Limitations Explored In Adult Learning   Leave a comment

There are many potential limitations of adult development stage theories. Limitations are described by Courtenay (1994), “…despite the fact that the stage proponents admit that some adults may deliberately choose not to grow, they continue to attribute normalcy to growth” (p. 150). The question then becomes what is normal? Taylor (1996) commented, “So, no matter how old someone is, we may safely say that further adult development simply has not happened yet. Given the right circumstances and supports, this person may well develop further” (p. 57). In reading about Asian men growing taller in the U.S. then in their homeland brings into account the environment and how it affects adult learners physically, emotionally, in their faith, and  even psychologically. Theories mainly focus on one aspect and find it difficult to incorporate the many facets that are incorporated in adult learning.

According to Taylor (1996) who explains, “…that Courtenay is troubled not by the indistinct terminology, but by the apparent lack of consistency with which these models attempt to describe different aspects of the same human phenomenon” (p. 56).To have one theory that will says it all, incorporating all the complexities of adult learning must also include narrative perspectives. Narrative perspectives provide different insights into adult development and adult learning as new lenses are worn in order to view adult learning. Rossiter (1999) noted, “Self as narrative. Central also to the narrative perspective is the idea that the self is not a fixed entity, an autonomous agent, moving through a developmental sequence, but rather, the self is an unfolding story” (p. 62). These theories must also include the fact that as humans we are constantly changing as well as our environments.

One theme that was apparent had been the vagueness issue regarding limitations. The stage theory is criticized due to the vague information received for instance, in Fowler’s (1981) study only one adult learner in three hundred and fifty-nine individuals reported reaching self-identity and faith development. (Courtenay, 1994, para. p.151). In reviewing the limitations of the conventionalist’s position Overton (1984) reported, “…that in avoiding the issue of meaning it leads to a worse-case scenario of vagueness, ambiguity, and degenerate eclectism” (p. 213). The phase models of development as Courtenay (1994) suggests, “…that the final stages are too vaguely defined in these models of development, and this ambiguity with respect to developmental endpoint limits their value to the adult education practitioner. (Rossiter, 1999, 57).


Courtenay, B.C. (1994, Spring). Are psychological models of adult development still important for the practice of adult education? Adult Education Quarterly, 44 (3), 145-153. Retrieved from,

Overton, W.F. (1984). World views and their influence on psychological theory and research: Kuhn-Lakatos-Lauday. Advances in Child Development and Behavior, 18, 191-226. Retrieved from,

Rossiter, M. (1999). A narrative approach to development: Implications for adult education. Adult Education Quarterly, 50(1), 56-71.  Retrieved from,

Taylor, K. (1996, Fall). Why psychological models of adult development are important for the practice of adult education: A response to Courtenay. Adult Education Quarterly, 47 (1), 54-62. Retrieved from,



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