Development of Young Adults
Development of Young Adults
In their book, Education and Identity, Chickering and Reisser (1993) argue that higher education
environments should foster broad-based development of human talent and potential. When
Chickering first presented this argument in 1969, he encountered vitriolic attacks from those who
believed that higher education should restrict itself to information transfer and cultivation of the
intellect. In the 1970s . .
[many] doubted that colleges and universities should be concerned about students= personal values,
ways of thinking, modes of learning, or interpersonal and intercultural skills. Since educational
institutions were not supposed to be churches, parents or social service agencies,.... fostering
self-esteem, healthy relationships, and socially responsible behavior was not a priority. Instead, the
goal [of higher education within this perspective] was to give students a limited number of skills,
insights, and points of view that would somehow help them find a good job and a satisfying life
(Chickering & Reisser, 1993, p.xi).
In this article, I will look at two general ways of looking at student development and at strategies
that may facilitate such development.
Since Chickering first published his ideas in 1969, accumulated research indicates that colleges and
universities have a profound impact, not only on cognitive outcomes, but also on affective and social
outcomes (see, for example, Baxter Magolda, 1992; Belenky, Clinchy, Goldberger & Tarule, 1986;
King & Kitchener, 1994; Pascarella & Terenzini, 1991; Perry, 1970). The developmental model
proposed by Chickering and Reisser (1993) emerges from extensive research with college and
university students, aged 17 to 24 years. The model is widely used by educators in post-secondary
educational institutions to understand the processes which students are likely to experience during
their four or five years as full-time students.
The model focuses on developmental tasks or issues that confront students during the transition from
adolescence to adulthood. These developmental tasks tend to be sources of preoccupation and worry
for students. Chickering describes the tasks as seven Avectors@ along which change occurs. The
vectors are not all critical at the same time and the individual=s central task, the one creating the
most concern at any given time, shifts from one vector to another.
In each of the seven developmental tasks, an individual develops a more complex way of viewing
him/herself. For example, in the area of personal competence, the student may begin first year
thinking of competence as the ability to recall facts and write examinations; but by the last year,
think of competence in terms of applying ideas in new contexts.
Chickering emphasizes that development is not simply an internal maturation process but one that
requires appropriate challenges and support from the environment. Development takes place
through an interaction between an individual=s internal state and the societal and institutional
demands of parents, faculty, university, peers, and culture. An individual=s development, therefore,
is highly influenced by the Adevelopmental potential@ of the learning environment. Certain
activities and situations, by their very nature, provide new information, demand different behaviors,
and provoke introspection. These activities and situations can be carefully planned into an overall
university or college program to promote, support and enhance the development of individual
The seven developmental tasks or vectors are:
- Achieving competence - developing intellectual competence for academic success, physical and
manual skills for manipulating the environment, and social and interpersonal competence for
relating to others.
- Managing emotions - resolving authority (child/parent, student/professor) relationships,
learning to manage emotions, and adjusting to one=s increasing sex impulses.
- Moving from dependence through autonomy to interdependence - using well-adapted
coping behaviors, reducing dependency on others, becoming self-sufficient, self-directed and
goal-directed, and learning interdependence, collaborative and team skills.
- Developing mature interpersonal relationships - learning tolerance for a wider range of
persons and their beliefs, developing mature interpersonal relationships with peers, and
establishing the capacity for intimacy.
- Establishing identity - clarifying personal values, solidifying a sexual identity, selecting an
ethical and moral position for oneself, and answering the questions "Who am I?" and "Where am
- Developing purpose - setting appropriate and attainable educational plans, establishing
career/vocational plans, determining values, and deciding upon a lifestyle to meet one=s personal
- Developing integrity - deciding upon a personally valid set of beliefs, developing humanizing
values, developing congruence in life between personal values and behavior, and becoming
Chickering and Reisser (1993) have charted the changing saliency of these developmental tasks in
the lives of university and college students between initial entry in their late teens and graduation in
their early twenties (see Figure 1). In the first and second year, the most important developmental
tasks are developing competence, managing emotions, moving from dependence through autonomy
toward interdependence, and developing mature interpersonal relationships. By the last year, the
dominating developmental task is establishing identity. In the years following graduation, whether
in the workplace, family, community or graduate school, the dominating developmental tasks are
developing purpose and integrity.
Note that the model is only concerned with the development of "traditional students" - those who
enter post-secondary education in their late teens and who study full-time until their graduation. The
development of "mature students" - those who enter in their mid-twenties or later and who may have
work and family responsibilities which impinge on their studies - may involve similar tasks in a
different order of saliency or entirely different tasks.
Figure 1: Changing Saliency of Developmental Tasks
|Moving from dependence to autonomy to interdependence||Establishing Identity|
|Developing Mature Interpersonal relationships||Developing Integrity|
Other theorists have investigated the intellectual development of university and college students.
One widely-used model for understanding changes in how students learn, reason and understand was
proposed by Perry in 1970. Perry limited his investigation to male undergraduates. His model has
since been modified by Belenky, Clinchy, Goldberger and Tarule (1986) who explored women's
development and by Baxter Magolda (1992) who conducted research with both men and women.
The general scheme of development outlined in Figure 2 emerges from the combined work of these
theorists. The model describes development through four phases. Most students enter
post-secondary educational institutions using dualistic thinking, then move through a transition
which brings them to multiplistic thinking, then to relativistic or contextual thinking and finally to
integrated thinking and a personal commitment to on-going change and lifelong learning. Most
mature students, no matter what their current developmental level, revert to dualistic thinking in new
contexts as a temporary retreat.
Appropriate instructional strategies can be selected using a matching model (MacKeracher, 1996).
Such models state that support in any phase is provided by instructional strategies which match that
phase; those that challenge the student to develop should be selected from the next phase. Matching
models also predict that using strategies from two phases ahead of or any phase behind the student's
current phase will be dysfunctional. Figure 2 also shows the instructional strategies which support
each phase within the model.
My experience is that both traditional and mature students who enter a new area of study or who feel
threatened by authority figures or course requirements revert to dualistic thinking as a safe haven;
that the shift from dualistic to multiplistic thinking must be continual and gradual and takes
considerable time with anxious students; and that the shift from multiplistic to contextual thinking
requires work experiences outside the college or university in which knowledge and skills can be
applied or transferred to new contexts.
A useful strategy is to begin a course by supporting the current phase of the majority of the students;
then, later in the course, shift to challenging them to develop to the next phase. Individual students
who are ahead of or behind the majority of their peers need to be supported and challenged on a
Figure 2: Development of Reasoning, Learning and Understanding in Young
Baxter Magolda, M. (1992) Knowing and reasoning in college. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass
Belenky, M., Clinchy, B, Goldberger, N & Tarule, J. (1986) Women's ways of knowing. New
York: Basic Books.
Chickering, A. W. & Reisser, L. (1993) Education and identity (2nd edition). San Francisco:
Hunt, D. E. (1987) Beginning with ourselves in practice, theory and human affairs. Cambridge,
MA: Brookline Books
King, P. M. & Kitchener, K. S. (1994). Developing reflective judgment. San Francisco:
MacKeracher. D. (1996) Making sense of adult learning. Toronto: Culture Concepts, Inc.
Pascarella, E. T. & Terenzini, P. T. (1991). How college affects students. San Francisco:
Perry, W. G. (1970) Forms of intellectual and ethical development in the college years: A
scheme. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.
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