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The Link Between Development and Learning

Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning

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Students are not learning clones who are interchangeable in curricular models. Each person is unique and brings their own background characteristics, identities, and lived experiences to the learning process.







The posting below looks at relationship between the development of self-authorship and the capacity for integration of learning.  It is from Chapter 2 Integration of Learning Model, in the book, Facilitating the Integration of Learning: Five Research-Based Practices to Help College Students Connect Learning Across Disciplines and Lived Experience by James P. Barber. Published by Stylus Publishing, LLC 22883 Quicksilver Drive Sterling, Virginia 20166-2102.

Copyright © 20120 by Stylus Publishing, LLC. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.




Rick Reis

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Tomorrow’s Teaching and Learning


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The Link Between Development and Learning



An individual student’s meaning-making orientation is important to consider when looking at student learning, and specifically integration of learning, because the way individuals see the world, themselves, and their relationships has a bearing on how they put information together. The integration of learning model I developed aligned very closely with the self-authorship model in the Wabash National Study. That is, students were able to integrate learning more frequently and in more complex ways as they progressed developmentally toward self-authorship. As students became more internally grounded in their meaning-making, the better they could integrate learning. 


In the initial phase of my research on integration of learning, I found there was a relationship between the development of self-authorship and the capacity for integration of learning. As students moved toward a more internal framework for meaning-making on the journey toward self-authorship, they also became more adept at integrating learning. As students progressed along the self-authorship continuum, they began to use all three approaches to integration of learning together. That is, as students became more advanced developmentally, they were able to integrate learning more frequently and use different approaches together as needed for the context. 


The link between development and learning is clear. A person’s developmental level, and by that, I mean complexity in meaning-making, affects the way that person sees knowledge, self, and relationships. Where a person is on the journey toward self-authorship profoundly changes the way he or she answers these three important questions: How do I know? Who am I? How do I want to construct relationships with others? Meaning-making is complex and fluid over time. 


Zaytoun (2005) focused on identity development and the inextricable link between identity and learning: 


Every student has a unique, noteworthy, heartfelt story to tell, regardless of whether his or her experiences emerged from dominant or nondominant identities or both. These experiences create the foundation for each student’s capacities for and commitment to learning and engaging in the world. (p. 14) 


Who we are is how we learn. Students are not learning clones who are interchangeable in curricular models. Each person is unique and brings his or her own background characteristics, identities, and lived experiences to the learning process. Our meaning-making, how we see the world, has a direct correlation with how we connect ideas, skills, and knowledge. Who we are is how we integrate. 


In thinking about my original question of how students integrate learning across contexts, one can start to see the implications of development on learning. For example, if a college student is early on the developmental continuum and relies heavily on external frameworks and authorities, that student is likely to have trouble connecting learning from two different authorities who may disagree. Conflicting information is difficult to integrate with external meaning-making; it usually comes down to a view that one is right and one is wrong, and therefore the wrong perspective is discarded and not integrated with prior knowledge. However, a students who are further along on the continuum and more developmentally complex would have a different approach to this dilemma. They may encounter the same conflicting information, yet with a more internally driven meaning-making can hold both perspectives in mind at once, weigh them against established criteria and previous experience, and perhaps find a way to reconcile how students integrate learning and why they must evaluate the contradictory points of view. Even though the perspectives are inconsistent, to a more complex thinker they are not automatically incompatible and can be integrated. 


This process captured my attention as a new professional and continues to drive my inquiry today. How does meaning get assembled? How do people take disparate information, sometimes in direct conflict, and bring it together in their minds? How do we integrate learning across the multiple contexts we encounter in a single day? And how can educators prepare their students to integrate learning better? 


These questions, coupled with my experiences as a student, administrator, teacher, and researcher led to the development of the integration of learning model. In the next section, I describe this model and connect it to the ideas I’ve discussed about student development, meaning-making, and self-authorship.



Zaytoun, Kelli, D., Identity and learning: The inextricable link, in About Campus, Wiley Online Library, January 2005.