An Update on Adult Development Theory: New Ways of Thinking about the Life Course

An Update on Adult Development Theory: New Ways of Thinking about the Life Course

An Update on Adult Development Theory: New Ways of Thinking about the Life Course

An Update on Adult Development Theory: New Ways of Thinking about the Life Course

Synopsis

Our approach to adult learners and the learning process is shaped by our knowledge of how adults change and develop across the life span. This issue of New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education reviews the latest work in adult developmental theory in the biological, psychological, sociocultural, and integrated domains, and explores the implications of this work for adult education. Chapters examine how gAnder, race, and sexual orientation affect our sense of self; explore spiritual development and theories of aging; and offer a way of understanding development in terms of how people use narrative to organize and make meaning of their experiences. This is the 84th issue of the quarterly journal New Directions for Adult and Continuing Development.

Excerpt

This chapter outlines a typology of developmental theo
ries that consists of biological, psychological, sociocul
tural, and integrative models.

M. Carolyn Clark, Rosemary S. Caffarella

The whole point of theory—any theory—is to help us understand something better. This volume examines the theories that have been constructed about adult development, and the “something” that all these theories are trying to help us understand better is the life course—how it unfolds and the meaning that can be given to various aspects and dimensions of that unfolding. A particular theory or family of theories serves as a kind of lens through which we view the life course; that lens illuminates certain elements and tells a particular story about adult life. Multiple lenses give us many different ways of illuminating different aspects of that life course. The purpose of this volume is to provide an overview of those lenses.

This chapter presents the frame for the volume. First we address central issues inherent in any discussion of adult development—issues that define the parameters of the concept of development and shape the production of theory. Then we examine a four-fold framework for categorizing adult developmental theories.

Defining Adult Development

One of the striking things about adult development as a field is its age. It is entirely a twentieth-century phenomenon, in no small part because the concept of adulthood has crystallized only in this century. Jordan (1978) tracks the evolution of the concept in America and argues that rapid social change is responsible for a shift from condition to process: “In our culture, adulthood as a condition used to be simply assumed; as a process, it now seems to demand explanation” (p. 198). It is precisely understanding this process that is the focus of developmental theory.

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