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How meta-skills can guide your degree choices and learning journey

Anthony Mai

1 min read

Apr 13



add an additional consideration or principle into your decision-making process

When you are in the process of making a decision, an unconscious process that is occurring is an evaluation of your options using a predetermined set of principles. This usually goes unnoticed because no one stops you and forces you to actually explain how you made that decision. It may have just felt like you went with your gut instinct. The problem with not analysing your thinking is that you end up basing your decisions off only what you currently know. And what do you know right now? The preconceived views that you hold before proper research are simply those that have picked up by random chance over time. You cannot trust the quality of a decision made like this. When it comes to degree or university selection, some relevant considerations that are likely already having an influence include reputation, perceived early earning potential, and familiarity with content matter.

I want to add an additional consideration or principle into your decision-making process for what you end up studying, whether it is for your degree choice, or learning journey throughout life in general.  



Meta-skills as a concept

To begin, let’s think about skills. A skill can be simple defined as an ability to do something. Skills can be seen as smallest building blocks which can be used in different combinations to create a profession or subject. Some skills are relevant to many applications, others are very niche. They can also range in difficulty.

To break down the anatomy of something as intangible as a ‘skill’, we can think of three parts that together make up the whole. There is the relevant cognition or understanding about the skill, experience in the form of neural links that have been built, and for some skills, a sufficient physicality such as voice or fitness. For example, the skill of kicking a soccer ball has aspects of cognition, such as understanding how making contact at different parts of the ball or with different parts of your foot with affect its flight. There is also a neural component where the organisation of the neurons that transmits signals to produce the kicking motion become more coordinated over time, reducing the mental fatigue in performing the skill. Lastly, there is the muscular strength and endurance component that also develops with practice to reduce the physical cost. All of these are important areas to track your progress in skill development, which we will revisit later.

When I had just graduated from high school, I thought I was ahead of the curve because I was motivated to continue learning, and was excited to get started with the next chapter of my life. However, I encountered a problem that made it hard for me to take action and resulted in me being less productive that I would have liked. It was only later, that I found out that many learners suffered from the same problem I had, and you, reading this right now may have also experienced this too.

It is the paralysis of choice.

the paralysis of choice.

There are so many skills out there! And for many of them, there can be some sort of argument made for why they should be prioritised over the others. One can end up spending so much time and energy obsessing over making the right choice that they end up not doing anything at all. To overcome this obstacle, I want to provide a suggestion for which skills to pursue. And they are the ones that fall under the classification of ‘meta-skills.’ If any of the Atlas team are reading this right now, you can be sure that they will be groaning because Wayne and I have lectured them too many times on meta- words already, like metacognition and meta-explanation. But I will ignore the haters and soldier on.

‘Meta-‘ is an Ancient Greek root that translates to ‘beyond’ or ‘transcending.’ When we talk about metacognition in science education, we are talking about the logic and problem-solving skills that underlie a concept, rather than the theory itself. The chemistry example I like to use is that while the theory would be knowing that VSEPR is an abbreviation for ‘valence shell electron pair repulsion,’ the metacognition is the understanding that to determine the geometry of a molecule, we need to identify the number of regions of electron density and consider how they will repel each other. Metacognition tells us how to actually use the theory we have memorised to solve a problem.

A meta-skill similarly is the foundation to many skills. It is often a skill itself, but one that accelerates the process of skills acquisition. And so we can finally get to my objective. I think that getting meaningful development of meta-skills should form a key part of how you evaluate the pathways you can take after high school, be it degree choice or the study you do in your own time.

The central meta-skill

Resource limitation as a consideration for skill development


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