What is adult development? Adult development is a branch of developmental psychology. Adult development can be divided into six parts: hierarchical complexity, knowledge, experience, expertise, wisdom, and spirituality. There are also several approaches to adult development and their related implications for instruction. "Theories serve as a lens through which we view the life course; that lens illuminates certain elements and tells a particular story about adult life." (Clark and Caffarella, 2000) The four lenses through which adult development will be seen are: behavioral/mechanistic, cognitive/psychological, contextual/socio-cultural, and integrative.
The Behavioral/Mechanistic Approach
According to the mechanistic approach, people are machines whose response to external forces results in development. This approach asserts that “past behavior predicts future behavior
and that people's machine-like minds do not construct knowledge but instead absorb existing knowledge.” (Miller, 1993) Development can therefore be measured quantitatively. Behaviorism exemplifies the mechanistic approach. It is a science interested in predicting and controlling human behavior. “People learn behaviors by responding to stimuli and by receiving positive or negative reinforcement or punishment. Positive reinforcement increases the likelihood that the immediately preceding behavior will be repeated.” (Shaffer, 1994) For example, if a girl receives praise (an example of positive reinforcement) for helping her sister, she is likely to repeat the action. In contrast, negative reinforcement occurs when a desired action results in the cessation of an unpleasant stimulus. Punishment is a third kind of reinforcement; instead of preceding the response as in the case of negative reinforcement, it follows the response and decreases the chance of the behavior recurring. Scolding is an example of punishment. Instructors who favor the behavioral / mechanistic perspective provide students with plenty of opportunity for drills and practice. Using praise, grades, or some small prizes for their efforts positively reinforces learners. Students learn the appropriate response through reinforcement. The teacher who
accepts this standard sees development as correct behavioral responses. People's personalities are a series of habits and the teacher's job is to get the student to develop good habits. Learning is additive in nature. Each set of facts builds on previous knowledge and this addition of knowledge can be accomplished with various types of reinforcement.
The Psychological/Cognitive Approach
The psychological/cognitive perspective focuses on an individual's "internal developmental processes" in interaction with the environment. (Clark & Caffarella, 2000) Sequential models, also called stage or phase models, assume that development is unidirectional in nature, that present development is build on past development, and that there is an endpoint. In this view, humans are active participants in their development, actively constructing knowledge rather than simply absorbing it. (Miller, 1993) For example, a chronically ill woman changes medication and becomes more and more sluggish. She learns more about the new drug's side effects from friends, health professionals, and the Internet. She notices that when
she eats certain foods in combination with the drug, it increases her fatigue. Her knowledge and personal experience help her realize she must change her diet to alleviate the tiredness. The psychological/cognitive approach to development asserts that people reach more complex, integrated levels of development through active participation with their environment. Furthermore, individuals construct knowledge as opposed to responding to existing knowledge. For instance, adult development is a continuous journey toward complex levels of development. Therefore,...