Developing by Arthur W. Chickering, his theory attempts to explain the process every person follows during identity development. Although it is used as a general theory today, Chickering developed the theory to be used as a developmental process for students who were pursuing a higher education.
The Chickering theory utilizes 7 vectors of development, which are believed to contributed to the unique identities that people create for themselves.
- Developing competence.
- Learning to manage emotions.
- Transitioning from autonomy to inter-dependence.
- Developing and maintaining interpersonal relationships.
- Establishing a personal identity.
- Developing a personal purpose.
- Understanding the definition of integrity.
Although the vectors have been listed in a specific order, Chickering is very specific in his theory that there is not a strict sequential order for them. Some people may develop multiple vectors at once, while others may choose to work on them individually.
Chickering uses his theory to think of these 7 vectors of development as a series of tasks, or sometimes stages, that deal with personal interactions with others. It is a way for a person to develop unique patterns of thinking, feeling, and belief while relating to people.
There is no set time, speed, or method for progression through these vectors. People may progress through them at whatever rate feels comfortable to them. At the same time, Chickering found that these vectors tend to interact with one another, which may cause an individual to change their perception of certain issues or events that have occurred from previous vectors.
What It Means to Develop the 7 Personal Vectors
Chickering notes that people who work on multiple vectors at once increase their ability to work with stability or develop intellectual complexity. Any work on personal vector development will bring about growth for the individual in some way. Each vector can also provide specific benefits that encourage further growth as well.
When developing competence, Chickering notes that there are three specific attributes involved. Individuals can develop social competence, physical competence, and intellectual competence. These three attributes can be used individually or together to cope with problems or achieve goals.
Chickering notes that managing emotions doesn’t mean preventing them from happening. Management involves understanding emotions, accepting them, and then expressing them in an appropriate fashion. The original Chickering theory focused on aggression and sexuality, but he expanded his theory in later revisions to include a broad array of emotional experience.
People must also work on becoming emotionally independent. Success is defined by Chickering on this vector by showing evidence that someone no longer needs affirmation, comfort, or approval from other people. When independence is achieved, there are related increases to initiative and problem-solving skills.
Understanding other people and appreciating them for who they are is the primary attribute found when developing mature interpersonal relationships. Instead of demanding people change to fit a preconceived notion of perfection, Chickering notes that development of this vector allows for the inclusion of ethnic and cultural tolerance. People working on this vector would also work on developing or maintaining a long-term intimate relationship.
Becoming comfortable with oneself is the focus of establishing identity within the Chickering theory. It is defined as being satisfied with one’s personal appearance, their sexual identity, their social roles, and their ethnicity. A modern update of this theory may even include becoming comfortable with one’s gender identity. People gain self-esteem during the development of this vector, become emotionally stable, and begin to handle negative feedback in a mature way.
As a person begins to explore who they are, they also begin to think about what they would like to do with their life. That is the foundation of the vector which helps to develop purpose in life. It often involves the selection of a preferred vocation, but can also include creating goals, seeking out a higher education program, or refining skills to develop niche expertise. Early on, individuals tend to be influenced by trusted family and friends with this vector’s development. Over time, however, the individual takes over and pursues their own path.
Although developing integrity is the final vector, it is not the least important. For some, integrity is the most important vector to develop. It is here that values are humanized, personalized, and promoted. It is more than just doing the right thing when no one is watching. It is the development of core personal values which are firmly held while still respecting the beliefs and opinions of others. Over time, individuals bring their actions in line with their beliefs.
How Chickering Believes Positive Development Is Achieved
Within each vector, there may be positive or negative development encouraged. It depends on individual circumstances and the learning environment itself. That is why the Chickering theory offers three specific admonitions.
- Opportunities for work must be intentionally integrated into school curriculum and they must produce opportunities for students to find internships and eventual employment.
- Educators must be aware of individualized differences within the academic environment. They must also teach students how to recognize these differences, how to respect them, and what can be learned from each other and other students.
- Learning and development environments must be cyclical. There must be opportunities for individuals to be challenged, but in a manner which doesn’t threaten their current identity.
When the admonitions of the Chickering theory are followed, then there is an opportunity to gain a deeper understanding about others and oneself. It is within that understanding that vector development occurs, which can then lead to greater intelligence, higher skill development, and niche expertise.
At the same time, the influences of the environment must also be controlled for positive development to be achieved consistently. Objectives, relationships, communities, programs, and services must all work together. If just one offers a negative influence, then vector development may be negated.
To achieve environmental consistency, Chickering offers several suggestions that can be implemented in educational or vocational environments.
- Provide consistency in programs, objects, and policies so that individuals are frequently challenged.
- Limit institution size so that individuals feel an urge to participate in a larger community without feeling like an anonymous contributor.
- Encourage relationship development between teachers and students or supervisors and workers so that individualized expertise can become a two-way street.
- People learn better when other people share their experiences.
- Teaching must involve relationships for positive outcomes to be consistent.
When the correct combination of programs, services, and personal ambition come together, then the Chickering theory proposes that individuals can take charge of their vector development.
The beautiful aspect of this theory is that no one is ever really finished with the development process. There is always something new to learn. There are always ways to be a little bit better tomorrow. That is why it can be such a powerful tool.