ERIC Identifier: ED259211
Publication Date: 1985-00-00
Author: Naylor, Michele
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Adult Career and Vocational Education Columbus OH.
Adult Development: Implications for Adult Education. Overview.
ERIC Digest No. 41.
The recent dramatic increases in life expectancy, rapid changes in technology
and sociocultural patterns, a better understanding of the concept of
development, and other factors have given adult development an increasingly
important place in the investigations of both psychologists and educational
researchers (Merriam 1984).
EARLY SEQUENTIAL MODELS OF ADULT DEVELOPMENT
Merriam (1984) mentions four individuals--Carl Jung, Charlotte Buhler, Erik
Erikson, and Robert Havighurst--as major figures in the early investigation of
adult development and outlines the principal points of the theories underlying
--In his 1930s work, Carl Jung postulates three stages of life--youth, middle
age, and old age--based on his own clinical observations. Jung views youth as a
period of expanding consciousness, middle age as a period of questioning
long-held convictions, and old age as a period of increased introspection and
preoccupation with self-evaluation.
--Charlotte Buhler proposes four stages in life. The first period, which
extends from birth to age 15, is a period of physical growth in which decisions
begin to be made; the second, from age 15 to age 25, is a period of sexual
reproduction and goal setting; the third, from age 25 to age 45, is one in which
goals are examined and attention begins to be focused inward; and the fourth,
from age 46 to age 65, is a time of physcial decline and self-assessment.
--Erik Erikson formulates a theory of human development with a model of eight
stages of life. The three adult stages of the model are viewed as struggles
devoted to the accomplishment of a primary task: young adulthood, a struggle
between intimacy and isolation; middle age, a struggle between generativity and
stagnation; and old age, a struggle to achieve a sense of ego integrity.
--Robert Havighurst focuses his attention on various sociocultural patterns
and values to which adults must adjust.
RECENT SEQUENTIAL MODELS OF ADULT DEVELOPMENT
In a review of the literature on adult development, Merriam (1984) singles
out the following recent theorists and their age-related sequential models of
--Daniel Levinson proposes a model in which adulthood is characterized by
alternating periods of stability when individuals solidify their life structure
and periods of transition when that structure is reexamined and modified.
--Roger Gould develops a model comprising six stages of adulthood in which
individuals progressively abandon one childhood myth after another, manage to
confront reality to a greater degree than before, and eventually succeed in
raising their levels of consciousness.
--Gail Sheehy pays particular attention to the development of adult females.
She postulates the following developmental stages experienced between the ages
of 18 and 50: pulling up roots, trying 20's, Catch 30, rooting and extending,
deadline decade, and renewal or resignation.
SEQUENTIAL MODELS WITH A SPECIAL FOCUS
Several theorists have developed models whose stages depend upon
developmental, rather than physical, maturation of the individual. The following
researchers developed sequential models with a special focus:
--Jane Loevinger defines an ego as that trait that determines how one views
and relates to the world. The terms used to describe these stages are impulsive,
self-protective, conformist, conscientious-conformist, conscientious,
individualistic, and integrated.
--According to William Perry's theory, individuals begin with a sense of
absolute knowledge, come to believe that all knowledge and beliefs are relative,
and eventually develop a set of values and an individual sense of reality.
--Lawrence Kohlberg sets forth six stages of intellectual development that
involve three levels of cognition: preconventional, conventional, and autonomous
--James Fowler, formulating a theory of faith development, postulates a
six-stage model of the growth of faith from childhood to a final period that may
begin in midlife or beyond.
ADULT DEVELOPMENT AND ADULT EDUCATION
An important relationship exists between adult development and adult
education. According to Merriam (1984), one of the best-developed theoretical
links between adult development and learning lies in the theory of andragogy.
Andragogy is based on the assumption that, by and large, adults are
self-directed beings who are the products of an accumulation of unique and
personal experiences and whose desires to learn grow out of a need to face the
tasks they encounter during the course of their development.
IMPLICATIONS OF ADULT DEVELOPMENT RESEARCH FOR EDUCATIONAL PRACTICE
Adult education practitioners at all levels can apply many of the findings of
such research to program planning and implementation. Merriam (1984) discusses
the following areas in which adult development theory can enhance educational
Program Development and Administration
Program designers can use a knowledge of adult development and adult learning
theory to address the following program planning concerns: program objectives,
target audience, delivery system, program content, and support services. The
Framework for Adult Development Programming proposed by Kummerow, Sillers, and
Hummel (1978) focuses on the five items on this list. Adult educational
programming is best accomplished using either the tutorial, group, or
independent study mode of instruction.
Kummerow and his associates suggest that the following topical areas are the
most relevant to the developmental tasks faced by adults: self-assessment,
decision making and problem solving, relationships, biological changes, career
behavior needs, spirituality, and use of leisure time. Cross's (1981) discussion
of the different situational, institutional, and dispositional barriers to
learning that exist in various stages of adult life provides insight into some
of the support services needed by adult learners of various age groups.
Merriam (1984) proposes that adult educators consider the following as among
the most effective instructional techniques for use with adult learners:
contract learning, experiential learning, portfolios, and self-pacing. Merriam
also suggests that teachers strive to make learning experiences as meaningful as
possible for individual learners and that they attempt to refrain from the
stereotypical role of authority figure and transmitter of knowledge, functioning
instead as a role model or resource person.
Merriam (1984) asserts that, whether making referrals or simply trying to be
supportive of their students, adult educators need a thorough understanding of
the stages and transitions of adult life, the stages of career development, the
interrelationship of adult development and career development, and counseling
techniques for use with individuals in transition.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This Digest is based upon S. B. Merriam's ADULT DEVELOPMENT:
IMPLICATIONS FOR ADULT EDUCATION. Information Series No. 282. Columbus, OH: ERIC
Clearinghouse on Adult, Career, and Vocational Education, The National Center
for Research in Vocational Education, The Ohio State University, 1984.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Cross, K. P. ADULTS AS LEARNERS. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 1981.
Knowles, M. THE MODERN PRACTICE OF ADULT EDUCATION. Revised Edition. Chicago,
IL: Association Press/Follett, 1980.
Kummerow, J., B. D. Sillers, and T. J. Hummel. PROGRAMMING FOR ADULT
DEVELOPMENT. Minneapolis, MN: Education Career Development Office, University of
Minnesota, 1978. ED 159 517.