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Learning Environments: Metacognitive Strategies That Facilitate the Learning Process



May 3, 2004



Course Project


Over the course of the semester we have concentrated on three primary domains: 1)design, 2)learning and 3)collaboration. While the readings and lectures contributed extant information regarding each of the specific areas we feel two very important and critical elements were broached in a rather tangential way. First, we understand design, learning and collaboration cover an extremely broad range of subject matter and that it is difficult to address specifically all the areas critical to each of the domains. We suggest and bring to the forefront, what we consider very important elements. The first is metacognition and the second is learning environments. Both of these are inextricably woven throughout design, learning and collaboration. It is irrefutable. All learning takes place in a learning environment and that learning is guided by some form of metacognition. A learning environment is simply the domain where learning takes place and how it (the domain) impacts upon learning. Metacognition, a term coined by Professor John Flavell, a noted developmental psychologist, is defined as thinking about thinking. His exact definition stated that "metacognition is knowledge and cognition about cognitive phenomena." It is simply a way that an individual develops an emerging strategy to achieve learning. How one formulates their own metacognition depends on many factors: their own personal reflective nature and experience, the environment they are situated in, and the complexity of the task at hand. There is no one 'right way'. There is no formula for guiding one through the process; however, there are various biases and heuristics that appear to emerge to assist in dealing with learning processes. Any and all metacognition consists of two basic processes occurring simultaneously: first, one monitors his or her progress as they learn and make changes as the progression continues, and second, each individual adapts different strategies if they perceive they are not doing as well as they believe they should be doing.

The concepts of learning environments and how we think about how we should do things (metacognition) have occurred and reoccurred many times throughout the semester as we addressed issues of design, collaboration, and concepts of learning. However, they were not directly or specifically addressed in relation to their impact or influence on each of the three domains. It is impossible to design without thinking about the consequences of the design, its application, utility, etc. One can not learn about anything without thinking about ways of 'doing' the learning and measuring the success of the progress and certainly one can not collaborate with his or her self, others, technologies, forms of mediation with their situatedness or the task at hand without exercising metacognitive strategies. It is a very important consideration. We have not read one article or had one lecture, guest lecture or otherwise, that learning environments and metacognition did not apply. Therefore, it is our intent and purpose to address learning environments and metacognition as the focal point for our semester project and suggest how they may influence our collective views of design, learning and collaboration.

Our research question asks how effective metacognitive strategies are in learning to control an aircraft by an individual with no such experience in flying an aircraft. The reason we chose this learning environment and task is that it contains a degree of complexity not many individuals are confronted with, and it gives immediate and irrefutable evidence of success or failure in the application of any applied or corrective techniques to the stability of the aircraft. The effectiveness of the metacognitive process or strategy is measured qualitatively by verbal reporting and the correct stability of the aircraft. Effectiveness equals the judgment of the pilot in command in assessing the applied techniques and/or corrected techniques of the project team member (Jennifer Tamez).


We chose to use a very simple aircraft; an Aviat Husky A-1B utility aircraft. It is a very simple aircraft to fly. It is considered to be a very stable platform and very forgiving when making mistakes; however it is very unforgiving on landings and takeoffs. The aircraft has a 180hp Lycoming Engine, cruises at 145 mph, can land and take off in 250 ft., can clear a 50 ft. obstacle and has a surface ceiling of 20,000 ft. The aircraft is very versatile and can do many complex maneuvers. We decided to only confront the subject (Jennifer Tamez) with basic flying maneuvers of straight and level flight, left turns, right turns, climbs and descends. The aircraft is extremely safe and reliable in the most severe conditions. We were determined to have the best possible flying conditions weather wise, and as it turned out we did. The process we elected to test Jennifer's metacognitive abilities was to give her the minimum verbal instructions in the functions of the controls and allow her full access to apply them. As she flew the aircraft she gave verbal report to the pilot-in-command (Robert Surles), and the PIC immediately determined if in fact her application was correct or not. If it was not correct she was given immediate opportunity to make the necessary corrections. Once the process started the PIC gave very little input and was there only to correct the application if it was absolutely necessary. Under no circumstance was the aircraft in any excessive attitude that could have resulted in some untoward disposition. The aircraft is basically self correcting if the pilot gets into an unusual attitude. It the pilot were to experience that situation, all he or she has to do is take a hands off position and the aircraft will correct the attitude. Jennifer was not told this and was expected to fly the aircraft with hands and feet in control positions. She did extremely well with a minimum of verbal prompts.



"We have previously referred to metacognition as 'thinking about thinking'. You could say that this is exactly what I did when flying the Husky A1B with Bob. Prior to the flight, I was given an instructional video to watch. The video covered basic knowledge of the plane and how it is controlled. Never having been in a smaller aircraft, much less taking control of the plane while in flight, I was excited and anxious. When it came time to get in the plane and actually take off, I tried to remember the information I had gone over and how I should put this into action now that I was up in the air. The time that Bob instructed me to take over the control of the plane was when I became very nervous. I remembered the pitch, the roll and the yaw controlled the movements, but it took a while for me to apply what I had learned to actually flying the plane. Once I had learned to take the information and construct it into meaning (actively learning to fly the plane), it became more easy and comfortable. I became nervous a couple of times when I had to do several things at a time, but I began to apply what I had correctly done before to fix what I was doing wrong. After landing, I could make a connection between the instructional video and actually flying the plane. I was able to apply the information I had learned from the video and actually use it as a learning tool in the plane.

My heuristic was the following: a plan, the application and evaluation. Depending on the evaluation of my results, I changed what I was doing until I did it correctly or I repeated what I was doing correclty. I put my plan into action and evaluated the results. If I saw that my plan failed and that I was not able to control the plane properly, then I changed the application until I corrected my errors. When I saw that my applications according to my plan were correct, then I repeated those actions. I had a plan of what I thought I should do in order to fly the plane properly. When I saw that those results had failed, I changed what I was doing until I learned the correct way to move the joystick or step on the rudder. I do think that mentally thinking about what I was doing and about what I had to do while I was doing it helped me put it all together. I do feel like I learned how to control the plane while in flight, and I think this is proof that metacognition does help the learning of new experiences."

The results of the project suggest a very high degree of success in Jennifer applying metacognitive strategies as opposed to the times that she did not apply them. We did four trials two with no metacognitive strategies and no substantive verbal reports from Jennifer and two trials with Jennifer verbally reporting what she was doing and why. The learning environment was complex, noisy, dynamic and potentially spatially disorienting. She did very well and qualitatively proved that metacognitive strategies give better opportunities for success in learning.


  • AIM/FAR (Airman Information Manual and Federal Air Regulations). Washington, DC:FAA:Federal Aviation/Government Printing, 2004.
  • Clark, Andy. Being There: Putting Brain, Body and World Together Again. Cambridge,Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 1997.
  • Jeppensen Flight Manual. New York, NY: Jeppensen Pub, 2004.
  • Metacognition and Heuristics Working Paper. Robert B. Surles 2003.
  • Sporty’s Interactive CD for Private Pilots, 2003. Sporty’s Aviation Learning Center, The Pilot Shop, Denver, Colorado.
  • Varela, Thompson and Rosch. The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science an Human Experience. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 1993.

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