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#2 Types of Knowledge

Updated: Aug 7, 2021

Before we delve into the more practical strategies for improving metacognition, it’s important we examine the unique types of knowledge. It’s crucial for you to see where each type of knowledge fits into the process of learning using metacognition.

This might be a completely new concept, but when you know what each of the three types of knowledge are, you may realise that you have already been using them. The three types of knowledge can be categorized into ‘declarative’, ‘procedural, and ‘conditional’ knowledge.

What most people think when they hear the word ‘knowledge’ is often the definition of ‘declarative knowledge’. Declarative knowledge is all about the knowledge of concepts and principles. This knowledge about knowing something is also concerned with the insights you have on the processing ability and factors that can affect your understanding and demands of the task (Backer, Keer, & Valcke, 2011). For example, you will be able to use your insight to recognise the gap in your knowledge on chemical bonds when you try to answer questions on them.

Procedural knowledge, as the name suggests, is knowing the skills and strategies you can use to achieve specific learning goals (Backer et al., 2011). An example might be using ‘worked examples’ to build the fluency of solving maths problems. Procedural skills include knowledge needed to meet your goal (i.e. solving a problem through algorithms). Procedural strategies are goal-oriented cognitive activities that do not directly feed into completing the task (ex. self-reflection, planning). Common word ‘know-how’ fits into the field of procedural knowledge.

Lastly, conditional knowledge is the bridge across the two previous types of knowledge that connects to the metacognitive approach. It directs and controls when and why you apply certain knowledge, as well as skills and strategies. For instance, the knowledge to use flashcards instead of end-of-chapter questions when studying for a biology exam because you are aware that the subject-specific vocabulary always trips you up is considered to be conditional knowledge. It emphasises the process of making a decision based on the facts and information you have collected through experience (Kiesewetter et al., 2016).

There’s an interesting phenomenon that’s closely linked to these types of knowledge. If you’ve ever been in a situation where you thought you knew the test material but actually ended up performing badly, you have experienced the Dunning-Kruger effect (just like every other human being on the planet). This is a cognitive bias that makes people believe that they are smarter and more capable than they are. The lack of self-awareness and low cognitive ability can lead to this overestimation of capabilities (Dunning, 2011).

Having a strong grasp of declarative knowledge can help reduce this bias. Then you can use your procedural knowledge to make sure that you close the ‘knowledge gap’ using skills and strategies to learn concepts. You make choices in which skills or strategies to use through conditional knowledge. People often evaluate themselves from a limited and highly subjective perspective which makes them seem very knowledgeable and superior. That’s why metacognition, a method to evaluate your abilities in a more realistic and rational perspective, plays a big role in overcoming the Dunning-Kruger effect (Dunning, 2011).

Can you see how these three types of knowledge work together like cogs in the wheel? If so, that’s great! Even if you might not be sure about the concept itself, if you understand that you use different knowledge types to learn, you’ve done well.

Until next time, budding learners!


Backer, L. De, Keer, H. Van, & Valcke, M. (2011). Exploring the potential impact of reciprocal peer tutoring on higher education students’ metacognitive knowledge and regulation. Instructional Science, 40(3), 559–588.

Dunning, D. (2011). The Dunning–Kruger Effect. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 247–296.

Kiesewetter, J., Ebersbach, R., Tsalas, N., Holzer, M., Schmidmaier, R., & Fischer, M. R. (2016). Knowledge is not enough to solve the problems – The role of diagnostic knowledge in clinical reasoning activities. BMC Medical Education, 16(1), 303.

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