Metacognitive Regulation: How Undergraduate Students Evaluate and Adjust their Approaches to Learning in Biology

Dr. Julie Stanton

Students with awareness and control of their own thinking can learn more and perform better than students who are not metacognitive. Metacognitive regulation is how you control your thinking in order to learn. It includes the skill of evaluation, which is the ability to appraise your approaches to learning and modify your plans based on those appraisals. Metacognitive skills can have a significant impact on learning and performance, but many undergraduate students are still developing these abilities. We need to understand the important changes that occur as students acquire these skills in order to help them develop their metacognition more effectively. This talk will summarize our initial steps toward this goal by synthesizing results from our recent qualitative studies. We used the task of preparing for an exam as a way to investigate the metacognitive skills undergraduate students use to learn biology. Through content analysis we examined introductory biology students’ self-evaluation assignments (n=245) and semi-structured interviews with upper-division biology students (n=25). We proposed a continuum of metacognitive development in introductory biology students from our results. We also gained insights into when, why, and how upper-division biology students evaluate their approaches to learning. We found that students evaluated their approaches to learning when facing novel challenges. While evaluating their study strategies, students considered performance and learning goals simultaneously. We gained insights on the barriers students encounter when they attempt to change based on their evaluations. For example, students may use study strategies they know to be ineffective because effective strategies cause them discomfort. We interpret our findings using the metacognition framework and contextualize our results using social cognitive theory. We offer evidence-based suggestions for instructors who want to help improve student metacognition.