Individual level motivational, metacognitive, and regulation theories of adult learning

While the basic mechanisms of learning set certain frames to our cognitive functions, there is a wide range of other factors that also have a strong impact on our learning, such as motivational issues and different types of conceptions (see e.g., Schneider & Preckel, 2017). In contrast to the “cold cognitive functions”, a “wanning trend” in educational theories, which underlines the importance of other cognitive processes in learning, has come up every now and then (Sinatra, 2005). Similarly to cognitive functions, these factors can also be involved either consciously or unconsciously. Being aware of and regulating these factors, an adult learner can enhance the learning process.

Motivational processes, such as interest and goal orientation, either guide or inhibit our actions. In the positive case, motivational structures and beliefs both direct and support our learning processes. The classical theory of motivation divides motivation into two types: intrinsic and extrinsic motivation (Deci & Ryan, 2000). Intrinsic motivation refers to a situation where a person performs a task finding it rewarding without some other reward that would be earned as a consequence, whereas an extrinsically motivated person performs a task in order to reach something external to the activity itself (Whang & Hancock, 1994). Intrinsic motivation has been proven to be the most powerful motor in learning, resulting in high-quality deep learning that aims at understanding (Baeten, Kyndt, Struyven, & Dochy, 2010).

Another aspect connected to motivational theories is interest, which can be expressed in terms of deep-seated, long-term interest in the targeted field, or as short-lived situational interest in a specific situation or context (Hidi, 1990). Interest has proven to have a connection to high-quality learning in higher education (Mikkonen, Heikkila, Ruohoniemi, & Lindblom-Yliinne, 2009).

In addition to the power emerging from intrinsic motivation and interest, the impact of goals for motivation is crucial. Goal orientation refers to what the learner wants to achieve. It can be seen as aiming at mastery, i.e., gaining knowledge and understanding through learning, or as aiming at an achievement, for example reaching a goal by minimum effort (Murphy & Alexander, 2000). In adult learning, strategic use of different motivational patterns and approaches to learning in order to achieve certain goals has proven effective for study success (Heikkila & Lonka, 2006).

Our motivational factors and conceptions have an effect on our thinking and learning, however, we do not have to be tied with some random motivational features, but instead we can regulate them. Especially with adult learners, the deliberate learning processes require us to monitor our own thinking, reflect it against new information, and adapt it if needed. The process of being aware of and monitoring our own thinking is called metacognition and adjusting the thinking patterns when needed is called regulation. Metacognition - thinking about thinking — is connected to high-quality learning (liskala, 2015; Khosa & Volet, 2014). Metacognition is related to critical thinking in university studies (Magno, 2010), conceptual change in learning (Vilppu, Mikkila-Erdmann, & Ahopelto, 2013), and epistemological beliefs (Ozgelen, 2012). In addition, metacognition is related to knowing what and how we need to adjust in our thinking, i.e., to regulate it. Metacognitive skills are what the person deliberately uses to control and regulate cognition (Efklides, 2006).

Regulatory skills have proven to be central for successful studying. Vermunt and Verloop (1999) point out that the task of an adult education teacher is to guide the learner towards a more self-regulated learning. They describe that learner’s low self-regulation is congruent with a situation where a teacher is strictly regulating the learning process for the students. However, such a practice does not activate or encourage the students to develop their own skills to regulate their own learning. Therefore, the teacher should try to push the students towards a more self-regulating behaviour. A competent, self-regulating adult learner thus possesses the agency (e.g., Etelapelto, Vahasantanen, Hokka, & Palo-niemi, 2013) of his/her own learning and thinking, i.e., he/she is active and capable of making decisions and guiding his/her own independent thinking processes. Scholars in the field of cognitive adult development (e.g., Edelstein & Noam, 1982; Kallio, 2011) have also underlined the importance of selfregulation and autonomy in adult psychological advancement.

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