Eleanor Drago-Severson, author and Teachers College Professor, offers a theory of adult development that includes four “ways of knowing.” 

  • Instrumental Knowers are concerned about rules and clear definitions of right and wrong, view other people as either helpful or as obstacles, and find abstract thinking meaningless.  Their guiding questions are “Will I get punished?” and “What’s in it for me?”  Tasks at the growing edge for Instrumental Knowers include being open to possibility of new “right” solutions, and taking on tasks that demand abstract thinking.

  • Socializing Knowers rely upon authority figures to set goals.  Their self-image is based upon the judgment of others.  They feel responsible for others’ feelings, and they feel threatened by criticism and conflict.  Their guiding questions include “Will you like/value me?” and “Will you think I am a good person?”  Tasks at the growing edge for these learners include generating their own values and standards, and accepting conflicting viewpoints without viewing them as a threat to relationships.

  • Self-Transforming Knowers are concerned about generating and staying true to their values.  Their self-image is based upon their evaluation of their competencies and integrity.  They view contradictory feelings and conflict as a way to learn.  The self-transforming knower's guiding question is “Am I staying true to my own personal integrity, standards, and values?”  The tasks at their growing edge include opening up to diverse and opposing views, and accepting and learning from diverse problem-solving approaches.

  • Self-Authoring Knowers set goals in collaboration with others, share power, find common ground even with seeming opposites, and are open to exploration, conflict, complexity, and others’ perspectives.  Their guiding question is “How can other people’s thinking help me to develop and grow?"  The tasks at their growing edge include accepting that some differences cannot be resolved, and avoiding insisting on absolutely flat, non-hierarchal approaches.

Both curriculum leaders and professional development policy board members are working with Professor Severson to align curriculum and professional development initiatives with adult learning theory.