Adolescent metacognitive knowledge during the information search process



This poster reports the results of a case study that used naturalistic methods to investigate the metacognitive knowledge of adolescents as they searched for, selected and used information for a school-based, inquiry project on a topic related to the history of western civilization.

Introduction and Background

The difficulty for users of information systems and services may not lie in finding information but in filtering and integrating it into a cohesive whole. To do this, they must be able to make sense of it, an act that assumes knowledge about ones own needs, goals and abilities. This type of self-knowledge is called metacognitive knowledge. It consists of three interrelated components: self-knowledge (awareness of ones own cognition, including knowledge of ones strengths and weaknesses and the awareness of ones motivational beliefs); task knowledge (knowledge about the cognitive demands of the task); and strategic knowledge (procedural knowledge of cognitive strategies to employ when unsuccessful) (Flavell, 1979; Garner & Alexander, 1989; Pintrich, Wolters & Baxter, 1996; Anderson & Krathwohl, 2001). When used in information seeking, metacognitive knowledge may help users to solve complex information problems.

The nature of metacognitive knowledge as it relates to adolescents and the search process has been largely unexplored and remains an area of youth information seeking behavior research that is open to discovery. The concept of metacognition was introduced to the school library audience by Bertland (1986), in her review of research that could have implications for information skills instruction. At that point in time, research in this area was new and principally connected to text comprehension rather than information seeking as a distinct activity. Metacognitive knowledge a subset of metacognition – is implied in many process models (Eisenberg, M.B. & Berkowitz, R.E., 1990; Kuhlthau, 1991, 2004; Harada, V. & Tepe, A., 1998; Irving, 1985; Stripling & Pitts, 1988; Todd, R., 1998; Yucht, A. H. 1997, 2002), but there is surprisingly little that tells us what this type of knowledge actually looks like in practice, particularly in the context of information seeking. Is the metacognitive knowledge used to solve an information problem qualitatively different than the metacogntive knowledge used to solve a math problem? What does the metacognitive knowledge of adolescents look like and what patterns result from either the use or lack of such knowledge?


The study was conducted over a four-month period in an English-language CEGEP (an educational institution equivalent to Grade 12) in Montréal, Canada. Ten participants, ranging in age from 16 to 18, each kept a written or audio journal in which they recorded their thoughts, feelings, actions, and self-prompting questions, participated in four interviews, three conducted by telephone and one face-to-face, and completed a visualizing exercise (a timeline of their thoughts, feelings, actions and self-prompting questions). Data was analyzed using the constant comparative method.


The study identified 13 categories of adolescent metacognitive knowledge related to the information search process. They are: balancing, building a base, changing course, communicating, connecting, knowing that you dont know, knowing your strengths and weaknesses, parallel thinking, pulling back and reflecting, scaffolding, understanding curiosity, understanding memory, understanding time and effort. These categories form a taxonomy of adolescent metacognitive knowledge during the information search process. With further research and development, the taxonomy may provide a framework for the design of search tools that scaffold metacognitive search behavior and a rubric to be used in the teaching and assessment of metacognitive knowledge during the information search process. The poster will explain each category in detail and provide a visual model of the taxonomy.


The author gratefully acknowledges the vital contribution of the young people who participated in this study. The research was funded in part by research grants from McGill University (the Herschel and Christine Victor Fellowship in Education) and the Fond québécois pour la recherche sur la société et la culture (FQRSC).