Understanding Adult Learners: An Introduction
to Adult Development
Early Childhood & Lower School Heads Conference
June 2011
Ann Mellow, National Assn. of Episcopal Schools
Models of
Adult Development
Developmental
stage
Generationa
l stage
Self
Career
stage
Constructive-Developmental Model: How do we
make sense of the world and our experience?
• Assumes that people can change over time
because development and growth are lifelong
processes
• Attends to how a person knows, not just what
a person knows
Constructive-Developmental Model: How do we
make sense of the world and our experience?
• Distinguishes between transformational
learning and informational learning
• Sees “development” as a qualitative
change in how we make sense of our
experience, not simply an increase in
skill or knowledge
Constructive-Developmental Model: How do we
make sense of the world and our experience?
• Development is an interactive process
between the person and his or her
environment
• Development happens by way of
periods of stability and periods of
change
Constructive-Developmental Model: How do we
support and promote adult growth?
Growth requires a “holding environment” that
provides a healthy mix of support and
challenge by:
 Meeting people where they are
 Challenging them to grow and take
perspective on their “self”
 “Sticking around” to provide continuity and
context for their experience
Constructive-Developmental Model:
Three Common Stages of Adult Development
• Instrumental Knowers
• Socializing Knowers
• Self-Authoring Knowers
Instrumental Knowers
• What do you have that can help me? What do
I have that can help you?
• Rule oriented; tend to see a clear “right” or
“wrong”
• Tend not to take the full perspective of others
• Approval or acceptance by others is not
important
Each “Knower” Needs Different Supports and
Challenges: Instrumental Knowers
Positive Supports:
• Clear information, rules and guidelines
• Clear expectations and outcomes
Healthy Challenges:
• Helping them to see other perspectives
• Helping them to see more than one way
to resolve a problem or conflict
Socializing Knowers
• Oriented to their inner state; more
reflective than Instrumental knowers
• Can subordinate their own needs and
desires to those of others
• Seek consensus and tend to avoid
conflict
• Identify with their relationships; approval
and acceptance by others are important
Each “Knower” Needs Different Supports and
Challenges: Socializing Knowers
Positive Supports:
• Having mentors and guides
• Sharing or working in small groups
• Encouraging them to share their thinking
Healthy Challenges:
• Developing own beliefs independent of
“valued” others
• Becoming more comfortable with conflict and
differences of opinion
Self-Authoring Knowers
• Take responsibility for their internal self
• Generate their own values and prioritize
competing values
• Have a personal system of belief or ideology
• See conflict as normal
• There is not one “right answer”, just pros and
cons and a variety of viewpoints with options
to be weighed
Each “Knower” Needs Different Supports and
Challenges: Self-Authoring Knowers
Positive Supports:
• Evaluating and critiquing their own practice
• Having leadership opportunities that allow
them to “own” a project or task
Healthy Challenges:
• Opening up to other people’s values
• Accepting different approaches to the
process of solving a problem
Career Stages: Five Developmental
Tasks Across the Career Span
Generalizing v. Specializing
Establishing an Organizational Identity
Redefining Career Dreams
Achieving Balance: between work, family,
and self-development
Maintaining a Positive Growth Orientation
How do we support and promote adult growth?
Create a community of professional practice
with varied opportunities for growth, such as:
• Teaming
• Leadership Roles
• Collegial Inquiry
• Mentoring
Expect periods of stability and change
Expect people to have a variety of needs,
perspectives, and responses
Questions for reflection and discussion:
How do we support and promote adult growth?
• What are the characteristics of our school’s
“holding environment”?
• How does our school both support and
challenge adults in their development?
• What kinds of opportunities and structures do
we provide?
• How do we “stick with” people in their
development?
Questions for reflection and discussion:
How do we support and promote adult growth?
How do we attend to differences in:
• World views/developmental perspectives?
• Career stage?
• Generational experience, ways of being, and
priorities?
References
• Drago-Severson, Eleanor. (2004) Helping
Teachers Learn: Principal Leadership for
Adult Growth and Development. Corwin
Press.
• Evans, Robert. The Human Side of School
Change: Reform, Resistance, and Real-Life
Problems of Innovation. (1996). Jossey-Bass.
• “Talkin’ About My Generation,” Foresight, Fall
2009. Sobel & Co., LLP
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Ann Mellow, National Assn. of Episcopal Schools