Strategies for Learning

In this course you will need to:

  • Plan how to work through the material in a way that allows you to complete the course requirements on time.
  • Determine how to use the various features of the course to help you learn.
  • Decide when you need to seek additional support.

Completing This Course Efficiently and Effectively

When starting any course, many people neglect planning, opting instead to jump in and begin working.

While this might seem efficient (after all, who wants to spend time planning when they could be doing?), it can ultimately be inefficient.

In fact, one of the characteristics that distinguishes experts from novices is that experts spend far more time planning their approach to a task and less time actually completing it; while novices do the reverse: rushing through the planning stage and spending far more time overall.

In this course, we want to help you work as efficiently and effectively as possible, given what you already know.

  • Some of you have already taken a statistics course, and are already familiar with many of the concepts. You may not need to work through all of the activities in the course; just enough to make sure that you’ve “got it.”
  • For others, this is your first exposure to statistics, and you will want to do more of the activities, since you are learning these concepts for the first time.
  • For most students using these materials, the use of statistical software may be new. It is a goal of these courses to not only teach the concepts of statistics but for students to become proficient at conducting analyses themselves.

Improving your planning skills as you work through the material in the course will help you to become a more strategic and thoughtful learner and will enable you to more effectively plan your approach.

The idea of planning your approach to the course before you start is called Metacognition.

Metacognition, or “thinking about thinking,” refers to your awareness of yourself as a learner and your ability to regulate your own learning.

Metacognition involves five distinct skills:

  1. Assess the task — Get a handle on what is involved in completing a task (the steps or components required for success) and any constraints (time, resources).
  2. Evaluate your strengths and weaknesses — Evaluate your own skills and knowledge in relation to a task.
  3. Plan an approach — Take into account your assessment of the task and your evaluation of your own strengths and weaknesses in order to devise an appropriate plan.
  4. Apply strategies and monitor your performance — Continually monitor your progress as you are working on a task, comparing where you are to the goal you want to achieve.
  5. Reflect and adjust if needed — Look back on what worked and what didn’t work so that you can adjust your approach next time and, if needed, start the cycle again.

These five skills are applied over and over again in a cycle—within the same course as well as from one course to another.

EXAMPLE: Metacognition in Action

You get an assignment and ask yourself: “What exactly does this assignment involve and what have I learned in this course that is relevant to it?” You are exercising metacognitive skills (1) and (2) by assessing the task and evaluating your strengths and weaknesses in relation to it.

If you think about what steps you need to take to complete the assignment and determine when it is reasonable to begin, you are exercising skill (3) by planning.

If you start in on your plan and realize that you are working more slowly than you anticipated, you are putting skill (4) to work by applying a strategy and monitoring your performance.

Finally, if you reflect on your performance in relation to your time frame for the task, and discover an equally effective but more efficient way to work, you are engaged in skill (5); reflecting and adjusting your approach as needed.

Metacognition is not rocket science. In some respects, it is fairly ordinary and intuitive. Yet it is very important since weak metacognitive skills can easily undermine performance.

Now take the opportunity to practice the concepts you’ve been learning by doing these two Learn By Doing activities. Read each of the scenarios and identify which metacognitive skill the student is struggling with.

You’ve now read through the explanatory content on metacognition and you’ve had a chance to practice the concepts. Take a moment to reflect on your understanding. Do you feel like you are “getting it”? Use these next two questions to find out.

Did I Get This?: Metacognition

Strong metacognitive skills are essential for independent learning, so use the experience of monitoring your own learning in this course as an opportunity to hone these skills for other classes and tasks.


Ambrose, S. A., Bridges, M. W., DiPietro, M., Lovett, M. C., & Norman, M. K. (2010). How learning works: 7 research-based principles for smart teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Chi, M. T. H., Bassock, M., Lewis, M. W., Reimann, P., & Glaser, R. (1989). “Self-explanations: How students study and use examples in learning to solve problems.” Cognitive Science, 13, 145-182.

Dunning, D. (2007). Self-insight: Roadblocks and detours on the path to knowing thyself. New York: Taylor and Francis.

Hayes, J. R., & Flower, L. S. (1986). “Writing research and the writer.” American Psychologist Special Issue: Psychological Science and Education, 41, 1106-1113.

Schoenfeld, A. H (1987). “What’s all the fuss about metacognition?” In A. H. Schoenfeld (Ed.), Cognitive science and mathematics education. (pp.189-215). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.