Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Eric Mandelbaum

Committee Members

Michael Brownstein

Elizabeth Edenberg

Barbara Montero

Subject Categories

Cognitive Psychology | Curriculum and Instruction | Educational Assessment, Evaluation, and Research | Educational Psychology | Philosophy | Philosophy of Mind


metacognition, pedagogy, skill-building, education research, evidence-based, cognitive science


In summaries of “best practices” for pedagogy, one typically encounters enthusiastic advocacy for metacognition. Some researchers assert that the body of evidence supplied by decades of education studies indicates a clear pedagogical imperative: that if one wants their students to learn well, one must implement teaching practices that cultivate students’ metacognitive skills.

In this dissertation, I counter that education research does not impose such a mandate upon instructors. We lack sufficient and reliable evidence from studies that use the appropriate research design to validate the efficacy of metacognitive skill-building interventions (not just evaluate their relationship to learning outcomes). I argue that improved academic outcomes following these interventions aren’t necessarily mediated by increased metacognitive skills; rather, enhanced student performance can be accounted for by other factors that accompany metacognitive training, particularly the explicit provision of domain-specific knowledge.

On the way to this conclusion, I elaborate some complications and controversies surrounding “metacognition.” This is a sprawling and nebulous construct, which makes generalizations about its pedagogical value dubious from the outset. Moreover, it is unclear the extent to which the end goal of metacognitive skill-building (cognitive self-mastery, involving knowledge of and control over our own minds) is even possible, given our mental architecture; some cognitive scientists allege that we are subject to phenomenological illusions which make this seem more achievable than it actually is.

I also attempt to provide an account of how metacognitive skill-building could receive glowing endorsements from educators and education researchers, even though its conceptual and empirical underpinnings are flimsy. The error theory I offer identifies two major factors that may foster belief in the efficacy of metacognitive training: goalpost-shifting around the objective of such efforts, and motivated reasoning in defense of the desirable conclusion that educators can significantly reshape students’ minds and unlock their intellectual potential through simple pedagogical interventions.