Metacognition and self-regulation

Very high impact for very low cost based on extensive evidence
The cost estimates in the Toolkits are based on the average cost of delivering the interventions.
Implementation cost
This rating provides an overall estimate of the robustness of the evidence, to help support professional decision-making in schools.
Evidence strength
The cost estimates in the Toolkits are based on the average cost of delivering the interventions.
Number of studies
The impact measure shows the number of additional months of progress made, on average, by children and young people who received the intervention, compared to similar children and young people who did not.
Impact (months)

What is it?​

Metacognition and self-regulation approaches aim to help pupils think about their own learning more explicitly, often by teaching them specific strategies for planning, monitoring and evaluating their learning. Interventions are usually designed to give pupils a repertoire of strategies to choose from and the skills to select the most suitable strategy for a given learning task.

Self-regulated learning can be broken into three essential components:

  • cognition – the mental process involved in knowing, understanding, and learning;
  • metacognition – often defined as ‘learning to learn’; and
  • motivation – willingness to engage our metacognitive and cognitive skills.

How effective is it?

Metacognition and self-regulation approaches have consistently high levels of impact, with pupils making an average of seven months’ additional progress.

These strategies are usually more effective when taught in collaborative groups so that learners can support each other and make their thinking explicit through discussion.

The potential impact of these approaches is high, but can be difficult to achieve in practice as they require pupils to take greater responsibility for their learning and develop their understanding of what is required to succeed.

The evidence indicates that teaching these strategies can be particularly effective for low achieving and older pupils.

How secure is the evidence?

A number of systematic reviews and meta-analyses have consistently found strategies related to metacognition and self-regulation to have large positive impacts. Most studies have looked at the impact on English or mathematics, though there is some evidence from other subject areas like science, suggesting that the approach is likely to be widely applicable.

The approaches that have been tested tend to involve applying self-regulation strategies to specific tasks involving subject knowledge, rather than learning generic ‘thinking skills’.


What are the costs?

Overall, costs are estimated as very low. Many studies report the benefits of professional development for teachers, and using an inquiry approach where teachers actively evaluate strategies and approaches as they learn to use them in their teaching.

What should I consider?

Before you implement this strategy in your learning environment, consider the following:

  1. Which explicit strategies can you teach your pupils to help them plan, monitor, and evaluate specific aspects of their learning? 

  2. How can you give them opportunities to use these strategies with support, and then independently?

  3. How can you ensure you set an appropriate level of challenge to develop pupils’ self-regulation and metacognition in relation to specific learning tasks?

  4. In the classroom, how can you promote and develop metacognitive talk related to your lesson objectives? 

  5. What professional development is needed to develop your knowledge and understanding of these approaches? Have you considered professional development interventions which have been shown to have an impact in other schools?




Technical Appendix




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