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October 29, 2013

Metacognition (or why thinking about thinking can make you a mobile master)

We’ve already talked about mindfulness and while metacognition is related, it’s not quite the same thing. While mindfulness is a state of being or a kind of awareness, metacognition is a set of tools for making changes to your thinking.

It means having mastery over your own mind – knowing how you work, planning things out, choosing the best way to do things and evaluating your performance along the way.

It’s an important part of Mobile Mastery, because technology is increasingly becoming an extension of our brains, and a vital part of our approach to work. With this in mind, it makes total sense to include your technical toolkit along with your mental one when thinking about the best way to plan and execute a task.

Metacognition and your use of technology

Metacognition has two main areas:

1. Metacognitive knowledge/awareness – understanding how you think, work and learn and being able to choose the right strategies and processes.

2. Metacognitive regulation – your ability to regulate your cognitive processes through planning, monitoring, evaluating and maintaining your attention.

When it comes to point one, this translates as understanding how technology can support your work, and choosing the right device or software for the task at hand as a result.

For point two, it’s about understanding how technology can help support those metacognitive processes.

Four metacognition tips

The tips below for developing your metacognitive skills come from Elaine Blakey and Sheila Spence of the Educational Resource Information Centre – we’ve added to them with ideas about incorporating technology.

1. Identify ‘what you know’ and ‘what you don’t know’

At the beginning of any research activity make conscious decisions about knowledge. As you research the topic, verify, clarify and expand, or replace each initial statement with more accurate information.

The tech take: choosing the right method of keeping notes can be a big help in this research process. An app like Evernote or OneNote lets you sync notes across devices, plus it can give you a neat way of tracking the development of an idea.

2. Talk (and write) about thinking

During planning and problem-solving situations, think aloud. Another means of developing metacognition is through the use of a journal or learning log, in which to reflect upon thinking, make note of awareness of ambiguities and inconsistencies, and comment on how you have dealt with difficulties. Labelling thinking processes is important for recognition of thinking skills.

The tech take: again you can use the note-taking apps we’ve mentioned above for this. OneNote even has a speech-to-text function, which will make the process much smoother. If you’re more a picture person than a word one, drawing process diagrams might help. You can either use an app like Sketch Pad to draw one on your phone, or use to save and enhance something you’ve drawn on a whiteboard or paper. (See our piece on visual note-taking for more ideas <link to post>.)

3. Plan and self-regulate

Make plans for learning activities including estimating time requirements, organising materials, and scheduling procedures necessary to complete an activity, and then record the process.

The tech take: one of the many task apps available can help you breakdown a complex task into a manageable workflow of smaller jobs and goals. Avirall is a paid app with some great features that can help you keep track of how long overall projects and individual tasks are taking. You can add images too, to add a visual layer to the timekeeping.

4. Debrief the thinking process

A three-step method is useful. First, review the activity, gathering data on thinking processes and feelings. Then, classify related ideas, identifying thinking strategies used. Finally, evaluate success, discarding inappropriate strategies, identifying those valuable for future use, and seeking promising alternative approaches.

The tech take – having recorded all this digitally, gathering up your learnings and progress for a debrief should be far easier. Once you’ve reached your conclusions, you could use an app like Visual Steps to turn that ideal process or workflow into a step-by-step template to follow next time, or to share with others.

Will you try any of these ideas and apps? Have you got any tips of your own? Share them with us in the comments.

This article is part of Nokia’s Smarter Everyday programme, which aims to inspire you with the latest ideas on productivity, collaboration and technology adoption. To download our latest ebook Mobile Mastery visit

Image credit: jDevaun