A recent paper by Akyol and Garrison (2011) has helped me to understand better the differences between critical thinking and metacognition. Whereas definitions are never black and white, and several authors have offered their views as to what they mean, I have come to the conclusion that I have been using the terms interchangeably and without really understanding the subtle differences.
Put simply, critical thinking is about effective learning. It is about ‘thinking about thinking’ (Akyol and Garrison, 2011, p.183) and sensemaking; ‘critical thinking is evaluating ideas for their quality, especially judging whether or not they make sense’ (Martinez, 2006, p.697).
Metacognition, on the other hand, is something more. It is about understanding learning in the wider context, about developing strategies for learning and changing direction when learning doesn’t work. ‘Metacognition must, therefore, go beyond simply thinking about thinking and awareness. Inquiry-based metacognition must include self-corrective strategies which make it an essential element of critical thinking and higher learning’ (Akyol and Garrison, 2011, p.184).
Clearly the two are closely related. In realising the difference between the two, I myself have experienced critical thinking. In deciding that I need to learn more about the topic and change some of my research thinking, I have experienced metacognition. Moreover, Akyol and Garrison’s paper argues that metacognition is not an individual activity, but is achieved in a social context in which one is able to check and adjust one’s interpretations:
‘metacognition is seen to mediate between internal knowledge construction and collaborative learning activities. Discourse is necessary to reveal knowledge, misconceptions and learning strategies. Discourse critically reveals and collaboratively supports the development of metacognitive knowledge and strategies’ (Akyol and Garrison, 2011, p.185)
So by presenting my thoughts here, in my public blog, and inviting reactions, I am facilitating my own metacognition.
The authors go on to propose a construct for analysing metacognition in an online community that builds upon the Community of Inquiry (CoI) framework (Garrison et al., 2000). This has three dimensions:
° knowledge of cognition – referring to awareness of yourself as a learner, for example knowing what you know and what you don’t know, and knowing under what conditions you learn best
° monitoring of cognition – being aware of thinking and the learning process, and taking responsibility for your learning and that of others
° regulation of cognition – taking action to change the course of learning and achieve meaningful learning
Interestingly, the paper proposes that learners who ask questions of others, who check progress of the group and facilitate collaborative learning are demonstrating monitoring of cognition and regulation of cognition. In other words, metacognition is associated with learners exhibiting teaching presence according to the CoI framework.
So how does this impact my research? Well the scheme that I have used for coding cognition in the online discussion forums was proposed by Garrison et al (2001). It posits that the two upper levels of cognition, integration and resolution, are evidence of critical thinking. I have tended to think of this as metacognition and whereas it is an important element for metacognition, it is not the same. I would need to look further at the messages to look for evidence of a change in learning strategy or for reflection on what the learning means in the wider context. This certainly exists in some cases where critical thinking is in evidence, but not in all. Moreover, Akyol and Garrison’s paper suggests that in looking for metacognition, I should also consider the combination of cognitive presence and teaching presence. In other words, a learner who exhibits critical thinking and is facilitating collaboration and the learning of the group is more likely to be undergoing metacognition.
The question for me now is what is the relationship between critical thinking, metacognition and competence development, as it is the latter that I am trying to demonstrate? But that is perhaps for another day …
Akyol, Z. & Garrison, D. R. (2011) 'Assessing metacognition in an online community of inquiry'. The Internet and Higher Education, 14 (3), pp.183-190
Garrison, D., Anderson, T. & Archer, W. (2001) 'Critical thinking, cognitive presence, and computer conferencing in distance education'. American Journal of Distance Education, 15 (1), pp.7-23
Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T. & Archer, W. (2000) 'Critical Inquiry in a Text-Based Environment: Computer Conferencing in Higher Education'. The Internet and Higher Education, 2 (2-3), pp.87-105
Martinez, M. E. (2006) 'What is metacognition?', Phi Delta Kappan, 87 (9), p.696. (ONLINE - http://www.gse.uci.edu/person/martinez_m/docs/mmartinez_metacognition.pdf - accessed 10.08.2011)
About my research
My research was set in the context of the European Commission’s eTwinning initiative and it looked specifically at the use of eTwinning Learning Events (non-formal learning). It examined how the community influences the development of teachers’ competence in online collaboration and discourse, and it considered the contribution of social aspects and online moderation.
I am very grateful to my supervisor, Dr. Julie-Ann Sime from Lancaster University, and to my eTwinning soulmate, Tiina Sarisalmi, for their invaluable support. And to my examiners, Prof. Marilyn Leask from the University of Bedfordshire and Dr. Don Passey from the University of Lancaster, for their valuable advice.