Using Metacognitive Tools to Facilitate Professional Growth

As a leader or manager, take a moment to imagine this scenario. 

A few weeks ago, you authorized an employee to attend a multi-day professional development course. Upon their return, you asked them “How was the course?” They answered “It was good! I learned a lot!” 

Does this sound familiar?

Given that feedback, how would you assess the overall effectiveness of the course for the employee? Could you describe how the course enabled the employee to gain new knowledge, skills, and perspective? Could you describe how the course could enable the employee to possibly improve efficiency in the organization? Probably not.

Although, learning and development are common goals within most organizations, I am not certain that professional development programs include sufficient feedback and evaluation components. However, there are low-to-no cost metacognitive tools that enable employees to give substantive feedback and subsequently provide leaders/managers with important details to evaluate the overall benefits of courses within their professional development program. 

Metacognition: Low-to-No Cost Tools

Metacognition refers to the processes used to monitor and assess one’s understanding and performance. It is an essential skill in critical thinking and lifelong learning because it guides our learning strategies and informs our self-directed learning. The practice of metacognition empowers one to reflect on what they learned, why they learned it, how they can apply it, as well as what additional information they still want to learn. 

Arguably, an employee’s justification for attending a professional development or training course marks the beginning of self-directed learning. However, leaders and managers can integrate tools into the professional development program that will help the employee and the organization reach their goals of improving knowledge, skills, and abilities. 

The K-W-L Chart

The K-W-L Chart is an active learning strategy often used in the field of education to help students annotate what they know (or think they know) about a topic, what they want to learn, and what they learned in the lesson. The K-W-L Chart is also an excellent tool for professional development and training.  

When to Use

The employee can complete the “K” column prior to the beginning of the course by simply annotating what they know (or think they know) about the topic(s). When completing the “W” column, the employee should really think about all the things they want to learn that is related to the topic. They should revisit this column during breaks or when a point of discussion interests them and makes them want to learn more. At the end of the course, the employee should take a moment to silently reflect on what they have learned from the instructor, the material, and possibly their classmates. Then they should complete the “L” column. 


Encouraging an employee to utilize the K-W-L Chart will help them improve retention and comprehension of new information, skills, and abilities. Additionally, if an employee can better articulate what they have learned and how they can apply it, then it will improve the leader or manager’s ability to assess the overall potential benefits of sending employees to a respective course.

The Self-Reflection Journal

In general, self-reflection is another metacognitive tool that can enhance personal development. When used as part of the professional development or training process, it can enhance professional practice. In this case, the employee can recall experiences, decisions, and actions as a means of deepening their understanding. 

When to Use

At the conclusion of a course (or even one to two days later) encourage employees to complete a self-reflection journal. As the leader or manager, you may want to generate a few questions such as:

1. Which concept(s) discussed in this course made an impression on you the most? Why?

2. Given your justification for attending the course, did the course meet, exceed, or fall short of your expectations? Why?

3. What were your strengths while attending this course?

4. Did this course highlight additional information, skills, or abilities that you would like to gain? Explain.


Encouraging an employee to complete a self-reflection journal can enhance their ability to assess what they have learned, how they learned, inherent biases they had about a topic(s), their individual strength(s), and opportunities to gain additional knowledge, skills, and abilities. Moreover, depending on the course, employees may discover they have learned more about themselves through their interactions with others.

In a world where being innovative, solving [wicked] problems, and/or being good communicators and collaborators are important to the livelihood of an organization, I submit that evaluating how we think, learn, process, and perform is paramount to every professional and their inherent development.

Read other articles by LaMesha Craft on PA Times Online