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What are Cognitive Learning Strategies?

Metacognitive learning refers to using a reflective thinking process to increase the awareness of own strengths and learning styles to improve the conscious control of learning and the ability to plan, monitor and change own learning behaviors. In short, knowing what to learn and how to go about learning it.

Brief Intro to Metacognition

Metacognitive learning strategies may be defined as the procedures that students may use to help learn and retain the material, such as using a calendar to keep track of deadlines, highlighting important information in a text or creating associations to help remember difficult terms. There are multiple categories of metacognitive strategies, such as:

Comprehension Strategies

Problem - Solving Strategies

Organization Strategies

Writing Strategies

Reasoning Strategies

Self-Regulation Strategies

(this needs to be either condensed or maybe pull the list out and put somewhere else?)

Brief Intro to Metacognition

Specific techniques from The Learning Center

  • Paraphrasing/Summarizing: Ask students to paraphrase and summarize important concepts in their own words on an on-going basis, preferably at the end of every major concept, class or week, whichever comes first.
  • Annotating: Encourage students to annotate their reading or their class notes. Think of it as a conversation between them and the words on paper (or the video)
  • Review Sheets: This is, along with frequent quick summarizing, is what students report as being one of the most powerful strategies. They create a cheat sheet every week, every concept or every few days (whatever is appropriate). This is especially useful in math and science courses.
  • Prediction: Having students predict what a test or quiz question might be from their notes- this can get into helping students understand the learning outcomes of a class (i.e. they might suggest defining Boyle's law when you want them to know when to apply it)
  • Reflection: Use a variation of the one minute paper. At the end of class, ask students to write down what they learned, what was confusing and what steps they will take to solve that confusion. This shouldn't be used in every class, but on a weekly basis and/or with some kind of follow up (perhaps presenting on what they found confusing and how they solved it) might be helpful.

What can faculty do to help students learn?

  • Set clear expectations of outcomes: Use Bloom's Taxonomy to set weekly learning objectives and make sure all assignments and assessments are closely aligned with the set objectives.
  • Teach and assess in a variety of ways to appeal to multiple learning styles.
  • Offer help often and early: As soon as something doesn’t click, recommend the Learning Center, getting help from friends or faculty office hours.
  • Active vs. passive: Everything we do with students encourages them to be active processors of materials rather than passive recipients. For example, rather than instruct them to read the chapter, ask them to answer the review questions. Instead of reviewing their notes, ask them to prepare a presentation of those notes.
  • Encourage students to chunk their learning: Encourage the students to study a little bit every day and understand the importance of doing so. Providing them with due dates, short quizzes or assessments, discussion or other frequent smaller level assessments helps force them to learn the material in smaller chunks rather than studying for the big test.

For more information visit The Center for Academic Excellence. 

Other Resources


  • Chinn, C., Chinn, L. (2009). Cognitive Strategies. 
  • Tutorial: Cognitive & Learning Strategies (n. d.). 
  • Ridley, D. S., Schutz, P. A., Glanz, R. S., & Weinstein, C. E. (1992). Self-regulated learning: The interactive influence of metacognitive awareness and goal-setting. The Journal of Experimental Education60(4), 293-306.