Thinking About Learning: Metacognition in Adults

September 17, 2010 at 10:40 pm Leave a comment

A few years ago, I was involved with a project where we trained peer educators to use Motivational Interviewing (MI) to encourage people to eat more healthfully. By the end of each course, at least one participant would say something like, “You know, I went home and tried that reflective listening thing with my kid and it really worked!”

This was always great to hear because it meant the participant was truly learning the new skills in ways that would increase their ability to use them. They were applying metacognitive learning strategies.

Metacognition refers to the competencies used for thinking and learning that are consciously applied by learners to meet learning goals (Dawson, 2008).  Using metacognitive skills involves self-awareness of strengths and weaknesses related to learning, and the ability to adapt and regulate learning in different situations (Pintrich, 2002). My MI participant, when confronted with a sullen teenager, was able to recognize ambivalence based on what she learned, and adapt her new reflective listening skills to the situation. By doing this, she was able to refine her skills and increase her self-efficacy. According to Theo Dawson;

Adults whose metacognitive skills are well developed are better problem-solvers, decision makers and critical thinkers, are more able and more motivated to learn and are more likely to be able to regulate their emotions (even in difficult situations), handle complexity and cope with conflict (2008).”

All characteristics we’d like our learners to have.

Of course we’re not going to tack an extra day onto our training programs to teach metacognition. And not all metacognitive skills can be taught or applied by all learners. We can, however, structure our courses in ways to maximize opportunities for learners to flex their metacognitive muscles. I have created a diigo list with links to some useful resources about metacognition and strategies for enhancing metacognitive skills in adult learners. Click here to view it – Metacognition in Adult Learners.


Dawson, T.L. (2008). Metacognition and learning in adulthood.  Northampton: Developmental Testing Service, LLC. Retrieved September 16, 2010 from

Pintrich, P. (2002). The role of metacognitive knowledge in learning, teaching and assessing. Theory Into Practice. Retrieved September 16, 2010 from


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