feedback from the “burning questions” later in the overall curriculum, then I know over time the learners are becoming more aware of how they’re interacting with the modules. Maybe this metacognition will prompt them to be more engaged and purposeful in taking the modules for their training.

In addition to fostering some metacognition, the data I collect from the questions can also help me determine whether the learning content and module’s instructional design are prepping the learners adequately enough for the assessment. If a majority of the learners are not feeling confident throughout the modules, or if the learners’ feedback to the burning questions is negative, I can re-examine the module’s structure and methods. I can fix them to better suit the audience next time.

Time will tell, but I think I laid some good groundwork for metacognition in these corporate self-paced modules. What do you think? If you have any ideas or criticisms (constructive only please), please tweet me @mitchellwoll.