The Importance of Identity in Adult Learners
Melissa Nicole Salas
East Carolina University
The major issues to ponder here for adult educators revolve around our sense of how important it is to know our students as more than just students. How concerned should educators be with what life stages students are currently struggling with and the past success/failures they’ve had? The purpose of this research is to highlight the importance of instructors knowing learners well enough so that they can effectively teach them. The findings of the research are that it is important to know what stages of life learners are currently in, and to identify through conversations and interactions how best to assess learners, and that it is important to know these things because then educators will be more prepared for the responses and actions of students in their classrooms.
It is important for adult learners and educators to know that certain life stages play a major part in our maturity as an individual, our self-esteem, values morals and responsibilities. As young adults, we must find who we are and where we are going. Intimacy with another person is possible; otherwise we may become isolated from others. In adulthood, we must continue our mental growth, health, creativity, and productivity or risk the chance of stagnation. As older adults nearing the end of our lives, we must choose between maintaining a feeling of worth and integrity or yield to feelings of despair where we sense that life was a waste of time and energy. Erik Erikson’s Stages of Development, known as the “Psychosocial Theory of Development”, suggests there are eight stages of development that begin with birth and end with death. The development of the individual depends mainly on the social/environmental influences that interact directly with the physical and psychological growth of the person. The first five stages occur between infancy and end during adolescence. The final three stages with which adult educators must pay particular attention occur during early adulthood and extend through old age (Erikson’s Theory of Personality, 2006). Erikson was a German-born American psychoanalyst who was heavily influenced by Sigmund Freud. Erikson asserted that each of the psychological developmental stages is characterized by a specific psychological conflict that seeks a resolution (Learning Theories, 2012). With two possible outcomes in each stage, either a positive completion of a stage (which results in a healthy personality and interaction with others), or a failure to successfully complete a stage (which can result in unhealthy personality traits and a warped sense of self), occurs. These important developments in personality and self-identity correlate directly with success in undergraduate and graduate studies. Erikson’s theory described the relationship between societal development, biological development, and psychological development, and the connections these have with a person’s relationship to society (B. Newman and P. Newman, 2011).
Because Erikson’s theory attempts to explain changes that occur in our social lives and in self-understanding, it is important for adult educators to learn and study the different stages of development. Theories provide framework for understanding human behavior through development and learning. Educators can better understand themselves and others by learning and studying different theories. Erikson’s theory is especially helpful in diagnosing why certain adults respond the way they do in the classroom. Each stage of Erikson’s development has two possible outcomes, therefore, if when the adult was in an early stage and did not reach the positive outcome, the negative outcome can and will often stand in the way of learning (in the beginning). Each stage will be discussed further in the Discussion section. Success in the classroom is the most important part of a student’s...
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