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Cognitive and Metacognitive Learning Strategies


Most students face problems while learning because they lack the right learning skills. Fortunately, just like any other skill, learning can be mastered. 

Studying difficulties and delaying responsibilities occur when cognitive processes are not working regularly. These mental processes include focus, observation, retrieval from long-term memory, and categorization.

These learning strategies can be powerful tools for breaking bad learning habits and acquiring knowledge more efficiently. In this article, we will explore the difference between cognitive and metacognitive learning strategies, and show how you can build an effective study routine.

Cognitive Learning Strategies

Cognition is the process of absorbing and retaining information through experiences, senses, and thought. We tend to have more passive learning styles. However, there are more effective ways to learn. 

Our brains love to solve problems, and if we don’t give them a task, they will find it themselves. This is why it’s best to keep our minds engaged while learning for better results. Cognitive learning is an active style of learning that makes it easier for us to connect new information to existing knowledge. 

The following examples of cognitive learning strategies explain how, in different ways, we can process information and improve long-term memory.

1. Test yourself

This is a fun and effective way to memorize important parts of your learning subject. You can use flashcards, quizzes, or practice problems. For example, after each lesson on our platform, there are quizzes available to help students understand and review the material they have just learned.

When making flashcards, go through the information that you are trying to learn and think of the questions that could be on your exam. Write those questions on one side of the card and the answers on the other side. Choose cards randomly and answer the questions without looking at the answers. Alternatively, have a friend ask you the questions.

Repeat this for a few days before the exam to be prepared and confident.

2. Visualize information

The ability to create images in our minds based on what we read or hear is known as visualization. Intentionally using words to create mental images speeds up understanding.

Images play a crucial role in memory retention. Research shows that visualizing an action without even performing it may stimulate the neural pathways in our brains just as though we were actually doing the action. This shows us that visualization helps us understand quicker since we are perceiving a new concept in the form of a text and an image.

Numerous activities can help improve your ability to visualize and imagine things more vividly. This technique can also boost your creativity and expand the topic that you are learning about. 

Here are some ideas for visualization that can be applied when studying:

  • Use language that triggers mental images when writing an essay. Firstly, visualize the concept, then begin to describe it once you have a clear image in your mind.
  • Visualize historical concepts as timelines with events that have enough details to create rich pictures.
  • If you get stuck with fractions, try picturing a pie cut into the said portions. This makes mathematics less abstract.
  • When reading a text, try to imagine the story as if it were not mere text but a documentary or a film that you are watching.
  • If you are learning in a group class, ask your classmates how they visualize the topic. This will give you new insight and help expand your understanding of the topic.

3. Reflect and Repeat

This is a simple technique for retaining information accurately in our long-term memory. When we learn something new, we create a new connection and pathway in our brains associated with this information. Repetition, over time, strengthens these neural connections, and as a result, we access this knowledge more quickly.

Repetition includes re-reading notes, rewatching videos from a lesson, or repeating an exercise. Consider spreading these revision sessions across different days or months because cramming information into one session will not solidify it in your memory.

4. Relate to Real-Life Scenarios

When the learning topic feels quite abstract, it is useful to frame the information within a relatable scenario or example. 

Questioning why we learn certain subjects, like Social studies, for example, can motivate us to explore different ways in which we can apply what we learn. It may not be obvious, but the primary purpose of Social studies is to help young people become good citizens. Reasons why social studies are important for students include:

  • Appreciation for different cultural backgrounds
  • Economic education that prepares students for making proper financial decisions in the future 
  • Improving critical thinking skills
  • Real-world understanding through politics and history classes

Thinking about the ways you can practice new knowledge in your personal life will help you remember and contextualize this information. Our tutors use real-life examples in class to provide students with a hands-on learning experience.

5. Retell it to Someone Else

When you want to know whether you have a good grasp of the topic you are learning about, you should try to explain it to someone else. If you can retell the task or subject in your own words, even better. Adapting the information slightly leads to a deeper understanding of the topic.

This is a great way to find potential gaps in your knowledge. You may struggle at first to find the right words or skip some parts of the story, but this is exactly why this method is useful, as it brings your attention to areas of the topic that you should work on more.

Try to spark up a conversation. Get a family member to ask questions you would not think of. Explore the subject together. That way, the learning process feels more natural.


6. Spaced Learning

Spaced learning method involves three intensive learning periods spaced out by two 10-minute breaks. Research has shown it is highly effective for long-term memory encoding and test performance. 

The sessions are no longer than 30 minutes, with the same content repeated three times in different contexts.

For example, the first session could be reading the lesson material. The second could be watching a video that summarizes the lesson, and the third session could be taking a quiz at the end of the lesson.

The 10-minute breaks involve distractor activities like physical exercise or memorizing a song lyric, an activity that is completely unrelated to the learning concept. 

The Pomodoro technique for time management is a similar concept you might be familiar with.

How are cognitive learning strategies beneficial?

If you get stuck while learning because you cannot stay focused or comprehend the information in front of you, remember to take breaks and try some new learning techniques that may be a better fit for you. 

These cognitive strategies for learning are great for preventing burnout while at the same time improving understanding and achieving better long-term retention of information.

Metacognitive Learning Strategies

Metacognition refers to an understanding of cognitive processes and the ability to regulate those processes. In other words, it’s thinking about your own thinking.

The key is to constantly reflect and ask yourself questions such as: 

  • What do I already know?
  • What type of learning is working for me?
  • What do I want to know?

Metacognition helps students build conceptual understanding by activating prior knowledge and making connections between prior and new knowledge. Metacognitive strategies are methods that assist students in becoming aware of how they think while they are learning.

These methods enable students to concentrate more deliberately, consider their current knowledge compared to what they still need to learn, identify mistakes in their thinking, and establish effective learning habits.


Benefits of including metacognition in your study routine

  1. Improved capacity for learning independently. When you learn how to monitor and regulate your own learning, you gain confidence and take control of your study progress.
  1. Greater resilience. Learning from your successes and failures will help you become a self-aware problem solver and more persistent in studying.
  1. Transferable knowledge. Metacognition increases understanding of subjects across different tasks and contexts, such as writing, memorizing, critical thinking, reading comprehension, and problem solving.
  1. Inclusive for all ages of students. These learning methods are beneficial for students from elementary to high school and even in kindergarten.
  1. Emotional and social intelligence boost. By becoming aware of your own mental state, you can contemplate ways to achieve happiness, gain respect, and build self-confidence. This awareness also helps you empathize with others and see things from different viewpoints.

Metacognitive skills are useful across all subjects because they enhance the way you learn, as opposed to what you learn.

List of metacognitive strategies for learning

Use your curriculum as a guideline

Look at the curriculum for one subject. Consider how each exercise in the week is connected to the topic. This will help you stay on track with assignments because you will understand the goal for the entire semester. 

Practice this method multiple times throughout the semester and notice how it gets easier to study for the course and do exercises when you can see the bigger picture.

Recall your prior knowledge

Before attending the class or beginning an exercise, consider what you already know about the topic. Try to connect this new information to something that you already know. Keep in mind that our lesson program is designed to continuously build knowledge in each grade. 

This is a great way to engage with the learning material and provide context.

Personal learning journal

Students who keep journals can better plan and track their progress, become more self-aware, and reflect on their learning. Think of a few questions that you can answer every week. Over time, you will have enough information to evaluate your learning progress.

Some useful questions for the journal:

  • What was difficult for me to learn this week, and why?
  • What strategies worked well for me this week?
  • Is there a learning habit I should remove/include?
  • What are my goals for next week?

If you feel like writing a learning journal is too time-consuming, the platform provides you with enough information to keep up with your learning progress.

Color mapping

When learning about a new topic, label new terms using different colors. For example, use green to signify something you understand well, orange for more challenging topics, and red for topics you find quite difficult to understand. 

This method is great for reflecting and highlighting topics that you need to work on more.

Write essays

High-level metacognitive skills are necessary for writing essays. It requires in-depth research, finding relevant literature, and critical thinking skills. Writing essays will help you prepare for an exam and learn as much as possible about the given topic.


During your study sessions, take a timeout and check your progress by taking notes from memory, thinking aloud, and asking yourself questions that could be relevant for the exam. 

Do not wait for the exam to assess your knowledge for the first time. Practice recalling information from memory and finding potential gaps in your knowledge.  If you like to visualize the learning material, you can also use flashcards and mind maps.

Review your exams

Analyze the results of your tests by examining correctly answered and missed questions. Reflect on strategies that you used for preparing for the test and evaluate whether they worked for you or if you need to change your approach next time.


These metacognitive and cognitive learning strategies examples are valuable for meaningful learning and a better understanding of new concepts. Think of the best way you can combine these strategies in your online learning environment. 

Incorporating cognitive learning theory and metacognitive strategies into your study routine is the solution to better problem-solving skills and taking ownership of your learning journey.

Are you familiar with these methods? Maybe you already practice some of them. Optimizing your learning techniques will ensure long-term progress.

Author: Ana A.