Cognition refers to knowledge and associated inferential processes, ranging from elementary forms of perception to advanced forms of reasoning. Metacognition, a term used since the late 1970s, includes both knowledge of cognition and regulation of cognition. Knowledge of cognition includes both general knowledge of cognition and knowledge about one’s own cognition. Regulation of cognition includes planning, monitoring, and evaluation of one’s cognitive processes and products. Metacognition is crucial to and intertwined with many aspects of cognition even in the preschool years, when children are already developing theories of mind. Much of cognitive development is the development of metacognitive knowledge and self-regulation. Educational efforts abound to teach metacognitive skills, promote metacognitive development, and/or take student metacognition into account in designing instruction. Epistemic cognition is knowledge about the fundamental nature of knowledge, especially the justification and truth of beliefs. Research on epistemic development beyond childhood shows progress from objectivist to subjectivist to rationalist conceptions of knowledge. Objectivists appeal to foundational truths that can be observed, proved, or learned from the authorities. In cases of disagreement, someone must be wrong. Subjectivists recognize that knowledge is constructed, and conclude from this that truth is entirely relative to the constructor’s subjective point of view. “Truth” in any stronger sense is deemed a myth, because we all have our own equally valid perspectives. Rationalists acknowledge the subjective construction of knowledge and the perplexities of truth but maintain that some beliefs are better justified than others and that we can make progress in understanding. Research in child development shows that children proceed through a similar sequence in constructing intuitive theories of mind, suggesting that epistemic development may be a recursive process in which people reconstruct subjectivist and rationalist insights at multiple levels. Epistemic development is generally seen as the result of self-regulated processes of reflection and coordination. Research in educational psychology has highlighted individual differences in epistemic beliefs and has shown the value of active inquiry and peer argumentation in promoting epistemic progress within and across diverse fields of study.
Individuals of all ages have misconceptions about phenomena of the natural and physical world. They may think, for example, that summer is hotter because the Earth is closer to the Sun, and it is colder in winter because the Earth is farther away from the Sun. This explanation is not compatible with the scientific explanation of the phenomenon. Scientific learning often implies the revision of naïve conceptions, or conceptual change, which is not a quick and easy process. Researchers have addressed the question of the nature of conceptual change in terms of what the acquisition of new science knowledge entails when students hold misconceptions and need to revise their mental representations. Various approaches have been proposed to account for the mechanisms that underlie conceptual change and to draw implications for teaching and learning processes. For some decades conceptual change was only examined from a purely cognitive perspective (“cold” conceptual change), while more recently motivational and emotional aspects (“warm” conceptual change) have received attention. Research findings indicate that individual differences in misconceived prior knowledge, along with differences in achievement goals, self-efficacy, interest, and epistemic beliefs, as well as differences in the emotions experienced in learning contexts, are all associated with conceptual change. More recently, research has challenged the idea that misconceptions disappear permanently after conceptual change has taken place. Previously acquired, incorrect information still competes with the newly acquired correct information. The executive function of inhibition seems to be involved when naïve and scientific conceptions co-exist in the learner’s memory and the latter is used to produce a correct answer. Further research is needed on the role of inhibitory control in relation to learning concepts and affective states during scientific learning.