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Designing a Strategy for Learning:
using cognition & metacognition during a process of design in which
you are developing a cognitive-and-metacognitive learning strategy.

I recommend first reading the summary of this page.
Following an introduction (about What & why, Who & what, How?) this page describes a process of design` "that is a way to learn from experience:  you make a plan for what to do;  you do it and observe what happens;  then you adjust (if you think this will be useful) when you plan for the future."


What is metacognition, and why should you care?

A summary of the homepage for metacognition explains:  what metacognition is;  why it's valuable;  combining it with cognition;  two related applications, for Coordination Strategies in design, and Learning Strategies in education;  general & personal Metacognitive Knowledge;  two objectives (for learning and/or performing) that make it useful to think about Strategies for Learning-and-Performing, not just Strategies for Learning;  why you should regulate metacognition by turning it on & off, and how to do this;  the direct benefits of Learning Strategies, to improve the quality of your learning, thinking, performing;  plus indirect benefits when you "use [design skills] in a process of design to develop effective cognitive-and-metacognitive Learning Strategies" and then "the design skills you are learning will transfer to other design projects in many areas of life" because you use design for almost everything in life.

This page explains HOW to develop-and-apply Learning Strategies, using Design Process.  But first we'll ask WHO and WHAT.


Who uses Learning Strategies?  and to do what?

Throughout this page, "you" means everyone, including students and teachers.

You can develop-and-apply Strategies for Learning (and related Strategies for Performing) to improve many aspects of your Personal Education, to help you:  increase the learning you do (by reading, listening, watching, doing) and your remembering-and-transfering of what you learn;  improve your level of performing with Coordination Strategies for making action-decisions during inquiry activities in which you solve problems (in design-inquiry using Design Process) and answer questions (in science-inquiry using Science Process that is a special type of Design Process);  regulate on-and-off metacognition;  use general Meta-Strategies to guide your development of specific Strategies; and in other ways.

Developing Meta-Strategies for Learning:  An important part of Personal Education is developing effective general Meta-Strategies that guide you in developing specific Strategies (to improve your learning, thinking, and performing) that will be useful in the overall “big picture” context of your whole life.  Doing this well requires making wise decisions when you Choose Objectives (for Learning Strategies) and Define your Goals (for Learning Strategies).


How? — Using Design Process to develop a Learning Strategy

The process of developing a cognitive-and-metacognitive Learning Strategy will be described in two stages — an Overview summarizing two related Cycles of Design, and a Closer Examination of these cycles — that supplement an Overview of Design Process` by exploring the process more deeply.   And we'll look at a new idea:  using Quality Control to improve the quality of strategy-applying actions when a Learning Strategy is actualized by applying it, which converts it from a strategy-idea into strategy-action.



An Overview of

using Design Process to develop a Learning Strategy


Learning from Experience

This page describes a process of design — using a basic cycle of design that operates within a broader cycle of design — that is a way to learn from experience:  you make a plan for what to do;  you do it and observe what happens;  then you adjust (if you think this will be useful) when you plan for the next time.

This learning occurs naturally for all of us, in all areas of life.  But we should expect that many types of "learning from experience" will be more effective when we use principles of design-thinking, because the logical reasons for teaching Design Process include a general agreement that "metacognition can improve the quality of learning, thinking, and performance in many ways, in a variety of contexts," and my claim that Design Process "can help students improve their design-based use of metacognition."


Below is an overview of the design process — written for educators (if the purpose was teaching students, the content-and-style would be modified, but many students will find it useful as-is) — in two stages:


GENERATE-and-EVALUATE in a basic Cycle of Design

Objective and Goals, with Preparation:  To begin a process of design (shown in Diagram 1`) you Choose an Objective for a Learning Strategy (to improve a skill for learning, thinking, and/or performing)* and Define your Goals for the desired Results you want when you use the skill, and Prepare by finding information about strategies for improving metacognitive skills (generally) and the objective-skill (specifically).   /   * To illustrate the process of design, in this page we'll imagine that the skill is learning from lectures in a course.

Goals for Results and Actions:  When you design a Strategy, your main goal is to achieve desired Results.  One way to improve Results is to improve your Actions when applying a Strategy, so desired Actions are a sub-goal that will help you achieve your main goal.

GENERATE-and-EVALUATE:  In a basic two-step cycle of design, you GENERATE Options for a Strategy (to improve your skill in learning from lectures) and EVALUATE Options, and you continue doing this in repeated cycles of creative Generation and critical Evaluation.


PLAN-and-MONITOR in a broader Cycle of Design

Diagram 2b shows how these cycles of GENERATE-and-EVALUATE are used in a broader cycle of PLAN (GENERATE-and-EVALUATE, CHOOSE) and MONITOR (USE and OBSERVE).



GENERATE:  Based on your Preparation, before the first lecture you creatively GENERATE Options for Learning Strategies to use in lectures.  You can select old options (already known), and invent new options, usually by revising old options or by combining two or more strategy-options.

EVALUATE:  You critically EVALUATE Options, one at a time, using Mental Quality Checks and Physical Quality Checks — as shown in Diagram 2b (and then with more detail in 2a & 2c) and explained in the Overview of Design Process and later in this page — by using all available information from mental Predictions and physical Observations.   /   Quality Checks for Results & Actions:  In each evaluative Quality Check, quality is defined by Goals that include your main Goals (for desired Results) and sub-Goals (for desired Actions when applying a Strategy).  In some Quality Checks you compare desired Results (your main Goals) with predicted Results (from Predictions) or actual Results (from Observations).  Another use of Quality Checks — by comparing desired Actions (in your sub-Goals) with predicted Actions (from Predictions) or actual Actions (from Observations) — is valuable for Quality Control to improve the quality of your Actions.

CHOOSE:  You compare the Quality Checks for many Strategy-Options and ask “which option will produce learning-Results that most closely match my Goals?”, so you can "CHOOSE a Strategy-Option to use for a Physical Experiment" in the Experimental Situation of your first lecture.



During the first lecture you USE the chosen Strategy-Option and you* OBSERVE the Situation (characteristics of the lecture), your Actions (applying the Strategy), and the Results (in quantity-and-quality of your learning).    {* Or another person can OBSERVE, and provide feedback to you.  Even if this external feedback does not seem to provide much help for most aspects of learning from lectures, it can be very useful for some aspects of some Learning Strategies. }


PLAN again (in a re-PLAN)

This new PLAN is the same as your earlier PLAN — when you used Predictions and already-known Observations — but now you have more information because you also can use your new Observations, as indicated by the upward green arrow in Diagram 2c` which is a variation of 2a.


PLAN-and-MONITOR  (in cycles of design)

As shown in Diagram 2b, you PLAN (GENERATE-and-EVALUATE so you can "CHOOSE a Strategy-Option" for the first lecture) and MONITOR (you "USE the chosen Strategy" and "OBSERVE the Situation, your Actions, the Results");  these new Observations can be useful when you ask “do I want to adjust my Strategy and/or Strategy-Applying Actions?” during a re-PLAN (GENERATE-and-EVALUATE, CHOOSE) for the second lecture, in which you MONITOR (USE-and-OBSERVE);  then you PLAN for the third lecture and MONITOR in the third lecture;  you continue using these cycles of PLAN (GENERATE-and-EVALUATE, CHOOSE) and MONITOR throughout the semester, to learn from experience and improve your Learning Strategy for learning from lectures.



Quality Control — Part 1

If you want to PLAN effectively, you must think about your Strategy and also your Strategy-Applying Actions.  Why?

When you use Strategy-Applying Actions, you actualize a Strategy to convert it from an imagined strategy-idea into actual strategy-in-action.  When you USE a Learning Strategy and OBSERVE, your observed learning-Results are produced by an Actualized Learning Strategy that has two essential parts, your Strategy and your Actions in applying the strategy to actualize it.  Both parts are considered when you PLAN and re-PLAN because you do Quality Checks for Results and Actions, and you ask “should I revise the Strategy and/or my Actions?”

Quality Control is the process of trying to control (to observe-and-improve) your Quality of Actualization, to improve your Strategy-Applying Actions that actualize your Learning Strategy.


These ideas are explored more deeply in the next section, Quality Control – Part 2.



A Closer Examination of

using Design Process to develop a Learning Strategy


The next three sub-sections carefully examine:  strategies for Quality Control (Part 2);  ways to Prepare by developing Metacognitive Knowledge;  the process of GENERATE-and-EVALUATE during cycles of PLAN-and-MONITOR.



Quality Control — Part Two

This section builds on Quality Control – Part One which describes actualizing (it's converting a strategy-idea into an actual strategy-in-action), and how the Results of an Actualized Strategy are affected by two factors (the Strategy, and your Actions in Strategy-Application), and how Quality Control is used to observe-and-improve the quality of your Strategy-Applying Actions.

Quality Control is important because "the Results of an Actualized Strategy are affected by two factors (the Strategy and your Actions)."  Therefore, you must use Quality Checks for two types of EVALUATION, to check for the quality of both Actions and Results, with quality defined by your sub-Goals (for Actions) and main Goals (for Results).  You compare your Goals (for desired Actions & desired Results) with your predicted Actions & predicted Results (from Mental Experiments, in a Mental Quality Check) or with your observed Actions & observed Results (from Physical Experiments, in a Physical Quality Check).   Your evaluations of Actions and Results are motivated by wanting answers for different questions:  In a Quality Check for Actions, you ask “How effectively did I actualize the chosen Strategy?”  In a Quality Check for Results, you ask “How effective was this Actualized Strategy in producing the Results that I wanted?”

Based on these evaluations, in a re-PLAN you ask “Do I want to retain the Strategy & Actions as-is with no changes?” and you have four combinations of possible answers: Yes-Yes, Yes-No, No-Yes, No-No.

re-PLAN (combinations of Retain-and-Revise for Strategy & Actions)

A page with more about Actualization and Quality Control explains the color symbolism that is used above for 2 of the 3 causal factors, for the Strategy and your Actions:

Analogous to mixing pigment colors (with blue + red producing purple), a combination of “Strategy + Strategy-Actualizing Actions” forms the Actualized Strategy that — along with all other causal factors (which I'll call the Situation) in the external context that a strategy-designer cannot control — causes the Results.    [in a Physical Experiment, the observed Results are produced by an Experimental System that is the Actualized Strategy + Situation]

The observed Results depend on your Strategy (so you ask “could it be effective IF it's done well?”) and Strategy-Application (so you ask “was it done well?”) plus all other factors.  When you evaluate a Strategy's effectiveness, the "IF" is essential because you cannot evaluate an un-actualized Strategy by itself.  You can only observe the Results that are produced by an Actualized Strategy, in a combination of Strategy-and-Actions operating in a Situation.  But...

You can use your imagination in Mental Experiments to predict how your Strategy-Applying Actions could improve, how likely this is, and how an improved Actualized Learning Strategy (as it could be in the future) would change your learning-Results.  These imaginative predictions will help you decide whether you want to retain your current Strategy as-is, or adjust it, or generate a new Strategy.


Designing a Strategy for Quality Control

Quality Control is the process of trying to control (to observe-and-improve) your Quality of Actualization.  During design-cycles of PLAN-and-MONITOR you observe (in MONITOR, when you Use & Observe) and you try to improve (in a re-PLAN when you decide whether to revise your Strategy and/or Strategy-Applying Actions).

The principles of Quality Control (to improve the quality of Actualization) are important in every design project, whether your objective is a strategy, activity, product, or theory.  When your objective is to improve a Learning Strategy — which includes improving its Quality of Strategy-Actualization by using Quality Control — you will have two levels of strategies, because your Strategy for Quality Control is a sub-objective (with sub-goals for improving Actions) that helps you achieve your main objective (with main goals to improve learning-Results) of improving a Strategy for Learning.

the two levels:*  You are designing one Strategy (for Quality Control) within the process of designing another Strategy (for Learning);  the objective of Quality Control is to improve the Quality of Actualization for a Learning Strategy when you use it.  You develop-and-actualize a Strategy for Quality Control, in an effort to more effectively develop-and-actualize a Strategy for Learning.   /   * In practice the levels overlap, similar to an "intertwining" of cognition-and-metacognition.  And although we can imagine more levels, with strategies to improve your Strategy for Quality Control, and so on, it seems most useful to focus on these two levels.


Frequency Control

Above, the condition "when you use it" is important, because a potentially valuable Learning Strategy will be actually valuable only when you use this Learning Strategy.  Therefore, an important part of Quality Control is a Frequency Control in which you control (you observe-and-improve) your frequency of Strategy-Actualization.  Your goals are to develop self-knowledge, wise judgment, and self-discipline, so you will use each Learning Strategy at every appropriate time (no more and no less), whenever it will help you learn, think, and/or perform more effectively.


The Timing of Metacognition

In a process of Quality Control you "observe-and-improve the quality of your Strategy-Applying Actions."  You observe your Actions, so you can improve your Actions, during design-cycles of PLAN-and-MONITOR in which you make metacognitive observations of your thinking-Actions and your learning-Results.  When you observe, what timing will be most beneficial?  Should you...

do metacognitive observing during a lecture? (and if yes, mainly for the purpose of making immediate real-time adjustments of Strategy and/or Actions during the lecture, or for later use in a re-PLAN?)  or should you avoid metacognition during a lecture, and then “observe by remembering” after it's over?  and do you want to use metacognition soon before the next lecture, with self-reminders to help you “get ready” in ways that will improve your performance of learning in lecture?

For these questions, there is no “correct answer” for all situations.   This is because metacognitive observing can serve different functions, and you can have different objectives:  with a Performance Objective you want "maximum performance now" but with a Learning Objective (Education Objective) you want "maximum learning now so you can have improved maximum performance later."  Is your main objective to perform more effectively now, or to learn more from your experience, or do you want both?  The balance between your objectives for performing and/or learning is one factor to consider when you ask "how are my learning-Results being affected by my metacognitive observing?" and you regulate your metacognition by "deciding when to use metacognition (to think about process, plans, and strategies), and when to avoid it so you can focus on what you're doing."


The Location of Metacognition

When you MONITOR you USE a Strategy and "you OBSERVE the Situation, your Actions, the Results."  Or another person can OBSERVE, and provide feedback to you.  Their feedback can be direct (in a conversation with you, or a written report for you) or indirect (as when an evaluative exam stimulates your own inferences about your performance).

Externally-Located Metacognition:  Skilled teachers often use empathetic metacognition by asking “what are students thinking? how? why?” so they can design instruction that includes guiding students (by asking questions, giving clues,...) and giving them evaluative formative feedback about their performance to help them learn more effectively.

Usually, your development of Learning Strategies will be more effective when you ask for external feedback;  then you should view this feedback, and use it, in ways that will be productive for you and for others.  One of the most valuable “master skills for self-improvement” is improving your skill in being able (and willing) to learn from others, with Productive Responses to Critical Feedback.   {developing a creative-and-critical community}



Preparation for Designing a Learning Strategy

Most of my diagrams for Design Process (1 and 2a-2b-2c-2d-2e) begin with Choose & Define, Prepare.   Here is a close look at Preparation during the design of a Learning Strategy;  improved Preparation is useful for students (directly for their own benefit) and teachers (directly for themselves, and indirectly when they use their knowledge to help students).


Choose an Objective and Define your Goals:  We are imagining that, in a series of lectures for a course, you want to learn more effectively, to improve the quality-and-quantity of your learning, to understand more accurately-and-thoroughly, to remember what you are learning and use it more skillfully.


Prepare (search, remember) to improve Metacognitive Knowledge

Then you Prepare by improving Metacognitive Knowledge about how to learn more effectively in lectures, by finding observation-based strategies from others (by searching for what they recommend, and why) and yourself (by remembering what you've done in the past, and the results).

You can build a strong foundation of generalized Metacognitive Knowledge * about Persons (how we think, learn, and perform), Tasks (the situations & requirements, range of possible results),* Strategies (pros & cons of various options) — and personally customize this knowledge by “knowing yourself” based on observations of yourself (as the person) in the context of various tasks using different strategies.    {* Actually, this is Cognitive-and-Metacognitive Knowledge because it's what you know about cognition, metacognition, and their mutual interactions. }

Metacognitive Learning Strategies to Increase Transfer describes useful general strategies for learning.  You can find other general strategies, and also domain-specific strategies for almost every situation you will encounter, because other people already have thought deeply about how to learn more effectively in many types of situations.

* The skill of learning from lectures is a fascinating task, due to the difficult multi-tasking requirements and the wide variety of strategy-options, mixed in various combinations, that you can use to prepare for a lecture (by reviewing previous lectures, reading the textbook,...) and learn during it (with complex multi-tasking by quickly shifting attention between listening & seeing, thinking & writing, plus metacognitive observing) while minimizing distractions (that can begin externally or internally), and to learn after it (by reviewing your notes & memories while partially-learned ideas are still fresh in your mind, or re-listening/watching if a recording is available).   /   Complexity and Creativity in Strategies for Learning from Lectures  —  Principles & Strategies for Active Listening


Information to improve Ideas-and-Skills Knowledge

Modes of Design Process describes how, during the mode of Preparation, you Search for and Find (by Remembering and Locating) information that improves your Ideas-and-Skills Knowledge, which is your Conceptual Knowledge (ideas) and/or Procedural Knowledge (skills).  As implied by "and/or", during Preparation the type of information you find — is it mainly ideas or skills, or both? — will vary from one project to another.  When you design a Learning Strategy, the focus (as described above) is on improving your Cognitive-and-Metacognitive Knowledge, your general & personal knowledge about Persons, Tasks, and Strategies.

In my diagrams the description for Preparation changes from "finding Information" (in 1 and 2a) to improving "Ideas-and-Skills Knowledge" (in 2b and 2c).  These two labels describe the same process of Preparation, and they are combined as "finding Information about Ideas-and-Skills Knowledge" in 2d.



This page concludes with three sections:   Evaluating Theories,  Generation-and-Evaluation,  Complexity and Creativity.


Evaluating Theories

All available information — old & new Predictions, old & new Observations — can be used for three evaluative comparisons.  Two of these — Quality Checks (Physical, as shown below, or Mental) for Results and for Actions — were described in the overview of PLAN-and-MONITOR and again in Quality Control, Part 2.  A third comparison is used for...

Evaluating Theories:  Because you want to design theories that let you make accurate theory-based Predictions, you do Mental-and-Physical Reality Checks (Theory Checks) by comparing your Observations (of actual learning-Results) with your Predictions (for expected learning-Results).  You can test any of your theories — about the Situation, your Strategy, and your Strategy-Application Actions, and how each affects learning-Results — by comparing your Predictions (based on these theories) with Observations.  Then you can revise any of your theories, if you think this is logically justifiable and will be useful for making Predictions that are more accurate.

three comparisons - two Quality Checks and a Reality Check



This process of Evaluating Theories, using Reality Checks, is summarized at the bottom of Diagram 2d`.   As a whole, 2d shows the process of GENERATION-and-EVALUATION with more detail than in 2c, which is a variation of 2a.  In addition to showing Reality Checks, 2d also shows a designing-and-using of Experimental Systems (which for a Strategy are “Strategy-Option + Experimental Situation”);  and the yellow & green upward arrows show how new Predictions & new Observations (not just new Observations, as in 2c) are used to supplement old Predictions & old Observations when we use Mental & Physical Quality Checks to EVALUATE Options, and when we GENERATE Options.

One way to understand GENERATION-and-EVALUATION more deeply is to compare Diagrams 2a, 2c, and 2d.*  Then use 2b to think about our use of basic design-cycles to GENERATE-and-EVALUATE in the broader context of design-cycles in which we PLAN-and-MONITOR.   /   * You also can compare 2d with 4b, before or after you have studied Phase 4 in the Overview of Design Process.


Complexity and Creativity

A Complex Task:  As explained earlier, learning from lectures is interesting "due to the difficult multi-tasking requirements [you can listen, look, think, write, and observe, plus internal & external distractions] and the wide variety of strategy-options [used before, during, and after lecture], mixed in various combinations."  This complexity allows a variety of ways to evaluate and generate:

Creative Generation of Options:  Try to stimulate creativity and think of everything you can do.  Don't be restricted by a narrow definition of "everything you can do" because the "you" can include others;  if the scope of your thinking is broadened to include teamwork, maybe you will recognize that a friend takes great notes, but you have better real-time understanding in lecture, so you get “the best of both” by meeting after lecture to talk about ideas, using their notes and sharing your understanding.   Or, to get a high ratio of learning/time, re-listening to an entire recording of a lecture may not be useful, but (using a less restrictive definition of "re-listening") in your notes you can write the times (like “23:30-25:30”) when you don't understand a concept that seems important, then you carefully re-listen to those two minutes.   Or... (what else could you do?)

Generation-and-Evaluation of Multiple Options:  You may want to try a variety of strategies during the first few lectures (or parts of them) so you can observe the results, in an effort to design the best possible strategy(s) for now, and for later.


Evaluation that combines Multiple Goal-Criteria:  Do you want to maximize your understanding during lecture? the clarity and/or thoroughness of notes you make, and will study after lecture? your overall ratio of learning/time?  Maybe you can find a strategy that maximizes all of these goals, and others, but you probably will have to set priorities and aim for an optimal combination, with some goals achieved more fully than others.


"Try to stimulate creativity and think of everything you can do.  Don't be restricted by a narrow definition..."