College of Computing and Digital Media Dissertations

Date of Award

Spring 6-5-2015

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


School of Computing

First Advisor

Jose Zagal

Second Advisor

Peter Hastings

Third Advisor

Cynthia Putnam


Metacognition is defined as thinking about and reflecting on one's cognitive processes. In learning contexts, strong metacognition leads to retention, academic success, and deep learning. While we know a lot about the metacognition of learners in grades K-12 and college, there are limited studies on adult learners' (24 and older) metacognitive awareness, how to support it, or the role technology can play, particularly since e-learning is quickly becoming the central mode of learning for adult learners. Thus, I have the following motivating research question: How can we support adult learners' metacognitive development in e-learning environments?

To better understand adult learners' needs, I conducted a content analysis of adults' learning ePortfolios and surveyed a cross-section of adult learners to determine their metacognitive awareness. Based on those findings and the literature on designing learning technologies for adult learners, I iteratively designed and developed a web-based application with adult learning, social learning, and persuasive design elements. During two sections of an online course, a treatment group used the intervention and a control group did not. Both groups completed a pre-/post-self report of their metacognitive awareness, developed a learning portfolio that was rated by two raters for evidence of metacognition, and participated in interviews.

This research shows that (a) adult learners are adept at planning and monitoring their learning but need more support in managing information and evaluating their learning; (b) a web-based intervention with social-persuasive design elements supports adult learners in metacognitive development; and (c) social and persuasive design elements, when aligned with adult learning principles, support adult learners' narrative identity, which I argue is a key factor in supporting their metacognitive development. This research aims to provide designers, educators, and learners with a better understanding of adult learners needs and offers design principles and guidelines for development of sociotechnical systems that can promote their metacognitive development in e-learning environments.



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