Metaliteracy and Your Role as a Metaliterate Learner

The following reading has been used with multiple sections of various courses at the University at Albany and SUNY Empire State College. Although college students find it very helpful, it is appropriate for anyone interested in learning more about metaliteracy. A PDF version is available for those who would like to print or share it.

There is also a set of questions developed by Professor Sally Friedman of the Political Science Department at the University at Albany to help guide students as they read.

What is Metaliteracy?

The Metaliteracy Framework

The way we all interact with, create, share, and use information has changed dramatically in the last decade. Consider more traditional information scenarios, in which people used information produced by experts of some sort or another. These experts may have been authors, scholars, or journalists—those who had a mechanism for distributing the information they created. But today’s information environment is radically different. Think about all the ways you or your friends not only use information from others, but also create and share information. Tweets, Facebook or blog posts, contributions to other social media venues—the opportunities to participate are endless. Consider, too, where the information you use comes from. Some will be from those traditional, established sources, but much will be from individuals like yourself. With our new roles come new responsibilities, to ourselves and to others. Metaliteracy is a new framework that recognizes and addresses this exciting, and yet challenging, information landscape in which we find ourselves.

Metaliteracy promotes critical thinking and collaboration in our digital age, providing a comprehensive framework to effectively participate in social media and online communities. It is unifying, in that it supports the acquisition, production, and sharing of knowledge in collaborative online communities. It emphasizes metacognitive reflection as an empowering practice for learners. Metaliteracy, which has its roots in information literacy, challenges traditional skills-based approaches to information literacy by recognizing related literacy types and incorporating emerging technologies. (Mackey & Jacobson, Reframing Information as a Metaliteracy, 2011, 62-63)

Let’s explore the various meanings of the word “meta” to provide insight into the term “metaliteracy.” “Meta” originates from the Greek, and means “after,” “beyond,” or “changed.”  As a prefix, it can indicate something that references or comments upon itself, and it has also been used to mean “overarching” ( Several of these meanings resonate. Metaliteracy encourages learners to become critically adept in an environment where literacies that build upon or extend the traditional meaning of literacy proliferate rapidly, so it could mean “beyond literacy” or a “changed literacy.” Metaliteracy can also be seen as overarching these extended literacies, such as digital, visual, web, and transliteracy. Metaliteracy’s vital component, metacognition, uses the “meta” prefix in its sense of referencing or commenting upon, as it refers to referencing one’s own thinking.

Your Role as a Metaliterate Learner

The Metaliterate Learner Figure

The metaliterate learner figure below shows that metaliteracy places an emphasis on the whole person, how we learn, what we understand, how we are constantly changing through learning activities, how we translate our learning into action, and how we reflect on our own learning as a continuous process.  This circular image shows the metaliterate learner at the center of four inter-related domains of learning: metacognitive, cognitive, affective and behavioral. The positioning of these four quadrants in the middle ring of the circle emphasizes that the learning domains are a core component of metaliteracy.  The outer ring focuses on another critical aspect of metaliteracy, one that draws upon the learning domains. These are the active roles: participant, communicator, translator, author, teacher, collaborator, producer, publisher, and researcher.  As metaliterate learners, we take on these roles as we discover, consume, evaluate, produce, and share information using a range of changing technologies. Please note that while each domain has its own place in this middle ring that lines up with two or more roles, all four domains apply to all the roles, so this positioning is not deliberate. Consider the domain ring as one that rotates.

More detail about the rings follows the figure.

ml learner figure

Figure 1. The Metaliterate Learner Figure by Tom Mackey, Trudi Jacobson, and Roger Lipera

The Outer Ring

Closely examine this visual representation of the metaliterate learner and think about the active roles you have played that are shown in the outer ring of this image.

Consider your roles in both academic and everyday life settings.

  • Think about the ways you have been a participant, communicator, or translator of information.
  • Reflect on the times you have participated with others to discuss, create or share information.
  • Consider how you have communicated ideas or translated information directed at one audience to another audience, or from one language to another.
  • Recall the opportunities you have had as an author of documents in any format (text, image, sound, or multimedia) and how this work was shared with others.
  • Remember the ways you have taught friends, family, peers, or colleagues how to do something.
  • Consider how much collaboration you have been involved in and to what extent you have been a part of a team to achieve goals.
  • Think about the information you may have produced and published for a specific or general audience.
  • Reflect on your role as a researcher to expand your own knowledge, to learn something new, solve a problem, voice an opinion, or to earn a grade in a course or a certificate in a MOOC.

The Central Rings

Now, review the metaliterate learner figure again and take a close look at the two central rings, with the metaliterate learner at the center, surrounded by four domains of learning: metacognitive, cognitive, behavioral, and affective.  Generally, the metacognitive domain refers to how we think about our own thinking and our reflections on how and what we learn.  The cognitive domain refers to our comprehension or what we learn after completing an activity.  The behavioral domain relates to what we are able to do after a particular learning activity, specifically the skills and competencies we develop as a result or outcome.  The affective domain refers to how we feel after a particular learning activity, with an emphasis on our emotions and attitudes.

Figure 2 concentrates on the inner ring of the first figure—the domains. Their linked relationship is identified by the linking arrows in the center. Metaliteracy demands that learners fully consider, and address, all four areas:

Metacognition—how we think about our own thinking and how we reflect on how we learn

Cognitive—our comprehension or what we have learned after completing an activity

Behavioral—what we are able to do after a particular learning activity

Affective—how we feel after a particular learning activity

Figure 2. The Metaliteracy Learning Domains

You can read more about these four domains.


First, consider how the metaliteracy learner model (figure 1) speaks to you. Think not only about the roles shown in the outer ring, but also the four domains. Do you focus on particular domains when you are learning something new, or trying something new? Do you tend to exclude any completely? Write a couple of paragraphs that summarizes your reflection and self-assessment as a metaliterate learner and producer.

Next, share your new understanding of metaliteracy with a friend, relative, or colleague. Describe the general framework and the metaliterate learner figure, and then talk a bit about your self-assessment. Add a third paragraph to your writing that records and reflects on this person’s reaction to learning about metaliteracy.

This work by Metaliteracy Learning Collaborative is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Reading and Thought Questions:

Included in this document is an explanation of the metaliteracy framework complete with picture; the roles filled by metaliterate learners, and some goals and objectives a metaliterate learner might want to establish. As you read this document, some questions to consider include:

  • Why do the authors think we need a new and expanded metaliteracy framework?
  • What the heck does “metaliteracy” and the “metaliterate learner” mean in the first place?
  • What are the domains of the metaliteracy model? How might they apply to you in a practical situation?
  • Do you generally think of yourself as a consumer (passive) of information or a producer (more active participant)? Think of some specific examples.
  • Under what conditions does your best learning take place? Give an example.
  • Of the roles described in the outer ring of the model, which do you see yourself as being most likely to take on? Which one, in particular, would you like to see yourself getting better at?
  • Do you think you take on different roles in academic versus non-academic situations?
  • The document talks about new responsibilities that come with a new information environment. What are these? How do you generally take them on?
  • Of the goals and objectives listed toward the end of the document which most resonates with you? What is one way you might immediately go about incorporating more of that skill into practice?
  • In the end, what’s your biggest takeaway from what you have read?

Reading questions are written and shared by Professor Sally Friedman, University at Albany