Interview with Prof Mary Grosser, Extraordinary Professor in Cognitive Development and Critical Thinking Development

The Institute for the Advancement of Cognitive Education conducted an interview with Prof Mary Grosser; Extraordinary Professor in Cognitive Development and Critical Thinking Development at the North West University in South Africa in April 2019.  She also serves on the IACE Advisory Board. 

Prof Grosser’s interview is helpful to create a better understanding of the term cognitive education, and what the difference is between cognition and meta-cognition, and between lower-order thinking and higher-order thinking.  Understanding these basic concepts will help parents, teachers and practitioners to develop better thinking and learning.  This blog is a summary of the most important points Prof Grosser highlighted during the interview.

What does cognitive education mean?

  • Developing thinking processes (cognitive and metacognitive) in learners to help them to become independent and self-regulated learners in terms of their school work, but also to enable them to be better equipped to solve problems and make good decisions as part of daily life.
  • Teach learners to understand how their minds work.

What are the thinking competencies learners need to acquire?

  1. Lower-order: Lower-order competencies include having skills to effectively:
    – Pay attention to information: Staying alert and conscious during learning.
    – Perceive information: Using all senses to become aware of information.
    – Memorise information: Storing information for retrieval later.
  1. Higher-order competencies: Ability to apply different thinking skills tolearning (flexibility) that requires more challenging competencies to process information than merely memorising, such as comparing information, classifying information, analysing information, thinking critically about information.
  2. Feelings, dispositions, attitudes: Dispositions such aswillingness, motivation, self-confidence, inquisitiveness, accuracy, systematic working ways, empathy, responsibility, accountability, ethical conduct, skills to work with others, positive attitudes towards learning; open-mindedness, fair-mindedness, excellent communication skills, better cooperative learning skills, etc. play an important role in effective learning, and in contributing to the societies we live in.

In short, essential competencies include two things, namely the development of skills (lower- and higher-order) that involve the “head” (mind) and dispositions/feelings/attitudes that involve the “heart” (emotions).

What is the difference between cognitive and metacognitive processes?

Cognitive actions/processes involve all thinking actions that we engage in, such as making decisions, solving problems, interpret information, or responding to questions.

It is always necessary to evaluate and assess ones thinking or answers (reflect about one’s thinking) to establish if it makes sense if it is logic, meaningful and significant. This evaluation and reflection process is called metacognition.

An important aspect of metacognition is that one needs to have the skills and strategies know what to do if one’s thinking does not make sense, solve problems incorrectly, misinterpret information or responding in an incomplete way to questions.

What is the difference between teaching for, of and about thinking?

  • Teaching FOR thinking involves the creation of school-wide and classroom conditions (and home) that support thinking development. We need to make time for the teaching of thinking.
  • Teaching OF thinking focuses on the explicit instruction and modelling of thinking skills/strategies and dispositions to learners, and not just expect learners to acquire them without purposeful teaching.  For example, Teaching learners strategies to become skilled at paying better attention (lower-order skill), making comparisons (higher-order skill), working accurately (disposition)
  • Teaching ABOUT thinking helps learners to become aware of their own and others’ thinking processes (meta-cognitive processes).  Teach learners strategies to assess their own thinking and to self-correct their thinking.

Why is it important for parents, educators and practitioners to develop better thinking and learning today?

We are educating/preparing learners to cope with the challenges of the 21stcentury. The 21st-century learner needs thinking skills and dispositions to deal with the following challenges: Learning and academic challenges, personal life challenges, societal and global challenges.

The 21stCentury Learner needs skill to/to be …

Learners also need skills and dispositions to deal with the challenges of the fourth Industrial Revolution

  • Grade 1 learners of 2019 will be in Grade 12 in 2030. We do not know what the world will look like then – totally unpredictable. We need to prepare learners to do anything, not something.
  • Understanding and coping with a digitally focused life – interaction with digital media.

Conceptual Age

1990s: Working with sophisticated tools and technologies

Today: Working with information overload


Looking at the aforementioned, one can make the following classification of what a learner will need to cope with learning and the challenges of the 21stcentury and the fourth Industrial Revolution.

Thinking skills

(cannot be taught by computers)

Digital skills Personal skills and dispositions

(cannot be taught by computers)

Job-specific skills
Critical thinking


Decision making

Digital literacy

Computer programming

Online learning







Industry knowledge

Workplace technology

Technical skills

Teachers, parents and practitioner still need to play an essential role in mediating and modelling good thinking skills and dispositions to learners, as computers and technology cannot teach thinking skills and dispositions.

What are the most important tips you can give to parents, educators and practitioners to develop better thinking and learning?

  1. Developing thinking processes intentionally – make time for it. Developing better thinking that would contribute to better learning has to become part and parcel of daily living, also at home.
  2. Taking hands with teachers and other practitioners to reinforce and strengthen the development of better thinking and learning.
  3. Becoming knowledgeable about different tools to develop thinking competencies (skills, dispositions).
30 replies
  1. Deon van Tonder says:

    Thanks, Mary Grosser.

    It was an excellent reminder for us we as educators and parents to understand the importance of how learners think. The focus on thinking for, thinking of, and thinking about will enrich the understanding of critical thinking on the 21st-century challenges.

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