There is a hole in how we learn — and we won’t fully see it until we fix it.

The hole in our learning actually has more to do with the whole of our learning than any specific hole. However we won’t be able to address this until we have a bigger conversation. One that gets us to a new vantage point and allows us to properly see the gaps we are leaving in student’s learning. The problem is not in what students are learning. The problem is a lack of awareness of how they are learning. Which in the end comes back to why they are learning.

For me, when I start with asking why is education important, how we approach education starts to take on a different feel.

Why does education matter? Education is about empowering individuals to be effective in their worlds, both now and in the future.

How does this change the way we approach education? By giving students a solid foundation and then teaching them how to teach themselves so that whatever lies ahead they are ready to master the skills and content they need.

What does this look like in action? Teaching students to think about how they think, and what that means they can do. It means showing them biology is important not because it’s valuable to know the names of different plants, but because it means they can understand how soil nutrients turn into energy in their bodies so they want to eat healthy or even plant their own vegetables. It means teaching the laws of motion not so they can pass their physics exam but so they can do their own basic fuel efficiency studies.

Teaching metacognition means explaining the why behind the work students are given and the way they are given it. It means connecting what happens in class to the rest of their lives so effectively that next time they will make that connection on their own. It means helping them see how their minds are made to do a multitude of things, all of which they have the power to master on their own.

I believe so strongly in metacognition because my life changed when I realized I — meaning my mind — could study myself/itself, both internally and externally. And by doing so, I was becoming infinitely smarter than trying to feed myself facts. In essence, I was no longer seeking new fish — I was seeking new ways to fish.

I pursued metacognition in various ways, from reflecting on what type of thinking was needed for different tasks to exploring learning theories and maps of the brain. The more I learned the more important this reality became: Our mind is what controls us, but to the extent we can understand them, we can control our minds.

Metacognitive awareness is what lets you work smarter not harder. It is what causes you to pause upon hitting a roadblock in order to assess whether you need to choose a new road, to find a stunt driver, or to get a sledgehammer. It is what allows you to look at a project from start to finish and know what steps will be needed to get there.

Our minds are the most powerful tool we have — if we know how to use them well. Education needs to be equipping our minds with an understanding of our minds. Our learning, and teaching, needs to focus on elevating our minds to new levels of thinking in order to expand how we think. Higher education especially should focus less on deeper analysis of more complex topics, in exchange for teaching metacognitive awareness that unlocks higher levels of thinking.

We are our minds. Let’s learn how to use them.

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