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Adult Development Theory

Adult Development Theory

In order to become productive learners, adults must go through numerous stages in their lives. Levinson (as cited in Daloz, 1999) believes that adults go through several age-related phases that affect their ability to learn. Kegan, in contrast, believes that adults go through progressive stages that enable people to make meaning out of learning (as cited in Daloz, 1999). As a new theorist, I am inclined to relate more to Levinson’s phase theory. As such, I have proposed my own idea of age-related phases that are described in the next sections. In addition to a general overview of each phase, I will also describe how technology plays a role in learning.

Phase 1 – Dependence

Phase 1 occurs from birth to about the age of 13. During this time, children are dependent upon many other people: their parents, their extended families, their teachers, etc. From an educational perspective, they need far more guidance to build a strong knowledge base from which to grow. Technology can be very helpful during this phase because children learn very quickly and can adapt to new learning environments.

Phase 2 – Interdependence

Phase 2 occurs from about the age of 13 to about the age of 21. During this time, young adults are able to do a lot for themselves; however, they still need other people to help them along their journey. They need to be given the freedom to learn on their own, yet they also need the support of their families and friends to get everything accomplished that they need. From an educational perspective, they need less direction from teachers (and teachers ask them to think more critically on their own) because they are able to build upon the knowledge they gained in earlier years. In the current society, technology is a crucial component in learning. This age group has grown up with computers, and they expect it to be a part of their learning environment.

Phase 3 – Intradependence

Phase 3 occurs from about the age of 21 to about the age of 35. During this time, people become adults, and they are learning to take care of themselves in ways they have never had to before. They have typically left their families and are starting their own families. They have a sense that they need to do things on their own, which can lead to some initial strife as they grow. From an educational perspective, these adults need to be able to start to learn on their own. Sometimes, this is outside of a formalized education. Sometimes, it is by taking initiative to complete a degree or to attend Corporate Training Programs. Technology once again plays an important role. If adults are learning on their own, they often will use some kind of technology to do so. If they are working on advanced degrees, they may have to learn to use technology in ways they have never done in the past.

Phase 4 – Independence

Phase 4 occurs from about the age of 35 to about the age of 65. During this time, people start to realize the true meaning of being an adult. They know that they are part of a much larger community to which they have responsibilities. They are able to work independently, yet they are also able to work well with others. Moreover, they understand that it is a requirement for them to work well with others. From an educational perspective, these adults value ongoing education. They may even pursue advanced degrees. They also consider it their responsibility to share their knowledge with others. For adults currently in this phase, they did not grow up using technology, yet they need to use technology to exist and to thrive in society whether that is in education or otherwise.

Phase 5 – Extradependence

Phase 5 occurs above the age of 65. During this time, people have come to realize their value in society as well as their need for others. Life is no longer about just themselves and their own families. Instead, adults now understand that we are all in this together. They help others, and others help them. From an educational perspective, this phase of adults has already learned a lot in their lives, yet they are often eager to go back to school to learn more. In today’s society, this group could definitely be considered premillenials according to Dr. Dede (Laureate Education, Inc., 2008), so they might struggle with the use of technology more than those in other phases. Even so, they are often a rich source of knowledge and are willing to learn about new technologies to help them grow.


Daloz, L. A. (1999). Mentor: Guiding the Journey of Adult Learners. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Laureate Education, Inc. (2008). How adults learn: Theory and research [DVD]. Baltimore, MD.


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Scott Fabel

Scott Fabel is a senior corporate training consultant with Computer Aid, Inc. He has over 18 years of experience working with various Fortune 1000 companies on Help Desk Implementations, Microsoft Technologies, Business Analysis, and Project Management. This includes both consultative services and customized training programs. He is HDI certified, PMP certified, CBAP certified, and a MCT. Scott has been teaching others business skills, professional skills, and technical skills for more than 13 years. He is a faculty fellow at the University of Delaware and is currently pursuing his doctorate in education for which his dissertation will focus on the benefits of corporate training and mobile learning. He speaks three languages and was recently inducted into the International Martial Arts Hall of Fame. His communication skills, combined with his martial art skills, provide him with a unique combination for keeping his sessions informative, lively, and interactive.

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