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Metacognitive Scaffolding Techniques to Enhance Problem-Solving Processes and Design Outcomes

Complex problem solving requires content-specific knowledge, structured knowledge, and metacognition (An & Cao, 2014). In a learner-centered environment, scaffolding is a technique instructors must use to facilitate adult college learners’ abilities to navigate through the aforementioned processes associated with complex problem solving. Metacognitive scaffolding techniques used during problem solving and design-oriented tasks include supports that assist adult college learners with planning, monitoring, and evaluating. Examples of effective metacognitive scaffolding techniques among adult college learners, as well as how each aligns with the adult learning principles, include:
  • Provide learners with planning sheet to provide guidance with setting goals and deadlines, as well as organize ideas and thoughts.
    • Adult Learning Principle: Adult learners are goal-oriented.
    • Adult Learning Principle: Adult learners are relevancy-oriented
    • Adult Learning Principle: Adult learners bring life experiences and knowledge to learning experiences.
  • Provide learners with feedback on their planning sheets to correct misunderstandings, develop a more complete understanding of the task, and assist with the revision of ineffective plans or strategies.
    • Adult Learning Principle: Adult learners like to be respected.
    • Adult Learning Principle: Adult learners are practical.
  • Use question prompts to promote learners’ ability to monitor and evaluate their progress.
    • Adult Learning Principle: Adult learners are internally motivated and self-directed.
Use of metacognitive scaffolding techniques reinforces the cyclical and iterative processes associated with problem solving and design tasks (An & Cao, 2014), while also addressing each adult learning principle (Knowles, 1984; Knowles, Holton, & Swanson, 2015). An and Cao (2014) utilized an experimental research design to explore the use of metacognitive scaffolding techniques among adult college learners enrolled in a graduate-level instructional technology online course. The aforementioned metacognitive scaffolding techniques were used on two assignments (creation of a WebQuest and development of a technology-enhanced, design-based lesson) with participants in the experimental group. After analyzing multiple data sources, An and Cao reported that the use of metacognitive scaffolding techniques engaged learners in metacognitive activities and prompted learners’ design problem solving processes, particularly the use of planning activities. An and Cao’s findings did not produce statistically significant results with respect to participants’ problem solving outcomes or monitoring and evaluation skills. However, results showed that metacognitive scaffolding techniques significantly improved participants’ planning skills and improved their design problem solving processes by facilitating their ability to “set goals and deadlines, engage in research, organize their ideas and thoughts, correct misunderstandings, revise ineffective plans or strategies, avoid procrastination, use time effectively, and monitor and evaluate their progress” (p. 565).


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