Discerning adult students' developmental distinctions




McIsaac, Susan Mary

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Counsellors are advised to include developmental knowledge of each adult student client into their practice and, in particular, to differentiate between those who are experiencing intrapersonal transformation and those who are not. The research, however, lacks guidance on specific ways counsellors might pragmatically accomplish this. Using an interpretative qualitative research approach, this study considered whether it was possible to discern a group of adult students' developmental distinctions by locating developmentally unique points of view they had towards experiences adjusting to school. Participants were eleven female and four male adult students attending a British Columbia college; ages ranged in ages from early thirties to late fifties. Each participated in one audiotaped interview. Open-ended questions focused on gaining an understanding of their perceptions of their experiences adjusting to school. Issues salient to a participant were probed to determine meaning-making. Four dimensions of analysis were conducted on the data, transcripts of interviews. The first two dimensions located participants within the context of research literature on adult students. Consistent with other studies, though participants' life circumstances differed, they shared similar experiences. They had returned to school in response to a life transition, held common attitudes towards their schooling and faced similar challenges adjusting to school. The third dimension of data analysis assessed each participant's epistemological structure according to Robert Kegan's (1982, 1994) Constructive-Developmental theory. These findings revealed that, as a group, they were developmentally diverse. When interviewed, they had described their experiences from seven qualitatively different developmental perspectives. Nine participants had constructed meaning from varying phases of developmental transformation. The fourth dimension of data analysis synthesized previous findings. Differences in the meanings participants attached to some experiences they shared in common, their unique points of view, were concluded to be sufficiently reflective of specific epistemological structures to be considered a useful heuristic for recognizing clients' developmental distinctions. Developmentally distinctive points of view were reported, within the context of relevant adjustment issues, as Developmental Indicators—conclusive examples of how participants demonstrated developmental structures and phases of transformation, and also as Developmental Clues—inconclusive probabilities of developmental distinctions.



Adult college students, Psychological aspects, Adult education students, Psychological aspects, Adult education