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Robert Kegan is the William and Miriam Meehan Professor in Adult Learning and Professional Development at Harvard University.

Theory: Constructive Development

Timeline: 1946-Present

Learning Transfer:
Dialectical Thinking and Cognitive Development.

Robert Kegan explains the nature of dialectical thinking as one of the highest form of consciousness.
He recognizes that we live in a day where systems of knowledge are susceptible to being used to gain advantage and maintain power.

That power resides in an expectation of our outer behavior.

Dialectical thinking is not an attempt to bring disparate values together in an arrangement of shared values. It is the act of recognizing an individual as the holder, creator, and regulator of their own deeply held values, and to then focus on transforming our own understanding rather than solving conflicts.

Constructive Developmental Theory:
Constructivists believe that the world isn’t out there to be discovered, but that we create our world by our discovery of it.
Developmentalists believe that humans grow and change over time and enter qualitatively different phases as they grow.
Constructive-developmentalists believe that the systems by which people make meaning will grow and change over time.

Adult development based on the idea that human beings naturally progress over a lifetime through as many as five distinct stages.
Stage one: The very young child has not yet formulated the idea of a permanent, separate self.

Stage two: The person at stage two is typically a child or young adolescent who understands being differentiated from others, but still pursues mainly selfish goals. At stage two a person can't take the perspective of another, and is driven only by his or her own needs.

Stage three: Development should come in late adolescence or early adulthood – though it sometimes doesn't, causing major problems. People at stage three are fully socialized adults, who look to others – the community, family, the organization – as sources of values and self worth. They recognize that others have different points of view, and can empathize with others. But they are enmeshed in the roles and relationships around them, and tend to avoid conflict for fear that it will lead to the loss of esteem either for themselves or for others.

Stage four: Individuals have developed a value system that is truly theirs – a strong, individualized point of view that is self-authored. They have mastered an important skill of balance: they can see and empathize with others, but they can do this from an outside perspective.

Stage Five: People can even see the limits of their own value systems. As leaders, people at stage five are most open to ambiguities, most able to perceive and hold polarities in tension, and most concerned with larger systems

Forward growth to the next level is generally understood to be spurred by critical events or, experiences that challenge and contradict our current ways of understanding ourselves, others, and our situations.

Kegan the Educator:
Kegan makes an analogy to our contemporary world as our classroom and the expectations of our culture being the curriculum.
He states, “It remains for us to look at the curriculum of modern life in relation to the capacities of the adult mind”.
Kegan goes on to discuss how the competing demands of our various roles as adults:
Parent, partner, professional, and our affiliations compose the curriculum of our lives.
Unfortunately, these often conflicting and competing demands can cause great stress and disillusionment.
His theory of the psychological evolution of meaning-systems, or ways of knowing, comprises the development of consciousness.
Kegan points out that learners should strive to find the cross functionality and cross curriculum that could integrate many ways of knowing, and reveal the interconnectedness that is often overlooked.

Books by Robert Kegan:
  • Immunity to Change: How to Overcome it and Unlock the Potential in Yourself and Your Organization , 2009
  • Change Leadership: A Practical Guide to Transforming Our Schools , 2005
  • How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work: Seven Languages for Transformation, 2000
  • In Over Our Heads: the Mental Demands of Modern Life, 1994
  • The Evolving Self, 1982