The role of the adult educator in shaping adult growth and development: a Daloz’s perspective

Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №7 - 2015

Author: Yelakov Vladimir, Kazakh American Free University, Kazakhstan


The purpose of the article is to summarize and analyze two contrary positions presented by L. A. Daloz in regards to the role of the adult educator in promoting adult growth and development. In both articles called The Story of Gladys Who Refused to Grow: A Morality Tale for Mentors (Daloz, 1988a) and Beyond Tribalism: Renaming the Good, the True, and the Beautiful (Daloz, 1988b), the author brought enough arguments to convince the supporters of each position. However, consulting additional resources related to ethics of adult education in terms of mentoring adults in their learning, there is more evidence in supporting the idea that the adult educator plays a key role in shaping the development of adult learners. At the same time, the reviewed literature not only supported the author's arguments but also presented additional factors that stress the significance of the adult educator in successful promotion of adult development and growth in the learning process.

In the first article The Story of Gladys Who Refused to Grow: A Morality Tale for Mentors (Daloz, 1988a), Daloz described his mentoring experience with an old woman who decided to pursue her college degree. In this article, Daloz (1988a) described Gladys as not ready to transform as a learner. To support this point, the author brought Gladys's words: "The Lord gives us our lives, and it is not ours to decide a thing like that!" (Daloz, 1988a, p. 4). Moreover, Gladys did not have an impetus for self-directed learning which can be demonstrated by the fact that she had no idea of what she wanted. However, once the author realized that she was interested in writing stories, he suggested her some directions that would be beneficial for her college degree. Nevertheless, in spite of Daloz's advice, Gladys was struggling with the writing course as she could not "[separate] form from content" in her writing style (Daloz, 1988a, p. 5). Gladys's reaction to the critique was negative because she thought her personality was criticized, not her ideas and writing style. Also, Gladys's unwillingness to transform and develop was backed up by her family. The author brought the evidence that neither her son nor her husband supported her learning: "She can't benefit from a college degree", or "I don't see what the hell she wants this damn degree for" (Daloz, 1988a, pp. 5 – 6). Thus, her refusal to grow and develop was consolidated by her family which in a way can be characterized as causing the tribalism effect (Daloz, 1988b). Based on this example provided by Daloz (1988a), it can be inferred that not all adult learners can develop and benefit from their education. As for the role of the educator in this case, I can refer to the question posed by Rossiter (1999) who proposed to differentiate between challenging and helping learners achieve their learning outcomes. In my opinion, Daloz in this case did not challenge Gladys's mindset. He just facilitated her writing course which resulted in no transformation of her feelings about learning.

In the second article Beyond Tribalism: Renaming the Good, the True, and the Beautiful (Daloz, 1988b), Daloz presented the standpoint contrary to the previous one. Based on the life stories of two women living in completely different societies, he brought up the issue of tribalism, its effects on adult development, and the ways to be used in order to overcome obstacles and bridge the gap between old-fashioned traditions and new life expectations. Daloz (1988b) demonstrated how tribalism can perpetuate those deep-rooted traditions and beliefs and thus narrow a human's worldview. "Tribal thinking assumes its own morality to be right and other codes to be less right, if not plain wrong" (Daloz, 1988b, p. 239). Thus, according to Daloz (1988b), the role of the educator is to challenge the adult learner so that he / she can realize that the truth is not something that is given (and the two cases clearly demonstrated that), but the truth is something that is constructed and questioned. Following this idea, I support this point of view on the role of the educator in promoting adult growth and development.

The Role of the Adult Educator in Adult Development

Transformational Theory and Adult Development

From the literature review, it becomes evident that transformational learning and adult development are closely connected concepts (Merriam & Brockett, 2007). If considered from the perspective of transformational theory, adult learning is about adult development. As stated by Merriam, Caffarella, and Baumgartner (2007), transformational learning is comprised of "The mental construction of experience, inner meaning, and reflection" (p. 130). Having accumulated much life experience, adults are able to apply their experience to solve various problems, and this process usually results in change and development. The only thing that is needed for transformational learning to start is a meaningful event in an adult's life. This event can be a powerful impetus to motivate an adult to engage in transformative learning. In this case, if a person is able to critically think about and analyze the factors which caused a particular event, he / she will construct new meanings of the world and their environment (Cranton, 2002).

To illustrate this idea, I would like to refer to the second article presented by Daloz (1988b). In both cases, Lale and Susan regarded themselves as normal people and did not feel any inclination to question their present worldview and hence change their attitudes towards other cultures. Their narrow "tribal" life was unchallenged until they faced a dilemma which created favorable conditions for transformational learning. One day, Lale met women from other tribes who also had their own "truth", as well as Susan realized that her college teacher and classmates did not share her views on the American culture (Daloz, 1988b). Thus, those events would provoke a fundamental change in the way they saw themselves and the environment in which they lived (Merriam, Caffarella, & Baumgartner, 2007).

Consequently, the role of adult education in general and the adult educator in particular is to provide learners with opportunities to step aside from their family upbringing and consider a particular issue from a different perspective. This idea is also reflected in the works of other educators. For example, Gould (as cited in Tennant, 1991) "conceives of personal growth in terms of the inner freedom gained through striping oneself of the false assumptions acquired during childhood" (p. 195). Thus, challenging adults' previous assumptions about various aspects of their lives ignites the change in their attitudes towards those assumptions and leads to transformation. Actually, this is the main difference of transformative learning from informational learning, which simply implies extending already existing cognitive abilities (Kegan, as cited in Merriam, Caffarella, & Baumgartner, 2007). In this respect, knowledge becomes static if no transformation takes place, hence no development. Thus, it is obvious that the adult educator should take an active position in fostering adult transformation and development.

The Adult Educator as a Challenger

Given the purpose of transformational learning in adult education, I believe it is ethical and necessary to teach learners how to transform their worldview in terms of reconsidering their attitudes, values, and beliefs concerning their adaptation to contemporary society, which is diverse, multicultural, and pluralistic. In this case, the role of the adult educator is to have adults realize that knowledge is socially constructed and it is a dynamic process. Nowadays, many techniques are known to facilitate the process of transformational learning. Among them, some of the most popular are those techniques which enhance critical thinking abilities (Brookfield, as cited in Merriam, Caffarella, & Baumgartner, 2007) as well as role plays and simulation activities in which learners are immersed in a concrete problematic and challenging situation that encourages their reflective capacities (Cranton, 2002).

Based on the cases provided by Daloz (1988b) in the second article, the most appropriate teaching technique would be that proposed by Lamb (as cited in Merriam, Caffarella, & Baumgartner, 2007), which includes "putting participants in unfamiliar and new situations, … maximizing the diversity mix of participants, … and repeated team opportunities balancing action and reflection" (p. 155). In this regard, adults are exposed to a diverse and multidimensional learning environment that can challenge their set of attitudes and beliefs and therefore trigger transformation towards a more pluralistic worldview. The result of this transformation is that an adult undergoes the process of reconsidering his / her paradigms of given traditions contradicting other "truths". Thus, the adult learner proceeds from a self-centered perspective towards a pluralistic vision of different people and cultures (Daloz, 1988b).

As is seen from the earlier discussion, the adult educator plays a significant role in supporting adult development through facilitating which should definitely lead to challenging an adult's previous assumptions about his / her tribal culture. By facilitation, the adult educator can foster the learner's reflection and considering alternative points of view (Cohen, 1995). To make this facilitation more effective, the adult educator should guide the learner through the process of substantially reviewing their current set of views on their upbringing, social environment, culture, and education. Following this, Cohen (1995) proposed several approaches that maximize the effectiveness of the facilitation process which in turn challenges the adult learner's worldview. Some of the most important strategies are summarized below. 

Thus, the adult educator should put hypothetical questions in order to broaden the learner's views. In this case, the educator applies the so called "what if" approach that provides the adult learner with a variety of different perspectives on the same values and beliefs. The result of this is encouraging the adult to explore important topics from different perspectives (Cohen, 1995). Also, to enhance the learner's critical reflection, the adult educator can create a simulated reality through role playing and providing controversial questions. This will cause the learner's self - examination enhanced by "feelings of fear, anger, guilt or shame" (Mezirow, as cited in Merriam, Caffarella, & Baumgartner, 2007, p. 136) for being biased in regard to other cultures and "truths".

Along with posing hypothetical and controversial questions, the adult educator should provide multiple points of view to stimulate a more profound analysis of decisions made by the learner (Cohen, 1995). This enables the learner to broaden his / her worldview beyond the existing paradigms. In turn, new perspectives can enrich the learner's experience and thus lead to further inner development. Moreover, this approach is very valuable when the learner due to the barriers placed by limited experience and "tribal" environment is not able to analyze as well as make analogies with and differences between his / her own culture and others. Again, this particular case can be applied to the situation experienced by Susan from Daloz's (1988b) second article. For example, when faced by the dilemma that her viewpoints are not shared by her teacher and classmates, Susan could have conducted a personal study collecting different points of view on the American culture and lifestyle. After that, Susan would have considered this issue from a number of different perspectives and then with the help of her college instructor and classmates she would have been involved in a mutual analysis of all the options and alternatives presented by each individual. Finally, based on that analysis, Susan could have constructed her new knowledge that would represent the issue of the American culture and lifestyle from the diverse and pluralistic perspective.

As was already mentioned above, supporting adult growth and development is not only based on facilitation provided by the adult educator but also on challenging the learner's mindset boundaries. To provide such a challenge, the adult educator "may assign mysterious tasks, introduce contradictory ideas, question tacit assumptions, or even risk damage to the relationship by refusing to answer questions" (Daloz, 1999, p. 206). Thus, the purpose of challenge is to reveal the gap between the learner and his / her present environment, create a discrepancy or even conflict in the learner's worldview, and then call for closing this gap. In a broader context, challenge should be always accompanied and followed by the learner's self-reflection (Daloz, 1999). If the learner is challenged but not provided with an opportunity to reflect on that challenge, he / she may not be able to productively adapt to and interact with the outside world different from the context of the classroom. In this case, self-reflection allows for building the concept of contextualism in the learner. As stated by Mezirow (as cited in Merriam, 2004), "Individuals at the final stage of reflective judgment can offer a perspective about their own perspective, an essential condition for transformative learning" (p. 63). Thus, combined with self-reflection, challenge will lead to the development of the adult learner's personality.

However, from the ethical perspective, it should be noticed that pushing adult learners to higher stages of development is a risky affair. As adult educators, we should keep in mind that pushing our students to develop is like indoctrinating them or imposing the educator's opinion. This kind of action must be definitely avoided in transformational learning. "People develop best under their own power" (Daloz, 1999, p. 182), so the adult educator should only create favorable conditions for transformative learning to take place. Also, too much challenge without appropriate support can have a negative impact on the learner. This may result in the learner's retreat and hostility to learning and development. Thus, it is necessary for adult educators to take into account these factors in order to avoid adverse effects that hinder transformational learning and inhibit adult learners from sustainable development.


The adult educator plays an indispensable role in sustaining adult growth and development. Functioning as a facilitator and challenger, the adult educator creates favorable conditions in which adults engage in transformational learning. The educator provides learners with problem-solving and critical-thinking situations in which they learn to challenge their assumptions about their old meanings of the world surrounding them. Through this process, adults are becoming more aware of the differences and diversity of their environment. As a result, adults who were nurtured by their parochial tribal cultures transform their views on different cultures. Adult development takes place and in the process of transformational learning adults begin to realize that the entire world is comprised of multiple "truths" and that each of them has the right to exist. Thus, adults construct their knowledge, they do not take it for granted and this enables them to reflect on their self and the world around them. In this learning process, the adult educator not only enhances the effectiveness of transformational learning but also accelerates it being a mentor for the adult learner and guiding them through all the problems they encounter in the process of their development.


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Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №7 - 2015

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