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date: 12 December 2019


Abstract and Keywords

This Epilogue offers relections on prospective endeavors based on the analyses and suggestions of this book. The Epilogue emphasizes that integrating development and learning into the scaffolded area that adults themselves show us will involve considerable open-mindedness, flexibility, and effort. An interest in seeing anew is required, one in which scholars from the currently separate disciplines of adult learning and adult development communicate and work with one another. Thought must be advanced such that, in future years, scholars will wonder why it took so long for two related fields of study to come together. At that time, the complex adult will be seen as a unity in which learning and development are reciprocal forces, influencing and augmenting one another.

Keywords: complex adult, learning, development, adult development, adult learning, analyses

A complete epilogue cannot be written until many years from now. Then, scholars can look back and assess the extent to which integrated conceptualizations of adult development and learning have been brought to the forefront of thought to frame theory, research, and practice. Until that time we can only say that the ground plan exists, and that the contributors to this and the prior edition of the handbook have made convincing strides in charting new territory.

What can we say about the needs of this joint discipline of adult development-learning as it moves forward? First, two overarching needs are apparent: that we must avoid reductionistic thinking and that we must view some convenience samples as poor proxies for adult populations.

First, with respect to reductionism, we have had a long history of either-or thinking that continues into the present. For example, it is not nature or nurture, but nature and nurture, that infuse developmental and learning possibilities. Genes are the bare-bones foundation. Their interplay with one another, with endogenous and exogenous environments, and with a determining, choosing human enables their expression. Gene-environment interactions must frame our understandings.

Reductionistic, either-or thinking is also apparent in prior tendencies to laud only the life-stage view of human development and current tendencies to scuttle the stage perspective, considering only the role of contexts in development. One cannot remove the seamless human from his or her life narrative and from the various stages in which that human was, and is currently, ensconced. Similarly, contexts for development, prior and current, also shape development and learning. Thus we need to integrate conceptualizations such that stages of life and their resolutions, as well as various prior and current contexts (e.g., early school environment, family context, current work environment), are seen as facets that together evoke contemporary influences.

We further reduce the complex adult when employing various forms of psychometric testing, sometimes under conditions that are far removed from the real lives of persons. Findings emanating from such testing provide incomplete, and sometimes erroneous, information. This applies, for example, to psychometric studies of intelligence, personality, and identity.

Second, studies using convenience samples often carry serious limitations. Subjects in convenient groups or locations can be studied relatively easily; however, this does not make them suitable as the basis for generalizations to other populations. For example, significant bias occurs when one studies unemployed undergraduate or graduate students with respect to the role of work in adult life, and then applies findings to full-time, gainfully employed adults. It is difficult to study adults in the prime, busy years of their lives, a problem that has long plagued our endeavors and leads to research with subjects in settings of convenience. Yet it is nearly self-evident that we must find ways to study valid pools of adults who exhibit the qualities under consideration.

With respect to this volume as a springboard to future work, many areas are worth attention by scholars in the discipline. I will highlight several. First, on reading the chapters, I was struck that so many authors spoke to the need for adult openness to experience, including that of openness to others’ ways of seeing and being in the world. Some authors have indicated that adult intelligence is related to openness, but that intelligence alone is insufficient for its development. Especially in a time when great cultural, ethnic, social, and religious differences (p. 547) influence life in significant ways, it is essential that we explore the developmental-learning processes that are essential to openness, why many adults prefer and accept only information that confirms their biases, and how openness is developed and can be taught.

Cross-cohort examinations appeared in a number of chapters. For example, intellectual advances have been found among later-born cohorts of adults. This has a basis in higher educational levels, better nutrition, and other sociohistorical factors. Clearly, we see here the nexus between development and learning. However, we do not yet understand the precise relationships among learning, educational credentials, intellectual development, and changes in brain structure and function. We do not yet know how neuroanatomical and physiological advances in the brain (e.g., neurogenesis, synaptogenesis) come about, and how these can be supported throughout adult life. It is not enough to say that ongoing learning, social participation, and daily engagement in cognitively stimulating activities often result in ongoing neuronal development. This is but a stepping stone to eventual elaborations about how this occurs, and how motivated adults can employ strategies that spur such development and forestall mental decline.

It seems clear that cognition and emotion do not occupy completely separate compartments. We need to explore how they influence one another. This is the case in other interacting areas as well, for developmental attributes and processes do not exist in splendid isolation. How, for example, do intimacy and friendship relationships, in and beyond the family, affect well-being, as well as the process and content of individual development? How do such relationships underwrite or suppress motivation and the sense of agency and self-authorship? We must understand how the all-human needs for relatedness and autonomy are expressed and met. And we need to better understand cultural similarities and uniqueness in these and other areas.

How might mental maturity show a relationship to the development of insight and to cognitive advances and openness? What is the best definition of adult wisdom, and how might its development correspond with heightened perceptions of self-efficacy, advancing maturity, intelligence, adult learning, and other attributes? We need to better understand how mindfulness is related to reflective thinking. Do mindful practices heighten both development (e.g., of compassion) and learning?

We need to avoid compartmentalizing identity into only the period of life that is crucial for its formation. How does adult identity evolution occur, and what are its compelling forces in, for example, work role transitions? How are personal values central to this process? How might we best integrate knowledge about the expression of identity in adult generativity? Many related attributes have been studied, albeit largely without the development-learning connection. It is time to explore the various interactional attributes of the whole person, hopefully developing a meta-formulation of interrelationships in the developing, learning adult.

This edition contains chapters on intra-familial development and relationships in, for example, the effects of siblings on each other and of children on adults. Research that examines such bidirectional influences must continue. We might also consider the many ways in which children are worthy of adult emulation. How much does one lose en route to adulthood and in its expression? Why do some adults relinquish trust and curiosity in their transit to skepticism and, sometimes, cynicism? In the routinization of jobs, in adult duties and obligations, in the defensive fear of making mistakes and of being wrong, why and how are some adults held in such bondage that wonder, joy, and creativity are abandoned?

Various authors have elaborated on cognitive development in terms of metacognition, self-regulation, and self-authorship. If these are developmental needs of college students who are the youngest of adults, they are also needed by many young adults proper, as well as by middle-aged and older adults. We might also ask how the metacognitive abilities of some teachers, counselors, and mentors positively affect the learning and developmental excursions of students working with them. Findings with respect to these and other interacting constructs might find their way into practice such that adults can become more agentic, self-directed learners. Also awaiting examination is the question of how creativity, both everyday and highly innovative, can be fostered among adults who are so inclined.

In two chapters, considerable attention was paid to religious, spiritual, and moral development. Learning connections were examined and future directions elaborated. We need further appraisals of how therapists, counselors, and teachers can best operate to support such higher forms of development. Future examinations should also address ethical development as that which transcends belief and positions of morality, finding its way into principled action.

(p. 548) In this volume, some have nodded in the direction of the role of the unconscious, but knowledge about the unconscious has not found its way into theories and research in adult development and learning. Clearly, the unconscious poses significant research difficulties. It will not jump out and perform for us on demand, nor is it subject to paper-and-pencil tests. Work in analyzing its many forces in adult life needs to be done, beginning initially with a synthesis of what is currently known. Here, understandings about tacit, implicit, procedural knowledge could inform our knowledge.

As a number of authors have indicated, the aging of the population means that we must design new structures for ongoing learning, just as we must develop better sensitivities to developmental differences and diverse groups. With respect to middle-aged and older adults, the term “lifelong learning” seems to have become a mere cliché, particularly when it is clear that policies, conditions, and resource expenditures in U.S. society are largely directed to K–20 learners. In that there is an ever-declining half-life of knowledge, and if, for various reasons, increasing number of elders wish or need to participate in learning opportunities, what changes in policies, resources, and structures are required? How useful is technology in this respect? How might we utilize the wisdom of elders to contribute to younger generations in a way that sponsors seniors’ generativity and ensures their societal inclusion?

We live in a time when an aging population has met up with economic disruptions head on. Projections are that about 60% of the population will continue to work after the typical age of retirement, many because of recession-induced declines in their savings portfolios. This will affect older and younger workers. We might ask how elderly employees need support in their work environments. With ageism apparent in corporate decisions about who will be laid off and who will be denied training and retraining opportunities, how can we best address and counter such trends? And what assistance might society offer young adults who are trying to enter the workforce in this time of high unemployment?

A word is in order with respect to research methodologies. It almost goes without saying that the tools in use must proceed from appropriate conceptualizations and research questions. Quantitative and qualitative studies are both important. Two authors in this volume have reviewed research designs with an eye to prominent and underemployed methods. Latent growth modeling has been suggested as a relatively new and underutilized quantitative methodology. In qualitative inquiries, the exacting use of grounded theory has been found striking by its absence. Autobiographical, life narrative, and ethnographic studies are also underemployed. These are highly relevant to development-learning connections.

This closing chapter has offered reflections on prospective endeavors based on the analyses and suggestions of our authors. It is worth emphasizing that integrating development and learning into the scaffolded area that adults themselves show us will involve considerable open-mindedness, flexibility, and effort. An interest in seeing anew is required, one in which scholars from our currently separate disciplines communicate and work with one another. We must advance thought such that, in future years, scholars will wonder why it took so long for two related fields of study to come together. At that time, the complex adult will be seen as a unity in which learning and development are reciprocal forces, influencing and augmenting one another.