ATI vs. Metacognition


Aptitude-Treatment Interaction Theory

The Aptitude-Treatment Interaction (ATI) Theory was developed by Lee Cronbach and Richard Snow, amongst others who have studied the topic. The main assumptions that many recognize is that “no one method of instruction is ‘best’ for all students” and “Students of different aptitude levels will profit from various curricular and instructional adaptations” (Corno). Therefore, Cronbach and Snow’s Theory suggests that optimal learning will result when the instruction is exactly matched to the aptitude of the learner.

Principles of ATI

  1. Aptitudes and instructional treatments interact in complex patterns and are influenced by task and situation variables.
  2. Highly structured instructional environments tend to be most successful with students of lower ability; conversely, low structure environments may result in better learning for high ability students.
  3. Anxious or conforming students tend to learn better in highly structure instructional environments; non-anxious or independent students tend to prefer low structure.

Applying ATI to instruction

A business will first administer an aptitude test during the application process. If applicants are placing low on the aptitude test, the business will want to develop a highly structured instructional environment and provide practical, real-world exercises. However, if applicants are placing high on the aptitude test, the business may want to develop a relatively low structured instructional environment.

Metacognition Theory

John Flavell, an American Developmental Psychologist, developed the Metacognition Theory. According to Flavell, “metacognition consists of both metacognitive knowledge and metacognitive experiences or regulation. Metacognitive knowledge refers to acquired knowledge about cognitive processes, the knowledge that can be used to control cognitive processes” (Livingston, 1997). In other words, it means “thinking about thinking.”

Examples of metacognitive strategies

Engaging your metacognition can mean different things to different people. Here are a few examples of metacognitive strategies that people use:

  • Asking yourself if you have any prior knowledge of a topic before you read the materials
  • Stopping yourself during reading to ask yourself if you understand the materials
  • Rereading or asking questions for clarification on parts that you do not understand
  • Underlining, outlining, taking notes, summarizing

Why use it?
“Those with greater metacognitive abilities tend to be more successful in their cognitive endeavors. The good news is that individuals can learn how to better regulate their cognitive activities” (Livingston, 1997). There is reason to believe that building your metacognition can improve your learning and intelligence.

Applying metacognition to instruction
During the training, trainers will ask the trainees questions, such as:

  • do you have any passed work experiences;
  • have you ever completed a similar task;
  • do you understand the material we've just covered?

In addition, trainers should encourage trainees to take notes and ask questions during the instruction. It may also be useful to inform the trainees what you, the trainer, are thinking about as you complete certain tasks. Or, ask the trainee to think aloud as they complete the tasks.

Which Theory is Best?

There is no significant evidence that proves one theory is better than the other. If trainers want to see the best results, they should use both the Aptitude-Treatment Interaction theory and the Metacogntion theory, if not other theories as well.


Corno, L. (n.d.). More Lessons From Aptitude-Treatment Interaction Theory. Educational

Cronbach, L.J. & Snow, R.E. (1960). Individual differences in learning ability as a function of
instructional variables. Final report. Standford.

Jeffrey, L., Hide, S., & Legg, S. (2010). Learning characteristics of small business managers:
principles for training. Journal of Workplace Learning Vol. 22 No. 2, pp. 146-165

Livingston, J. A. (1997). Metacognition: An Overview. Retrieved July 1, 2011, from

Theories of Learning in Educational Psychology . (2009). Retrieved July 1, 2011, from John Flavell: Metacognition:

Created by: Jocelyn Kortan