In addition to deficits in delayed recall, recent research suggests that participants with amnestic mild cognitive impairment (aMCI) demonstrate diminished use of strategic encoding strategies during learning. Few studies have explored the cognitive mechanisms underlying this deficit. The aim of this study was to investigate in aMCI whether components of working memory (executive attention--attention set-shifting, dividing and focusing attention; and episodic buffer functions--strategic retrieval and manipulation of information) predict strategic encoding strategies during learning (semantic clustering). Thirty-three participants with aMCI and 33 healthy older adults (HOA) were administered neuropsychological tests assessing word-list learning and working memory. The aMCI group demonstrated significant impairment in acquisition, retrieval of information, and decreased use of semantic clustering strategies. Use of semantic clustering in the aMCI group was not predicted by measures of executive attention or phonemic verbal fluency, but was predicted by semantic verbal fluency performance. In the HOA group, semantic clustering was strongly related to semantic verbal fluency. These findings suggest that in aMCI, diminished strategic encoding strategies during learning (semantic clustering) is selectively related to the strategic function of the episodic buffer, but only when in interaction with the manipulation and retrieval of semantic associations.