Metacognition And The Pilot Who Landed In The Hudson River

3. Conditional.

1. Declarative knowledge is the factual information that you know. It is learned in school and at home and it can be spoken or written. An example is knowing the formula for calculating momentum in a physics class (momentum = mass times velocity). Pilots must learn a lot about wind velocity, aerodynamics, weather conditions and how they impact on a flight and lots of other 

2. Procedural knowledge is knowledge of how to do something.   It is knowing how to perform the steps in a process. For example, if we return to the physics class, the student now knows more than the formula for calculating momentum. He is now able to apply that knowledge to a real life situation. It is one thing to learn about aerodynamics in a classroom and another thing to land a jet airplane.

3. Conditional knowledge has to do with knowing when to use a procedure, skill, or strategy and when not to use it. It includes awareness of why a procedure works and under what conditions, In addition, Conditional knowledge is understanding why one procedure is better than another. Recently, there was an airplane crash near Buffalo, N.Y. and all 50 people on board were killed. The experts, according to news reports, are speculating that the pilot made the wrong decision about what to do when the jet was being hit by strong wind currents. It is possible that he miscalculated in using his Conditional knowledge.

Wider applications:

I have always been interested in the subject of learning and education. I am certain that this is a result of my early experiences as a Junior and Senior High School teacher years ago. It struck me that many boys and girls were bored, missing school and failing to learn.

With cognitive psychology gaining a deeper understanding of how we think and learn, new ideas are being developed to enable more students to benefit from the school experience. Metacognition relates directly to this.

In using Metacognition, students become aware of how they think, what they know, how they learn, what their strengths and weaknesses are and how to improve their performance. Everyone's style of learning is different and no one rule holds true for all students. Therefore, students learn how to develop their own learning strategies.

However, the classroom teacher, using Metacognition, is or should be utilizing all three types of knowledge. Therefore, after the book learning occurs (declarative knowledge) it is important for students to move onto problem solving or developing procedural and conditional knowledge. In my opinion, this is where many schools fail. Too many youngsters come away from the school experience falsely believing that what they have learned or have refused to learn has no relevance or use in real life situations.

Today, with computer technology, students can engage in simulation activities that allow them to learn and apply both procedural and conditional knowledge.


Returning to our pilot, Captain "Sully" it is important to know that he and other pilots regularly engage in simulation activities in which they learn about and apply solutions to all types of possible situations and how to handle them.

I liken it to the training of doctors and nurses. Yes, there is a lot of book learning that comes with entering the field of medicine. However, medical and nursing students are quickly put out onto the hospital wards where they start to learn by doing. Only in this way can these people become the skilled medical people they are. In this way, they can work in emergency rooms or in emergency situations where they can use and apply their knowledge. All three types of knowing are used in training medical people as well as pilots and many others.


Of course, it is important to mention one more important variable in the learning process and that is motivation. Learning new skill can be very motivating but, if a student does not have some motivation to begin with then none of this might work. Doctors, nurses, pilots, psychologists and others continue the learning process. They do so because they are strongly motivated to become ever more skillful at what they do.

What are your comments and opinions about this topic including discussing your learning experiences?

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD.