You may have heard of machine learning or deep learning, a new type of artificial intelligence that makes it possible for computers to not only analyze big data, but make ways to analyze it on their own.
This type of metalearning has allows computers to recognize pictures of cats without being programmed to understand what a cat was, just after browsing the internet for long periods of time. It may sound like a petty example, but the development of the process that underlies it will likely act as an extremely influential springboard for enabling scientific and social discoveries.
Some believe that metalearning could be the first step towards achieving the 2045 initiative, and that the ability for computers to think will enable the unification of man and machine. However, such progress will likely take more than metalearning on the computer level; it will take metalearning on the human level as well.
So how can humans learn how to learn and take control of the way that they accept new information? To answer that question we’ll have to enter the exciting realm of metacognition.
Put simply, metacognition is “thinking about thinking.” However, the process isn’t quite that simple. There’s been plenty of debate regarding the definition of that word and how to describe the same basic phenomenon, which is something like self-regulation, executive control, what have you. The term is most often associated with John Flavell, who broke down the concept into metacognitive knowledge and metacognitive regulation. Let’s take a closer look.
Metacognitive knowledge refers to the realm of metacognition that deals with general knowledge about how humans learn and process information as well as individual knowledge of one’s individual learning processes. An example of this would be the one’s understanding that one studies better in the library than at home with one’s many roommates. Knowledge of task may involve knowledge regrind the nature of the task as well as the type of processing demands that it tends to place on an individual. Knowledge of strategy has something to do with understanding one’s options in terms of learning strategies and conditional information regarding which option works for what situation.
Metacognitive regulation has to do with the use of metacognitive strategies to control activities and ensure that a cognitive goal (e.g. understanding a text) is met.
You may be wondering what the difference is between cognitive and metacognitive knowledge. Remember that metacognition is “thinking about thinking,” so while cognitive strategies might be used to help an individual achieve a particular goal (e.g. understanding a text), metacognitive strategies are those strategies used to ensure that the goal has been reached (e.g. quizzing yourself to see if you’ve understood a text). Knowledge can be seen as metacognitive if it is actively used strategically in an effort to ensure that a goal is met.
Metacognition has been linked to intelligence in multiple studies, one of which was authored by a man named Sternberg. Sternberg called metacognition an executive process within a triarchic theory of intelligence and that the ability to appropriately allocate cognitive resources, such as deciding how and when a given task should be accomplished, is central to intelligence.