Erikson s Development Crises: Applying Developmental Theory to Adult Learning

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1 Erikson s Development Crises: Applying Developmental Theory to Adult Learning Jose Victor Lineros, University of North Texas Mark Fincher, University of North Texas Abstract Erik Erikson s stages of psychosocial development represent a landmark in the understanding of human behavior. Although not without critics, (Chodorow, 1995) it espouses a framework for understanding individuated progress through various psychosocial crises and their subsequent resolutions. Consequently, the framework serves as a referential benchmark for educators. Since it pioneered an introspective view of development in both adults and children, its utility as an instructional educative model is enhanced. Additionally, this bilateral applicability has served the needs of many learning researchers who have expanded on his original work. This manuscript seeks to connect the relevance of Erikson s eight stages of psychosocial development to subsequent adult learning. Through this review, connections are proposed between previously incomplete ego integrations and current adult learning disruptions. Additionally, the exhibited behaviors of those who enjoy healthy psychosocial adaption, and those who lack it, are presented. Through reference to existing literature and a highlevel review of potential connections, improved causal understanding is sought. This knowledge can then be used to maximize the effectiveness of adult learning through a thorough review of Erikson s stages. Keywords: adult learning, Erik Erikson, learning theories Learning and Performance Quarterly, 2(3),

2 Erikson s Development Crises: Applying Developmental Theory to Adult Learning Introduction: Erikson s Psychosocial Stages Erik Erikson s model for psychosocial development encompasses the entire lifespan of the individual learner. Beginning with natal tendencies and ending with the psychological reflections of impending death, it seeks to holistically provide a life roadmap of human behavior. Building on Sigmund Freud s prior research, Erikson s work is expansively broader (Hoare, 2005). Instead of focusing strictly on childhood development and its impact on ego refinement, he expands on an epigenetic life model. The model s approximate architecture (Hamachek, 1988) is as follows: Crisis 1 birth to 2 years Trust vs. Mistrust Crisis 2 2 to 4 years Autonomy vs. Shame/Doubt Crisis 3 4 to 5 years Initiative vs. Guilt Crisis 4 6 to 12 years Industry vs. Inferiority Crisis 5 13 to 19 years Identity vs. Role Confusion Crisis 6 20 to 25 years Intimacy, vs. 20 to 40 years Distantiation Crisis 7 26 to 65 years Generativity, vs. 41 to 65 years Stagnation/Regret Crisis 8 retirement years Ego Integrity vs. Despair As shown, the model overweights the amount of crises in the early years and underweights the latter. Early deviations, positive or negative, have oversized effects on subsequent stages due to the passage of time. Consequently, true to its Freudian origins, the first four crises correspond closely to Oral, Anal, Phallic, and Genital (Hoare, 2005). Also mirroring Freud, the earlier stages set the groundwork for later success or failure. Unlike Freud, however, Erikson goes deeper into the human lifecycle and allows for more recursive remediation of old crises. Specifically, if a learner experienced a negative outcome in a previous stage, through identification and psychodynamic awareness, improvement can be sought. Due to the model s progression into adulthood and the delineation of preceding foundational stages, it can be used to potentially identify and remediate adult learning problems. Learning difficulties that arise in these adult years are easier to understand when the student s previous crises are better understood. Also important is a realization that developmental regression is possible. Unfortunately, adult learners may arrive in class having lost previously consolidated stages. Widows may have lost a sense of intimacy through spousal death. Recent victims of severe injury may have lost previously achieved stages of industry and identity. Generally, the further back a learner regresses on the continuum, the more serious the life event. Taken to an extreme, the tragic victims of the Nazi death camps were known to exhibit a complete loss of trust in anyone, anything, or their abilities to control the world (Wiesel, 2006). Anyone plunged into a psychological abyss of this magnitude would almost certainly begin anew in regards to trust, independence, and general worldview. Realization of these regressive complexities is also important when using Erikson s model. Fully recognizing these complexities of progressive/regressive episodes and understanding the normative sequential crises, by stage, is crucial. Failure to do so can imperil the model s utility and its associated qualitative interpretations. Additionally, while some Learning and Performance Quarterly, 2(3),

3 potential gender differences may exist in the model especially in regards to intimacy preceding identity in females (Chodorow, 1995) the basic chronology remains intact. Even recent studies by researchers such as Beyer and Seiffge-Krenke (2010), have empirically supported the validity of the model s chronological integrity. This manuscript seeks to connect the relevance of Erikson s eight stages of psychosocial development to contemporary adult learning practices. The practice of andragogy, when utilizing the model, hinges on the practitioner s ability to evaluate the connections between Eriksonian life stages and the commensurate learning heuristics. Providing focus and information to aid this evaluation is the desired end. Literature Review Many studies have been performed in the area of adult learning and its unique characteristics. Although Erikson s model was not explicitly designed to service adult learning, its contribution and applicability are nonetheless germane. Beginning with his foundational work Childhood and Society (Erikson, 1950), he detailed the expansion of life stages into adulthood. This focus on adulthood as a separate and distinct life stage with psychosocial characteristics worthy of unique study promoted early research into andragogy and geriatrics. Malcolm Knowles seminal book The Adult Learner in 1973, further espoused a dedicated approach to understanding adult issues. In his work, he popularized the study of andragogy and promoted much productive debate in the field. Later, in 1984, he delineated five characteristics of adult learners. They were self-directedness, greater life experience, readiness to learn, immediacy of application, and internal motivation to learn (Knowles, 1984). Through these common traits, much of modern andragogy derived its origins. Other andragogical researchers have also advanced the field. Merriam (1993) advanced the hypothesis that andragogy should be viewed as a set of guidelines. Her guidelines for effective adult learning were based on the qualitative factors that best served those populations. These factors were directly related to age, life stage, and socializations related to adulthood. Thus, understanding these specificities led to learning maximization. By contrast, Pratt (1993) encouraged a more holistic view of andragogy. His research held that andragogy was a distinct philosophy of learning. His findings revolved around four main questions anent: the meaning of learning, antecedents to learning, facilitation of learning, and the purposes of learning. Understanding the context of these questions in adult learning thus led to the best results. Brookfield (1986) examined adult learning from a perspective that envisioned it as a basic set of assumptions. These assumptions expanded on Knowles five adult learning characteristics by adding the need for critical reflexivity. The need for adults to incorporate new information through a process of self-reflection and contextual frame is highlighted in his work. While these do not constitute an expansive list of andragogical research, these scholars represent an overview of how adult learning can be evaluated and studied. Clearly no one theory is able to explain all variances or contextual anomalies associated with a topic as complex as adult learning. For educational practitioners, the attractiveness of using Erikson s life stages to frame and explain adult learning is multifaceted. The cumulative chronology of how previous stages establish the foundation for future developmental progress holds great utility. Using it as a framework through which to diagnose possible learning crises is as valuable in the field as it is in purely scholarly pursuits. Moreover, its extension into adulthood with its last three stages represents an opportunity to not only understand adults better, but also the Learning and Performance Quarterly, 2(3),

4 preceding steps that lead to them. Therefore, to further expand on this opportunity, Erikson s eight stages of psychosocial development are detailed below. Learning Impacts of Developing Trust vs. Mistrust The infant crisis of trust versus mistrust is the crucial early foundation for much of what developmentally follows. In it, an infant learns whether the world can be trusted to meet basic bodily needs and follow predictable rules. When crying yields attention and nourishment, trust is established and the environment is seen as reliable (Thompson & Leeds, 2006). Even if crying does not yield an immediate result, occasional waiting before satisfaction inculcates the infant with useful patience. The usefulness of this patience can then be harvested for other prospective ego developments that follow. Through this process, an infant learns that the caregivers are loving participants and the world is a safe place. The pleasures of life are instilled primarily through its access to sensory satiation. Additionally, the percipient also subconsciously establishes that resources are not scarce or withheld, but rather plentiful and worth sharing with others (Hamachek, 1988). Adult learners having maladapted experiences in this stage will demonstrate behaviors consistent with an untrusting person (Hamachek, 1988). They frequently have trouble asking for help in class because they sometimes believe it will not come. If encountering difficult new concepts, they will frequently isolate themselves and fail to utilize available class resources. When a teaching result is unfavorable, they may quickly adopt a negative position that attacks the process or the instructor. Their worldview tends to be overwhelmingly negative and noncollaborative. Confirmation bias is strong and information tends to be heavily filtered by the learner (Hamachek, 1988). Usually only through early recognition and repetitive engagement between the instructor and the student can trust be established. The educative process in these individuals is highly tied to their ability to connect with the instructor when difficulties arise. Consistency of attention and empathy for adult learners struggling with this previously maladapted stage is extremely crucial to success. Learning Impacts of Developing Autonomy vs. Shame/Doubt In this crisis, the young child attempts to begin affecting their salient environment. Demonstrations of this are manifested in wanting to autonomously feed, relieve, and locomote themselves (Hamachek, 1988). All these behaviors instill a sense of separation from the caregiver and a realization that the child can influence their surroundings (Newcomb & Loeb, 1999). The psychosocial success or failure of this endeavor determines to a large extent how the child will develop. If the spoon is yanked away and the autonomous feeding commandeered by the parent, the lesson learned is you are not capable of feeding yourself. If the child is severely chastised for failing to reach the bathroom when relieving, the inadvertent message is you should doubt your abilities and feel its corresponding shame. Completing the examples, if every time the child attempts to stand up and walk independently, the caregiver steps in and holds their hand, the takeaway is that locomotion can only exist through parental help (Newcomb & Loeb, 1999). The affective communication received by the child is that independent action is foolhardy and inordinately risky. Adult learners with previously frustrated autonomous urges in this stage can exhibit a variety of characteristics. Independent project work can be difficult for them and not easy to engage (Hamachek, 1988). A pattern of repetitive questions of the seemingly obvious can be present. In work groups, others who have stronger autonomy can easily monopolize learner Learning and Performance Quarterly, 2(3),

5 contributions. They are frequently too reliant on the opinion of experts or anyone the learner feels must know more. They tend to deprecate their own contributions in class and may feel they have little to offer (Hamachek, 1988). Lacking internal confidence, they frequently cue instructors for the precise chronological steps of an assignment. Organic adaption to changing circumstances is difficult for them. Instructors seeking to counter this must attempt to convince the student that they are situationally capable. It must be communicated that the learner s capabilities can cognitively support a failed attempt. The message that experimentation is good and yields valuable results must constantly be reinforced. Through these experiments, knowledge acquisition is engendered and failure is made less shameful. Reaching these students relies on the ability to propagate these beliefs and convince them that their contributions are unique and valuable. Educators must persuade them that others who say otherwise are wrong, and that the adult learner should build on previous accomplishments. Through this process, unconstructive self-doubt can be controlled and ameliorated. Learning Impacts of Developing Initiative vs. Guilt The crisis of initiative versus guilt is manifested in a child s desire to not only attempt new things, but also control when, where, and how (Hamachek, 1988). Greater mastery of the environment is sought and influencing other people is also included. Independence is stressed here in regards to choosing how to engage in new challenges and molding them to the child s timetable (Hamachek, 1988). Frequently, the observation caregivers make in this stage is that the child is inaugurating emotive manipulations. If you loved me you would buy me candy is an example of this new skill. If you don t let me, I m going to scream might be attempted as the child grows more contextually aware. A particular focus in this stage involves transforming from waiting on the caregiver to forging ahead alone. Taking clues from specific situations, the boundaries of these newly sought initiatives are tempered only by discipline and a developing conscience. Although appearing overly negative, the child s attempts to observe the environment and control it should not be wholly thwarted. Correction, while necessary, should not extinguish all desires to positively affect outcomes and recognize the opportunities of new challenges (Cross, 2001). A reorientation of the satisfaction of these new drives is preferable. This channeling of situational opportunities and a healthy chance to grow from them is the benefit of healthy initiative development. Educators encountering adult learners that have never had an opportunity to develop their initiative will note various behaviors. Students will be slow to start projects and lack the spark to immediately begin (Hamachek, 1988). Frequently, as in previous crises, maladaption leads the adult learner to seek cues from the instructor as to when they should begin. If the assignment has various milestones, it is not unusual for these students to stop at each one to seek additional guidance. Procrastination is common because they subconsciously feel that exercising their initiative to begin, sans perfect information, is failure (Hamachek, 1988). Perhaps, deferral will lead to better information is a common internal thought refrain. As in the previous crises, instructors must counter this initiative-averse behavior through enhanced student empowerment. Frequently, giving the learner flexibility in project assignments can dispel anxiety about some magic script that must be followed. Constantly exposing the student to new ways of viewing information communicates that jumping in and adopting a flexible cognitive stance is preferable to waiting. Having the adult learner formally identify what needs to be done, and in what order, fosters an internal success algorithm that can be propagated later. Learning and Performance Quarterly, 2(3),

6 Learning Impacts of Developing Industry vs. Inferiority Following on the potentially positive resolutions of autonomy and initiative, the child now enters a new period. In this new stage, the child begins to desire the mastery of new skills and domains of learning (Hamachek, 1988). Not merely satisfied to independently begin new behaviors and actions, knowledge areas and expanded utilities are also sought. In this stage, it is not unusual for children to collect sports cards in order to memorize statistics and data. They may seek to learn everything about dinosaurs, for example, and use all opportunities to communicate this to others. The greatest and least of various physical feats can dominate their attention through focus on the Guinness Book of World Records or other cataloged information. It is not unusual in this crisis for children to compare themselves relentlessly to others. This is done to establish a perceived contextual position. In keeping with their developmental position, they are willing to try new things, and constantly seek internal and external referential feedback (Cross, 2001). In this stage, children frequently feel that many new experiences should be attempted without restraint. Abjectly restraining this drive can create deleterious effects and potentially block inherent benefits. To the extent that caregivers belittle this behavior or warrant it useless, caustic psychosocial damage can occur. It may cause the child to feel they do not measure up to others physically or cognitively (Hamachek, 1988). Their perceptions of their own utility may be damaged and create prospective skill and cognitive deficiencies. Adult learners who harbor maladapted outcomes from this stage can come to feel that learning is very hard for them. They can communicate expressions like I m not a good learner, things come hard for me. Frequently they express a great fear of failure and can experience a strong need to avoid it. Noticeably absent is an attitude of I can exert great effort to achieve great success. The prospect of exerting a large effort to obtain a great reward can intimidate these learners because the shadow of potential failure is omnipresent. Educators encountering this attitude can lessen it by inspiring in their adult students the excitement of attempting great things to achieve great ends. Instead of focusing on potential failure, the instructor can highlight measurable progress points that are celebrated as reached. These learners can sometimes see all new tasks as unassailable peaks and frequently need the educator to parse out the work into successive milestones. Again, at each success point, scaffolding should be emphasized to prevent a feeling of regression if mastery is not forthcoming. Learning Impacts of Developing Identity vs. Role Confusion Due to the hierarchical nature of Erikson s model, the resolution of identity versus role confusion is greatly influenced by the previous four crises. In this fifth crisis, the adolescent is encountering physical changes, transition to high school, and the oncoming end of childhood (Crawford, Cohen, Johnson, Sneed, & Brook, 2004). Adjusting to these life changes is greatly dependent on a previous foundation of trust, and the independence afforded by successful expressions of autonomy, initiative, and industry. Requiring these, the teenager attempts to forge a new, more permanent identity than in the previous life stages. As they explore this new psychosocial ground, they tend to try on different personas that explore sexuality, career options, religions, and social causes (Hamachek, 1988). At times, though greatly alarming to caregivers, a deeper parental understanding of this stage can lessen the anxiety. Until the adolescents can establish a firm sense of who they are and what they will aspire to be, they can be subject to surrogate identities (Crawford et al., 2004). These can come from popular media and/or their social context. Only when these are fully evaluated and compared to healthy internal desires to craft a unique identity, do external influences wane. If these desires towards Learning and Performance Quarterly, 2(3),

7 self-discovery are thwarted or ridiculed by caregivers, the identity process is stifled or stopped. This retardation of progress can cause the individual to not fully realize who they are or what values will determine their identity. When encountering an adult learner with a weak sense of identity, the instructor will note that the student lacks strong resolution. The degree to which they accept their strengths and weaknesses is easily warped by others perceptions of them. Unable to process events from a healthy ego state, they are liable to drift from opinion to opinion aimlessly. Self-acceptance tends to be low and hyper-perfectionism may be employed to create referential weakness (Hamachek, 1988). To mitigate these effects, the educator has to establish a learning environment that consistently respects diverse viewpoints. Absolute perfectionism should be demoted in importance and the achievement of course goals more dependent on creativity. Rather than relying on a one viewpoint determines all approach, different ways of solving the same problem should be emphasized. Lastly, instructors choosing to display a strong sense of self and comfort with their own identity can provide a useful benchmark for the adult learner at this point. Learning Impacts of Developing Intimacy vs. Distantiation Per Erikson s model, only when a positive ego identity is established can the individual truly have intimate relationships (Meacham & Santilli, 1982). It is important to note that intimacy in this context is not strictly sexual. In fact, within the model one can have sexual relations and lack intimacy. This is why it also incorporates close friendships and relationships with family. This is a type of intimacy, which is capable of being vulnerable as well as accepting vulnerability in others. The life course that the individual s identity has initiated in the previous stages highly influences this step. Individuals with infantile identities cannot make serious commitments to others and tend to drive them away when they seek a serious relationship (Meacham & Santilli, 1982). Paradoxically, the reason that the identity of the person has to be strong is because it will need to be partially sacrificed to accommodate that of another. Absent that strength, the individual in this stage lacks a strong identity with which to fund this exchange. The adults that fail to establish the groundwork for intimate relations alternatively become isolated in a state of distantiation (Hamachek, 1990). They can have many friends and be quite social, but always a psychosocial wall is maintained to prevent ego vulnerability. If isolative feelings are embraced and intimacy shunned, the individual can grow into this role and build a life that lacks close association with others. Absent a strong sense of social intimacy, adult learners can exhibit characteristics of open judgment towards others (Hamachek, 1990). The flaws of others can dominate their thoughts and a distancing to highlight differences can ensue. Sometimes this is exhibited in the form of low trust towards fellow students and the instructor as well (Hamachek, 1990). An overly developed sense of independence can thwart these students attempts to work on teams. The compromissory nature of these relationships is unattractive to them and group goals can be subverted to their own. In handling this, it is important that educators stress the importance of reaching team goals and not individual ones. Grading components must contain measures of contribution balancing to prevent a low-intimacy student from monopolizing work. Trust exercises can be employed to accelerate team building and lessen perceptions of imaginary differences (Meacham & Santilli, 1982). Allowing team members to openly talk about their strengths and weaknesses can also promote an awareness of a collective, working as a whole. Learning and Performance Quarterly, 2(3),

8 Any attempts to demonstrate and communicate the value of group decision making over that of one isolated person s criteria can help lower the negative effects of low-intimacy individuals. Learning Impacts of Developing Generativity vs. Stagnation/Regret Proceeding into a state of generativity or stagnation is highly dependent on the cumulative resolution of previous crises. Categorically, if in the identity stage the learner discovers who can I be, and in the intimacy stage who can I love, in generativity they discover who can I care for. In the same way that a partial sacrifice of identity has to occur to achieve intimacy, a commensurate portion of intimacy must be ceded to achieve generativity (Jeong & Cooney, 2006). In this stage, individuals largely determine whether they will turn inwards towards themselves or outwards towards the greater community. If they commit to servicing external needs or those of their partners, they are forced to sacrifice a part of themselves to benefit others. Though Erikson focused that generative concern on the younger generation, this crisis can also extend into care for parents and the elderly in general. Simply put, the individual either consolidates their concern inwardly and the outside world must fend for itself, or the individual chooses to also care for others. In part, generativity means the community s success becomes partially the individual s (Jeong & Cooney, 2006). This extension into the community can take the form of coaching little league, attending PTA meetings, serving on city councils, etc. In this state of generativity, the participant does not transactionally engage for benefit beyond that of enjoying ego-integrated sacrifice. Individuals who alternatively select stagnation, turn inwards or towards their partner and fail to advance a solid communal commitment. No bridge or connection is acknowledged between how they were able to reach their current state, and those who sacrificed for them. This stalls the ego integration process in a state where no solid contribution is made to the younger generation or enduring concern for the older one expressed. Instructors encountering adult learners in stagnation may experience seemingly selfish behaviors that ignore the needs of other students (Hamachek, 1990). Frequently, little patience is afforded those who cannot keep up or empathy offered to those who may find the content boring. These students may have little patience for deviations from their course expectations, and insist on preconceived ideas of what the syllabus should cover. Perceived irrelevant or nonegocentric course elements are not easily tolerated. This epicentric concern focuses on what the stagnant learner can obtain, with others needs only peripherally important (Hamachek, 1990). Educators hoping to mute this attitude can find it difficult if it follows a series of previously maladapted stages. Students having weak dysfunctional identities and extended isolative feelings can particularly exhibit great stagnative qualities. Instructors must always stress the communal qualities of any required group work and stagnant learners must be incentivized to participate fully for their own and their teams benefit. Ironically, these learners may respond favorably to being given leadership positions on their teams because they may selfishly see it as a way to maximize their independence. Recognizing early that an individual is not exhibiting effective generativity and is unlikely to contribute to the success of others is crucial. Only through fair and open communication of expectations regarding group work and classroom interaction can nominal success be expected. Learning Impacts of Ego Integrity vs. Despair This final stage as defined by Erikson is the penultimate accumulation of the previous seven stages. In essence, it acts as a psychosocial cornerstone. Ego integrity is achieved when Learning and Performance Quarterly, 2(3),

9 the individual feels that their life was worthwhile and has represented a valuable societal contribution (Jeong & Cooney, 2006). Not only did it serve the needs of the participant, but others benefited as well. An ego-integrated person accepts responsibility for previous mistakes and feels that on balance, reliving their life would be worthwhile. As this individual reflects on previous life stages, an overall positive feeling is experienced and regret for the past or fear of death is not pronounced (Jeong & Cooney, 2006). Individuals lacking this degree of resolution are frequently bitter and unthankful for having experienced their lives. Optimization of life opportunities is not perceived and a feeling exists that many previous decisions would be changed if possible. Often what they were, and are now, is perceived as insignificant and only relevant to themselves. Societal connectedness is absent or low. If they were able to achieve intimacy with a life partner or friend, the end of those relationships via death or disability is particularly devastating. Not bridging back towards younger generations, they may lack societal contacts and a sense of overwhelming isolation. Death is dreaded because the individual feels that their life represents a failure with no significant effect on others. Despondency is a frequent emotion exhibited by them as they contemplate their end. Demographically, educators will be encountering more students with ages commensurate to this stage. Whereas before, few adult learners may have reached this life crisis, through longevity medicine their numbers are growing. Fully ego-integrated students taking classes are generally there to further expand their knowledge and feel more comfortable in the milieu of younger demographics. Content with their life achievements, they may see courses as additional enhancements to an already successful scholastic life (Hamachek, 1990). Individuals in despair, however, if drawn to additional education may feel little control over class outcomes. They may be seeking education to somehow erase an aspect of themselves they dislike. Highly judgmental of themselves and others, negative collegial interactions may occur inside and outside the classroom (Hamachek, 1990). If they perform badly on a test, their attitude may be fatalistic and focused on some inner flaw. This perceived lack of control over the past, the current, or the future, influences their course dynamics. Instructors facing these challenges have to realize that they cannot undo decades of maladapted stages with a simple speech. Efforts must be exerted to focus the adult learner on the opportunities of the here and now, with past regret and future dread tamped down. Low or false self-confidence has to be dealt with in a non-facetious manner in order to maximize learning opportunities. While challenging, if the instructor can bear in mind those individuals in Erikson s model can revisit prior crises and partially remediate them, optimism on the part of the educator is possible (Hamachek, 1990). Summary of Adult Student Behavioral Problems Crisis Summary Adult Student Response 1 Trust vs. Mistrust Distrust and Isolation 2 Autonomy vs. Shame/Doubt Lack of Internal Confidence 3 Initiative vs. Guilt Slow Start 4 Industry vs. Inferiority Perceived Inability to Learn 5 Identity vs. Role Confusion Perfectionism 6 Intimacy vs. Distantiation Low Trust of Other Students 7 Generativity vs. Stagnation/Regret Selfishness 8 Ego Integrity vs. Despair Despondency Learning and Performance Quarterly, 2(3),

10 Recommendations and Tactics These tendencies that are prevalent among adult learners through limited development in previous stages can create an opportunity for enhancing retention and success. Targeted efforts to make the learning experience more supportive of students with these challenges should produce improved results. The following tactics have a history of success with certain student groups and could be effectively applied to the adult student population. Distrust and Isolation The creation of engagement between the student and the faculty member has many potential advantages. One of these advantages is familiarity between the faculty member and the student. This familiarity can facilitate trust. Another advantage is the encouragement of a personal connection between the faculty member and the student. The establishment of a single connection will both limit isolation and create an attitude where more connections can be made. Since distrust and isolation are more likely to exist within the adult student community, it is likely that gearing programs to provide faculty/student engagement will produce improved performance with these students. Lack of Internal Confidence Internal confidence is a characteristic that can be both built up and torn down. Many adult students have had educational experiences that have substantially limited their confidence. This recognition of a higher potential for damaged confidence makes it likely that the adult learner will need remediation in this area. Confidence in an academic context can be built by experiencing incremental success and lessening the cost of incremental failure. A very practical way to create such incremental success is to ask the student questions with which they are familiar. Discussion of real-life applications of theoretical concepts is a way to play to the strengths of the adult student. Traditional students are at a disadvantage when it comes to real-world applications while adult students generally can draw upon a wealth of knowledge. Expressing this knowledge can help adult students gain confidence in their ability to answer important questions. Slow Starts Depending upon their background, it is often difficult for an adult student to self-initiate. They may have problems understanding exactly what should be done. They may also have a desire to get everything right the first time. The combination of these tendencies can cause the student to put assignments off in hopes of being able to succeed later, after more preparation. Slow starts can be overcome by a combination of freedom and structure. The freedom to approach a project in the way of their choosing can be a great confidence builder for a student. When this is put in the context of a structured and front-loaded timetable, the student does not have the opportunity to wait or the primary motivation for apprehension. Perceived Inability to Learn Many working adult students have had limited success in their previous educational experiences. These memories can become a self-fulfilling prophecy towards additional failure in the present. This sort of attitude may not change without intervention. The perception of an inability to learn is often driven by a poor match between students learning styles and the previous methods employed. Many students may have struggled under a Learning and Performance Quarterly, 2(3),

11 teaching philosophy based on a linear progression from theory to application. Exposing working adult students to other teaching methods, such as beginning with application and working backwards to foundational theory, can help change the perception of inability. Inability to learn may in fact be a simple misunderstanding of a poor fit with a common teaching method. Perfectionism The issue of perfectionism is a complex one. It is hoped that students will strive for excellence. The acceptance of less than optimal performance can hinder the reaching of full potential in a student. The unhealthy pursuit of perfection, however, can preclude success. Adult students may feel compelled to be the very best. They should be reminded, though, that a completed outstanding project is far better than a perfect unfinished one. The instructor can realign the expectations for these students by defining success for the course. Success can be defined as timely completion of projects with a goal of functionality. This can be used as a goal instead of some form of theoretical perfection. When the standard is a practical solution to a real problem, then a variety of quality outcomes can be produced. Low Trust Many working adult students may have a distrust of the entire educational process, including their fellow students. The higher education process is generally geared towards the traditional student, and this can be perceived as placing adult learners at a disadvantage. This situation can exacerbate many existing suspicions. In these cases, individual grading can do wonders for enhancing trust. Many courses designed for working adult students have a substantial group and/or project component. This can be a very efficient instructional method for adult students. The potential drawback of this method is the relative ease with which a group member can exert limited effort and be part of an excellent group project. Individual grading of components or contribution to the group project can alleviate this problem. It can also be lessened by having less than 50% of the individual course grade being determined by group grades. Selfishness It is very common for all students to go into a mode of selfishness at some point in their lives. This aspect can be enhanced by being an adult student in a traditional student environment. Regret over the steps that have led an individual to being a student late in life can be a further drive toward selfish behavior. Applied research projects can cause working adult students to more fully engage in the group learning experience. Such students can fully understand the value of real-life projects that will impact real people. This can be quite a contrast from working on a semester project involving a theoretical organization with non-descript constituents. The real-world experience that the working adult student brings can also be a great resource for the project. This may also be an opportunity to place the student in a leadership position. Being placed in leadership can remove the delusion that the student is a solitary participant rather than a member of a group. This can sometimes provide the additional motivation that is needed to become engaged and productive. Learning and Performance Quarterly, 2(3),

12 Despondency Despondency can be an unfortunate outcome for some students of advanced age. This can be a natural occurrence for many individuals. It can, however, be partially alleviated by instructor intervention. Intrusive coaching by the instructor can minimize the impact of despondency. This coaching can eliminate the miscommunication that makes challenges seem like insurmountable obstacles. Additionally, this coaching can provide a sense of relative importance to the student as a present and future purpose is promoted over a past orientation. Summary of Adult Student Behavioral Solutions Crisis Adult Student Response Tactical Solution 1 Distrust and Isolation Faculty/Student Engagement 2 Lack of Internal Confidence Real-Life Applications 3 Slow Start Freedom Amid Structure 4 Perceived Inability to Learn Alternative Teaching Approaches 5 Perfectionism Functional Outcome Goals 6 Low Trust of Other Students Individual Grading andaccountability 7 Selfishness Applied Research Projects 8 Despondency Intrusive Coaching Conclusions When employing the use of Erikson s model for adult learning, it is important to avoid misinterpretations. This includes recognizing the lack of a strictly dyadic relationship between sequential crises. An educator has to realize that all the crises interrelate to create a cumulative whole. Another requirement is that educators abandon a strictly empiricistic view of adult learning and its associated processes. Empirical measurement of where adult learners are within their own unique ego psychology is inherently nebulous. The model is intended to offer different approaches to viewing individual progressions with strictly qualitative assessments of their current ego state. As an ego psychologist, Erikson developed this model through observation, experimentation, and previously adopted Freudian assumptions. Therefore, it represents an opportunity to view adult learning and all learning through the lens of previous hierarchal developments and their cumulative effects. An attempt to extend the model beyond this framework is fraught with potential misuse. Attempts to empirically measure ego wholeness or health could prove as foolhardy as the historical distortions and exploitations of Alfred Binet s intelligence research (Strickland, 2000). When optimally used, Erikson s model illustrates constancies and patterns that can be useful for understanding adult learning. One such pattern is the acquisition of trust and communal integrity prior to launching out with greater independence. In the first four stages this is particularly pronounced. Children who feel cared for and loved by their family can use this security to branch out on their own. It is important to note that these forays into enhanced autonomy are fueled by previous adhesions that enabled new independent successes. Likewise, in crises five through eight, a foundation of safely belonging to a larger collective enhances the adult learner s ability to progress (Hamachek, 1990). Identity is forged through experimentation and familial acceptance of these required elements. Concordantly, that Learning and Performance Quarterly, 2(3),

13 strengthened identity is used to successfully integrate with a life partner and/or close friends. All these collectively allow for the potential of generative sacrifice and a life consistent with ego integrity and wisdom (Jeong & Cooney, 2006). This hierarchal oscillation between integrating into a greater social network and using that integration to achieve greater autonomy is a distinguishing characteristic of Erikson s model. Adult learners struggling with previously maladapted crises have always presented challenges for educators and institutions in general. Due to the frequency of failure along Erikson s hierarchal model, the cumulative effects of these struggles can be magnified with time. Recognizing these effects is the first step towards using the model productively. While not without its flaws, the model provides adult educators the opportunity to have a template with which to view a learner s current ego state. With this information, the educator can then hope to be a source of remediated help. Learning and Performance Quarterly, 2(3),

14 References Beyers, W., & Seiffge-Krenke, I. (2010). Does identity precede intimacy? Testing Erikson s theory on romantic development in emerging adults of the 21st century. Journal of Adolescent Research, 25(3), Brookfield, S. D. (1986). Understanding and facilitating adult learning. School Library Media Quarterly, 16(2), Chodorow, N. (1995). Becoming a feminist foremother: Phyllis Chesler, In Esther D. Rothblum, & Ellen Cole. Feminist foremothers in women's studies, psychology, and mental health. New York: Haworth Press. pp Crawford, T. N., Cohen, P., Johnson, J. G., Sneed, J. R., & Brook, J. S. (2004). The course and psychosocial correlates of personality disorder symptoms in adolescence: Erikson's developmental theory revisited. Journal of Youth & Adolescence, 33(5), Cross, T. L. (2001). Gifted children and Erikson's theory of psychosocial development. Gifted Child Today, 24(1), 54. Erikson, E. H. (1950). Childhood and Society. New York: Norton. Hamachek, D. (1988). Evaluating self-concept and ego development within Erikson's psychosocial framework: A formulation. Journal of Counseling & Development, 66(8), 354. Hamachek, D. (1990). Evaluating self-concept and ego status in Erikson's last three psychosocial stages. Journal of Counseling & Development, 68(6), 677. Hoare, Carol H. (2005). Erikson's general and adult developmental revisions of Freudian thought: Outward, forward, upward. Journal of Adult Development, 12(1), Jeong Shin, A., & Cooney, T. M. (2006). Psychological well-being in mid to late life: The role of generativity development and parent child relationships across the lifespan. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 30(5), doi: / Knowles, M. S. (1973). The adult learner, New York: Routledge. Knowles, M. S. (1984). Andragogy in action: Applying modern principles of adult education, San Francisco: Jossey Bass Meacham, J. A., & Santilli, N. R. (1982). Interstage relationships in Erikson's theory: Identity and intimacy. Child Development, 53(6), doi: / ep Merriam, S. B. (1993). An update on adult learning theory: New directions for adult and continuing education. San Francisco: Iossey-Bass. Newcomb, M. D., & Loeb, T. (1999). Poor parenting as an adult problem behavior: General deviance, deviant attitudes, inadequate family support and bonding, or just bad parents? Journal Of Family Psychology, 13(2), doi: / Pratt, D. D. (1993). Andragogy after twenty- five years. New directions for adult and continuing education, 1993(57), Strickland, B. R. (2000). Misassumptions, misadventures, and the misuse of psychology. American Psychologist, 55(3), doi: / x Thompson, J., & Leeds, L. (2006). Infant crying: To soothe or not to soothe. Montessori Life, 18(1), Wiesel, E. (2006) Night, New York: Hill and Wang. Learning and Performance Quarterly, 2(3),

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