Domain-specific and Metacognitive knowledge: The Good Approaches to Effective Teaching Thinking and Problem Solving?


Educators and researchers for many years have been concerned about how to teach thinking and problem solving effectively. However, a lot of researches indicated that students failed to develop their ability in thinking and problem solving when facing everyday phenomena and problems. It seems that students mainly acquired knowledge that remained inert. Their knowledge cannot be useful tools to deal with everyday problems and only ended as a lesson to be learned in the schools. Domain-specific and metacognitive knowledge, however, are pronounced as two approaches that can make teaching reasoning, thinking and problem solving effectively. The goal in this essay is to discuss about domain-specific and metacognitive knowledge in order to answer the following question: do domain-specific and metacognitive knowledge can make teaching thinking and problem solving effectively to encounter everyday situations and solving problems?

Evidence from the literature

In this essay, I emphasize to focus on the discussion about the literature-based study done by Bransford et al. (1986) presenting about two theoretical perspectives – executive or metacognitive processes and domain-specific knowledge – that can improve the teaching thinking and problem solving. Bransford and his colleagues explain the role of specific knowledge by showing several results of well-known research done by the experts and researchers. Taking as an example the study of deGroot, (Brandsford et al., 1986), comparing chess masters and novice ones, gives a description that conditional knowledge can help individuals to solve their problems effectively. In the deGroot research, the chess masters who already have knowledge base in playing chess, performed better in remembering the position of the game when it was meaningful for them. Furthermore, from the other research, it is also noticed that specific knowledge determines the learners’ strategies and their perspectives in solving meaningful problems. For example, Chi (Brandsford, 1986) found that 10-year-old chess enthusiasts can remember the position of the chess pieces more accurately than the college students do who are not experienced in playing chess.

On the other hand, metacognition also play an important role for improving teaching thinking and problem solving. Consider for example the investigation lead by A. Brown, Campione, and Day (Brandsford, 1986) who studied about the effects of different types of teaching environments in transfer tasks. It is noted that many individuals who were failed in transfer tasks are actually do not know why the strategies that they have learned are useful and when they would be used.

Combining both metacognitive and domain-specific knowledge, indeed, can strengthen the teaching thinking and problem solving. By having the ability to use their strategies and knowing the specific knowledge relating to the problems, the learners can increase their critical thinking and become an effective problem solver.


The two theoretical perspectives – metacognitive and domain-specific knowledge – provide a framework for students to think and solve the problems. Students not only have the ability about the general strategies and skills in problem solving, but also conditional knowledge that available for them to understand how concepts and procedures can be used as tools to solve the problems.


Brandsford, J., Sherwood, R., Vye, N., & Rieser, J. (1986). Teaching thinking and problem solving: Research Foundations. American Psychologist, 41, 1078 – 1089.