Foundations of Lectical Assessment

Foundations of Lectical Assessment (FOLA)

FOLA summary

The FOLA explores the developmental theory and research that underpin Lectica's learning model and assessments. It includes 11 hour-long recorded lectures (view sample) that were delivered by Drs. Zak Stein and Theo Dawson during the fall of 2014 at Harvard's Graduate School of Education. Through engagement with these lectures and selected readings, you will explore the pedagogical implications of a wide range of developmental theories, including those of luminaries like Baldwin, Piaget, Erikson, Kohlberg, Loevinger, and Fischer. Throughout the course, you will be asked to consider the real-world pedagogical implications of these theories.

The FOLA is available in the following three forms:

  1. a self-paced lecture series with recommended readings and no evaluation or certification, or
  2. a certification course (Self-paced or live) with required readings and written assignments evaluated by an instructor, or as a Year of Developmental Delight—our live version.

Certificates are awarded at three levels—masters, doctoral, and post-doctoral—depending upon the level of mastery demonstrated in assignments. The certificate version of the FOLA is an outstanding independent study activity for graduate students who cannot find a university course that covers this material. The FOLA is required if you plan to use our data in your thesis or if one of us is sitting on your doctoral committee.

History, Concepts, & Applications

FOLA lectures are divided into three parts—history, concepts, and applications. In the historical review, we examine the origins of developmental psychology, tracing the evolution of key ideas across over a century of research and theorizing. In the second part, in which we focus on concepts, we review the state of contemporary theory and research, exploring key concepts that form the basis of our research and assessments. Finally, we shift our focus to applications, discussing the ways in which developmental maieutics (including the Lectical® Assessment System) has been used in research and in efforts to foster radical innovations in standardized testing and education. In every lecture, we consider at least one concrete educational application of the ideas and research findings that are the focus of that lecture.

Part 1: History: evolution, psychology, and the birth of a science

Module 1: James Mark Baldwin and the origins of development psychology

Module 2: Piaget, genetic epistemology, and the triumph of a method

Module 3: Kohlberg and friends

Module 4: Erikson, H. S. Sullivan, and the psychodynamics of the life course

Module 5: The Neo-Piagetians

Teaching points addressed in Part 1

  • the fundamentals of nearly a dozen developmental models—with a focus on their history, core ideas, and how they can inform teaching and learning; and
  • how developmental level influences the way people view the world, take action, and learn.

Part 2: Concepts—Skill Theory and the Lectical Assessment System

Module 6: Emotion and development

Module 7: Dynamic system models of the mind

Module 8: Explicating the Common Core metric

Module 9: Learning sequences and educational research

Teaching points addressed in Part 2

  • the complex relations between developmental level and the content, quality, and validity of thinking;
  • practices that promote human development and transformation;
  • why domain specificity and knowledge transfer are so important for teaching, learning, and assessment;
  • the difference between within-level elaboration and between-level transformation—and how neglecting elaboration means undertaking transformation on shaky ground;
  • the history of developmental assessment and its methods;
  • how development unfolds in nearly a dozen domains, including the self, leadership, ethics, physics, epistemology, and decision-making;
  • the difference between domain-general and domain-specific developmental systems, with an emphasis on how different assessment techniques constrain or liberate educational practice;
  • the fundamentals of the Lectical Assessment System and a sense of what full training in the system would require; and
  • the principles and methods behind developmental maieutics as a broad approach to action-research.

Part 3: Applications: research and innovation in assessment technology

Module 10: Transforming K-12 education through assessment reform

Module 11: The assessment and promotion of adult learning

Module 12: Pragmatizing the research results

Teaching points addressed in Part 3

  • how best to adapt teaching and coaching to enable optimal growth;
  • the effects of context on human development and transformation;
  • the difference between functional and optimal levels of performance, and how to create settings that support optimal performance;
  • the non-linear dynamics of the transitional phases between developmental levels—and how understanding these transitions is key for improving instruction and enacting lasting change;
  • the within-level prerequisites that set the stage for healthy transformation;
  • the ways in which culture and context shape the behavior and developmental trajectories of individuals;
  • the central role of developmental assessment in educational reform, from the K-12 system to corporations and governments; and
  • the long journey from theory to application.

FOLA syllabus

Basic guidelines

  1. If you are taking the certificate version of this course, you will be doing several written assignments for each module. Please follow the instructions carefully. You will be asked to update your work if it is off-topic.
  2. All assignment essays, excluding the final paper, include the following instructions:
    1. All essays must be entered into the appropriate assignment in the online interface, following the explicit instructions for each assignment. Word-count expectations vary from 300-600 words.
    2. Use APA style, and cite required readings and other scholarly sources as appropriate. Do not use quotes. Explain ideas in your own words. You may write your response elsewhere and cut and paste it into the text field if you wish. If you have any questions, please email your instructor.

Module 1: James Mark Baldwin and the origins of developmental psychology

James Mark Baldwin was the first to develop a theory of development and how it influences people's perceptions, views, behavior, and learning. His work represents some of the earliest and most sophisticated theorizing about development. Engaging with Baldwin provides insights into the history of methods in developmental psychology and the value of a bio-psycho-social approach in research and education.

Guiding questions

  • What is the relationship between developmental level and the content, quality, and validity of thinking?
  • How does culture shape development?
  • What is the bio-psycho-social approach and how can we apply it productively to our own work?
  • What is Baldwin’s legacy?

Learning goals

To discover and explore many of the core themes of this course in the work of one of the field’s earliest and most creative theorists.

Required readings

  1. Cairns, R.B. & Cairns, B.D. (2006). The making of developmental psychology. In R. M. Lerner (Ed.), Handbook of child psychology: Vol. 1. Theoretical Models of Human Development (pp. 89-165). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons.
  2. Baldwin, J. M. (1895). Chapter 1. In Mental development in the child and the race (pp. 1-33). London: McMillan.
  3. Baldwin, J. M. (1897). Chapter 7. In Social and ethical interpretations in mental development (pp. 256-303). London: McMillan.

Recommended readings

  • Baldwin, J.M. (1904). The genetic progression of psychic objects. Psychological Review, XI, 216-221.
  • Piaget, J. (1982). Reflections on Baldwin. In J. Broughton & D. J. Freeman-Moir (Eds.), The cognitive developmental psychology of James Mark Baldwin (pp. 80-87). Norwood, NJ: ABLEX Press.
  • Richards, R. J. (1987). James Mark Baldwin: Evolutionary biopsychology and the politics of scientific ideas. In Darwin and the emergence of evolutionary theories of mind and behavior (Chapter 10, pp. 451-504). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.


  1. To your mind, what are two of Baldwin's greatest contributions? Why are they important? What is their relevance to the area of educational practice with which you are most involved (or your own educational experience if you are not an educator)?
  2. Summarize Baldwin's key concepts (as presented in the lecture, readings, or other primary sources). Then, ask yourself if anything is missing or worth questioning. Describe your concerns. Be sure to consider (and reference) other theorists mentioned in the Module.
  3. Consider how developmental psychology has been represented in the readings and lecture. Choose one specific social problem that you believe is especially in need of a developmental approach. Describe the nature of the problem, and based on what you've learned so far, what you think the field of developmental psychology could offer toward its solution.

Module 2: Piaget

Piaget, genetic epistemology, and the triumph of a method

This module explores the work of Jean Piaget, who picked up where Baldwin left off, offering research studies and theoretical models addressing a wide range of basic issues in developmental psychology. Piaget (along with his many collaborators, including Barbel Inhelder and Eleanor Duckworth) surpassed Baldwin in revealing the relations between developmental level and various aspects of thought and action, and inspired a whole generation of educators to begin adopting a developmental approach to pedagogy. A close, although brief, look at Piaget provides insight into the history of developmental methods and the importance of approaches to research and assessment that allow individuals to demonstrate how they build knowledge. Piaget’s continued commitment to a bio-psycho-social approach also serves as a reminder that development is a complex process in which both culture and biology play a role.

Guiding questions

  • What is genetic epistemology?
  • What are the strengths of Piaget’s stage model?
  • What are the potential limitations?
  • What is the relationship between Piaget’s stages and his posited mechanisms of equilibration, assimilation, and accommodation?
  • Did stages or mechanisms have a greater impact on the field of developmental psychology—and what are the lasting repercussions of these impacts?
  • What of Piaget’s model, method, or mechanisms can we apply to our own work?

Learning goals

To understand the basic insights that follow from Piaget’s work, especially as they form the backdrop for the continued legacy of constructivist approaches to education and research.

Required readings

Please ensure that you read the specified version.

  1. Miller, P. (2002) Piaget’s theory. In Theories of developmental psychology (pp. 29-105), 4th. Edition. New York: Worth Publishers.
  2. Bond, T. & Tryphon, A. (2009). Piaget and method. In U. Muller, J. Carpendale, and L. Smith (Eds.). The Cambridge companion to Piaget (pp. 171-199). New York: Cambridge University Press.
  3. Piaget, J. (1932). Chapter 1. In Moral Judgment of the child (pp. 1-100). New York: Free Press.
  4. Piaget, J. (1985). Foreword and Chapter 1. In The equilibration of cognitive structures: The central problem of intellectual development. Chicago, The University of Chicago Press (pp. 1-35).

Recommended readings

  • Piaget, J. (1970). Chapters 1 & 4. In Structuralism (pp. 3-17 & 52-74). New York: Harper & Row.
  • Smith, L. (2002). Piaget's model. In U. Goswami (Ed.), Blackwell. Handbook of childhood cognitive development (pp. 515-538). Oxford: Blackwell.


  1. Referring to the required readings, and in your own words, write short (150-200 words each) descriptions of Piaget's processes of assimilation, accommodation, equilibration, and reflective abstraction.
  2. Select two aspects of Piaget's developmental stage model that have been criticized by other scholars. Then, in your own words, describe how Piaget characterized each of these aspects of his stage model and how they were characterized by critics. Do you think these criticisms are compelling? Why?
  3. Given the readings and lecture, what do you think are the 2 or 3 most important aspects of Piaget's methods? Describe each aspect and why it is important. Illustrate your arguments with examples.

Module 3: Kohlberg

Kohlberg and friends

This module focuses primarily on the work of Lawrence Kohlberg, who applied Piaget’s broad theoretical and methodological commitments to the domain of moral reasoning. We use Kohlberg’s work to begin considering the difference between domain-specific and domain-general developmental systems, with an emphasis on how different approaches to modeling and measuring development affect educational practice and design. We also discuss the work of Kohlberg's students, including Cheryl Armon, Carol Gilligan, and Elliot Turiel, who have carried forward the study of moral development in recent decades.

Guiding questions

  • What is the relationship between developmental level in Kohlberg’s scheme and the “goodness” of morality being expressed?
  • Are the two qualities separate or linked?
  • What are the practices that promote human development and transformation in the domain of morality?
  • What is a domain-specific model of development and how does it differ from a domain-general approach (e.g.) Piaget’s or Baldwin’s approach?

Learning goals

To consider Kohlberg’s work as both a fruition and a transformation of Piagetian methods, representing an important turn in developmental psychology toward practice, education, and reform.

Required readings

Kohlberg, L. (1975). The cognitive-developmental approach to moral education. The Phi Delta Kappan, 56(10), 670-677.

Kohlberg, L. and D. Candee (1984). Stage and sequence: The cognitive-developmental approach to socialization. Essays on moral development: Vol. 2. The psychology of moral development: The nature and validity of moral stages (pp. 7-169). San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

Kohlberg, L. (1984). The relationship of moral judgment to moral action. Morality, moral behavior, and moral development. W. Kurtines and J. Gewirtz. New York, John Wiley & Sons: 52-73.

Recommended readings

Kohlberg, L. (1981). From is to ought: how to commit the naturalistic fallacy and get away with it in the study of moral development. In Essays on moral development: Vol. 1. The philosophy of moral development (pp. 101-190). New York: Harper and Row.

Habermas, J. (1990). Justice and solidarity: On the discussion concerning stage 6. In E. W. Thomas (Ed.), The moral domain: Essays in the ongoing discussion between philosophy and the social sciences (pp. 224-255). Cambridge, MA, MIT Press.

Armon, C. & Dawson, T. (1997). Developmental trajectories in moral reasoning across the lifespan. Journal of Moral Education, Vol. 26, No. 4.

Selman, R. L. (1971). The relation of role taking to the development of moral judgment in children. Child Development, 42(1), 79-91.

Walker, Lawrence J., & Taylor, John H. (1991). Family interactions and the development of moral reasoning. Child Development, 62(2), 264-283.


  1. In Stage and Sequence, Kohlberg offers a set of 4 criteria for developmental stages. In your own words, describe each of these criteria and explain their importance.
  2. Kohlberg makes several arguments for the universality of his developmental stages. Choose two of the arguments he makes in the readings, restate them in your own words, and discuss why they are viewed as important issues in development theory.
  3. Why is there sometimes a disconnect between moral judgment and moral action? According to research presented in the readings, what other factors may determine how we act in morally complex situations? What are the implications of these insights for pedagogy?

Module 4: Life course

Erikson, H.S. Sullivan, and the psychodynamics of the life course

This module focuses on the work of Erik Erikson, Harry Stack Sullivan and other theorists, such as Anna Freud, who combined developmental models with insights from the psychoanalytic tradition. Erikson and Sullivan present comparable stage models and allow us to explore how their ideas about stages and developmental processes differ from those outlined by Piaget and Kohlberg. We will also explore important issues concerning the unique methods and applications that stem from these integrative models of the life course. We also discuss the work of more contemporary ego-development researchers, such as Jane Loevinger, Abraham Maslow, and Susanne Cook-Greuter.

Guiding questions

  • What are the differences between these psychoanalytically oriented approaches to development and the approaches of Piaget and Kohlberg?
  • What are the key principles and processes that drive development as it is understood by Sullivan and Erikson?
  • How are these useful in various educational contexts?

Learning goals

To consider the work of Erikson and Sullivan in relation to Piaget and Kohlberg, and to explore their respective methodological and theoretical differences and similarities.

Required readings

  1. Kohlberg, L. and C. Armon (1984). Three types of stage models in the study of adult development. Beyond formal operations: Vol 1. Late adolescent and adult cognitive development. M. L. Commons, F. A. Richards, T. A. Grotzer and J. D. Sinnot. New York, Praeger: 383-394.
  2. Noam, G., et al. (1983). Steps toward a model of the self. In Developmental approaches to the self. B. Lee and G. Noam. New York, Plenum Press: 59-141.
  3. Sullivan, H. S. (1953) Part 1: Introductory concepts. In The interpersonal theory of psychiatry (pp. 13-45). New York: Norton & Co.

Recommended readings

  • Erikson, Erik, H. (1982). Major stages in psychosocial development. In The life cycle completed (55-83). New York: Norton.
  • Freud, A. (1936). Ego and the mechanisms of defense. Karnac Books. London.
  • Loevinger, L. (1976). Chapters 1 & 2, in Ego development. New York: Jossey-Bass.
  • Cummings, A. L. & Murray, H. G. (1989) Ego development and its relation to teacher education. Teaching and teacher education, 5, pp. 21-32.
  • Gfellner, B. (1986). Ego development and moral development in relation to age and grade level during adolescence. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 15, 147-163.


  1. According to Kohlberg and Armon, there are three different kinds of stage models. In your own words, please describe these three types of stage models and explain how they relate to the life course models described in the readings.
  2. Noam and Lee review several models of self or ego development. Choose two of these models, and using other relevant readings for this module, consider their differences and similarities in terms of the following questions.
    • What develops? What aspects of self-development are the focus of each model?
    • What portion of the lifespan is considered?
    • What are the mechanisms of development?
    • To what extent is each model universal (would be relevant in all human cultures?
    • What kind of evidence is offered in support of each model?
  3. Sullivan is mainly concerned with the “self-system” and the role of interpersonal relationships, culture, and emotion in its development. How does Sullivan’s theory about the development of the self compare with Baldwin's? Reference the readings from this Module and Module 1 in your response. Consider...
    • What develops? What aspects of self-development are the focus of each model?
    • What are the mechanisms of development?
    • To what extent is each model universal (would be relevant in all human cultures?

Module 5: Neo-Piagetians

The Neo-Piagetians

In this module, we consider the work of the Neo-Piagetians, including Kurt Fischer, Juan Pascual-Leone, Sharon Griffin, John Flavell, and Robbie Case. The Neo-Piagetians, like Kohlberg, followed Piaget, but they more explicitly continued Piaget’s search for domain-general models, mechanisms, and measures. These theorists teach us a great deal about the effects of context on development and transformation, such as why support and scaffolding are part of a person’s capacity (not separate independent influences), and why variability in performance is the norm, not the exception. We will also gain an initial understanding of the non-linear dynamics of the transitional phases between developmental levels.

Guiding questions

  • How does a domain-general model of development differ from a domain-specific model of development like Kohlberg’s?
  • How does Fischer integrate context and support into his model of development?
  • How might understanding the non-linearity of developmental transitions improve instruction and help enact lasting change?

Learning goals

To consider the key advances and revisions to the constructivist legacy undertaken by the Neo-Piagetians, and the implications for education and human transformation these imply.

Required readings

  1. Fischer, K. W. (1980). A theory of cognitive development: The control and construction of hierarchies of skills. Psychological Review, 87, 477-531.
  2. Case, R. (1985). Chapter 6. In Intellectual development: Birth to adulthood (pp. 81-117). New York: Academic Press.
  3. Commons, M. L., Trudeau, E. J., et al. (1998). Hierarchical complexity of tasks shows the existence of developmental stages. Developmental Review,18, 237-278.

Recommended readings

  • Ayoub, C., & Fischer, K. (2006). Developmental pathways and intersections among domains of development. K. McCartney & D. Phillips (Eds.), Blackwell Handbook on Early Childhood Development (pp 82-62). Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Marini, Zopito, & Case, Robbie. (1994). The development of abstract reasoning about the physical and social world. Child Development, 65(1), 147-159.
  • Yan, Z., & Fischer, Kurt W. (2002). Always under construction. Human Development, 45, 141-160.


  1. In your own words, describe the roles of (1) context, (2) support, and (3) scaffolding in Fischer's model of development (as presented in the readings or other primary sources). For each, provide a real-world example from your own experience.
  2. In your own words, and with reference to the readings, please describe:
    • the processes of transformation that drive development in Fischer's model,
    • the new mental structures or constructs that characterize the representations and abstractions tiers; and
    • the differences between levels within these tiers.
  3. Describe two important ways in which Neo-Piagetians depart from classic Piagetian theory. Consider why these differences matter, especially with regard to pedagogy and practice.

Module 6: Emotion

Emotion and development

In this module, we consider research and theorizing about emotion by focusing on the work of Donald Hebb and other more contemporary emotion researchers like Antonio Damasio and Mary Helen Immordino-Yang. The Skill Theory framework is used to integrate these approaches to understanding the relation between emotion and development. We explore the implications of understanding emotions in this way, for developmental processes, education, and research.

Guiding questions

  • How does recognizing the importance of emotion force us to re-examine and question developmental theories that neglect its primacy, such as Kohlberg’s?
  • What is the most central way in which emotion shapes learning and development?
  • What are the implications of this for schooling?

Learning goals

To consider the centrality and ubiquity of emotional processes in learning and development and explore a variety of theoretical approaches to understanding emotional development.

Required readings

Hebb, D. O. (1946). On the nature of fear. Psychological Review 53, 259-276.

Fischer, K. W., Shaver, P., & Carnochan, P. (1990) (2006). How emotions develop and how they organize development. Cognition and Emotion, 4, 81-127.

Fischer, K. W. and Bidell, T.R. (2006). Dynamic development of action, thought, and emotion. In W. Damon and R. M. Lerner (Eds.), Handbook of child psychology: Theoretical models of human development (pp. 313-399). New York, Wiley. [pp. 314-336; 370-382].

Recommended readings

Ayoub, C. C., Rogosh, F., Toth, S. L., O’Connor, E., Cicchetti, D., Rappolt-Schlichtmann, G., et al. (2006). Cognitive and emotional differences in young maltreated children: A translational application of dynamic skill theory. Development and Psychopathology, 18, 670-706.

Li, Jin, Wang, Lianqin, & Fischer, Kurt W. (2004). The organisation of Chinese shame concepts. Cognition and Emotion, 18(6), 767-797.

Immordino-Yang, M.H., McColl, A., Damasio, H., Damasio, A. (2009). Neural correlates of admiration and compassion. PNAS.106(19) 8021-8026.


  1. According to Fischer, how do emotions shape the development of skills? What are some of the implications for educational practice?
  2. Drawing from the readings, describe three important findings from developmental research on emotion (use the work of at least two researchers). Explore the educational implications of each one.
  3. Based on the readings for this Module, describe three of the most important open questions about the relation between emotions and skill development. Explain why they are important, and consider how researchers might approach addressing one of these questions.

Module 7: Dynamic systems

Dynamic systems models of the mind

In this module, we explore how dynamic systems modeling can be used to understand the development of cognition, skill, and emotion. We consider the importance of dynamic systems research in general by first looking at the work of early pioneers, such as Donella Meadows and Jay Forester. We then use the work of Paul Van Geert to provide an accessible introduction to dynamic systems models in developmental psychology and raise a set of critical concepts and questions. Next, we examine how Rose and Fischer approach the creation of a truly dynamic science of the individual. Finally, we explore the far-reaching implications of reframing human development in these terms.

Guiding questions

  • How can we build growth models based on the principles of dynamic systems theory?
  • What kinds of tools are available to build models of how people grow and learn?

Learning goals

To consider how dynamic systems models are being used in developmental psychology, and how this way of researching and explaining human development grows naturally out of the tradition we have been exploring.

Required readings

  1. Rose, L.T., Rouhani, P., & Fischer, K.W. (2013). The science of the individual. Mind, Brain, and Education, 7(3), 152-158.
  2. van Geert, P. and H. Steenbeek (2004). Dynamic systems theory: A tool for understanding development and education. Practical Knowledge, Harvard Graduate School of Education.
  3. Dawson-Tunik, T. L., Commons, M. L. et al. (2005). The shape of development. The International Journal of Cognitive Development, 2, 163-196.
  4. Rappolt-Schlichtmann, Gabrielle , Tenenbaum, Harriet R. , Koepke, Margy F. , & Fischer, Kurt W. (2007). Transient and robust knowledge: Contextual support and the dynamics of children’s reasoning about density. Mind, Brain, & Education, 1, 98-108.

Recommended readings

  • Van Geert, P. (1994). Dynamic systems of development: Change between complexity and chaos. London: Harvester Wheatsheaf.
  • Mascolo, M. F., & Fischer, K. W. (2010). The dynamic development of thinking, feeling and acting over the lifespan. In W. F. Overton (Ed.), Biology, cognition and methods across the life-span. Volume 1 of the Handbook of life-span development (pp. 149-194). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.


  1. What are two of the main differences between dynamic systems growth models and other models of growth you have learned about in this course? From your perspective, what is one important contribution of dynamic systems models? Why is it important?
  2. What do Rose and Fischer mean by a “science of the individual?” How is this approach to understanding development different from approaches based on large sample sizes and statistical averages? What is important, especially for educational practice, about focusing on individuals as opposed to groups when conducting research?
  3. What do Van Geert, Dawson, and Fischer, mean by “shapes” of development? (Please provide examples to illustrate your answer.) What are the implications of these dynamic developmental patterns for educational practice?

Module 8: The Lectical Scale

Toward a "common core" metric

This module examines a recent advance that builds on the history outlined in Part 1—Theo Dawson’s domain-general cognitive developmental scoring system, the Lectical Assessment System (LAS). By exploring the LAS and the Lectical Scale to which it is calibrated, we'll deepen our exploration of the distinctions between domain-general and domain-specific developmental systems. We will also continue to advance our understanding of the non-linear dynamics of the transitional phases between developmental levels, paying special attention to the implications for measurement and pedagogy. This look at Dawson’s work also contributes to our continued exploration of the history of developmental assessment systems and methods.

Guiding questions

  • How does Dawson build the argument that she is tapping into a domain-general index of development?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of her approach?
  • How does her model relate to Kohlberg’s, Piaget’s, or Fischer’s?
  • How do different assessment techniques constrain educational practice?
  • How might they liberate practice?

Learning goals

To learn about the development and refinement of the Lectical Assessment System, as it relates to the history and future of developmental psychology and education.

Required readings

  1. Dawson, T. L. (2001). Layers of structure: A comparison of two approaches to developmental assessment. Genetic Epistemologist, 29, 1-10.
  2. The LAS in plainer English: The Lectical Assessment System
  3. Dawson, T. L. (2002). A comparison of three developmental stage scoring systems. Journal of Applied Measurement, 3, 146-189.
  4. Dawson, T. L., Y. Xie, et al. (2003). Domain-general and domain-specific developmental assessments: Do they measure the same thing? Cognitive Development, 18, 61-78.
  5. Dawson-Tunik, T. L., Commons, M. L. et al. (2005). The shape of development. The International Journal of Cognitive Development, 2, 163-196.
  6. For an overview of the validity and reliability of the LAS see: Validity and reliability of the LAS


  1. Dawson (2001) describes 3 layers of structure. In your own words, describe each of these layers, then describe how the following statement might be looked at through the lens of each of these layers. Statement: There are three important reasons for caring about others. First, you need other people for social interaction. Second, the things other people make and do contribute to your comfort, and finally, you can usually count on the people you care for to have your back when things get tough.
  2. What are three advantages of domain-general scoring systems like the LAS and the General Stage Scoring System for helping us to understand and measure development? Are there potential disadvantages, if so, what are they and why do you think they might be disadvantages?
  3. Dawson-Tunik, Commons, et al. describe the "shape of development." What is this shape and why is it important? How do the authors' findings provide support for a content independent scoring system? Why is construct validity important?

Module 9: Developmental maieutics

Learning sequences and educational research

In this module we focus on the methods that accompany the Lectical Assessment System when it is used in the context of educational research—an approach known as Developmental Maieutics. We will examine two sets of learning sequences produced with Developmental Maieutics, one for physical science concepts and another for leadership decision making. We will discuss domain specificity, knowledge transfer, and the difference between within-level elaboration and between-level transformation.

Guiding questions

  • How is Developmental Maieutics employed to examine the relationship between developmental level and the content of performances?
  • How is it employed to examine the quality of arguments?
  • How might learning sequences be applied in various educational contexts?

Learning goals

To build an appreciation of the radical new possibilities opened up by recent advances in modeling and measuring human development, the way in which these advances might contribute to research and reform in education, and how they are continuous with the legacy of Baldwin, Piaget, and the Neo-Piagetians.

Required readings

  1. Dawson-Tunik, T. L. (2004). “A good education is…” The development of evaluative thought across the life-span. Genetic, Social, and General Psychology Monographs,130(1), 4-112. (pp. 1-50)
  2. Dawson, T. L. and S. Gabrielian (2003). Developing conceptions of authority and contract across the life-span: Two perspectives. Developmental Review, 23, 162-218.
  3. Dawson, T, L. & Stein, Z. (2008). Cycles of Research and Application in Science Education. Mind, Brain, and Education, 2(2), 90-103.

Recommended readings

  • Dawson, T. L., & Stein, Z. (2004). National Leadership Study results. Hatfield, MA: Developmental Testing Service, Inc.
  • Dawson, T. L., & Stein, Z. (2006). Mind Brain & Education study: Final report. Northampton, MA: Developmental Testing Service, Inc.
  • Heikkinen, K. M. (2014). The Development of Social Perspective Coordination Skills in Grades 3-12. Graduate School of Education. Cambridge, MA, Harvard. Ph.D.: 208.


  1. Using a subject in which you are interested as an example, describe the process through which you would obtain the foundational knowledge required to build a Lectical Assessment for that subject.
  2. Select any learning sequence from this module's readings, and describe two ways in which an understanding of that sequence might be leveraged to support learning. What are some of the challenges or constraints you might face in this effort? Focus on the domain of the sequence and the content of the levels (as opposed to the general notion of development).
  3. A Good Education Is... describes the development of evaluative reasoning about education along several thematic strands. Consider development along two of these strands. What is changing with development? How is development along the two strands similar? Different?

Module 10: DiscoTest

Transforming K-12 education, the DiscoTest initiative

In this module, we consider the state of K-12 education in light of what we have learned in Parts 1 & 2. We will examine DiscoTests, which are Lectica’s K-12 assessments. We consider how the right tests can help shape institutional cultures to promote optimal development and appropriate educational practice.

Guiding questions

  • What is the current role of testing in K-12 schooling?
  • How does the culture of testing shape the behavior and developmental trajectories of students?
  • How does the DiscoTest initiative seek to change testing?
  • How can we best adapt teaching and coaching to enable optimal growth?

Learning goals

To consider the educational importance of the constructivist legacy for educational reform today, especially in testing.

Required readings

  1. Toch, T. (2006). Margins of error: The education testing industry in the No Child Left Behind Era. Washington D.C.: Education Sector.
  2. Dawson, T.L. & Stein, Z. (2011). Virtuous cycles of learning: a digital revolution. Paper presented at the International School on Mind, Brain, and Education, in Ettore Majorana Center for Scientific Culture, Erice (Sicily), Italy.
  3. Stein, Z., Dawson, T.L., & Fischer, K.W. (2010) Redesigning testing: operationalizing the new science of learning. In M. Khine & I. Saleh (Eds.) The new science of learning: computers, cognition, and collaboration education. New York: Springer Press.
  4. Stein, Z. (2014). Tipping the scales: Social justice and educational measurement. Harvard Graduate School of Education. Cambridge, MA, Harvard. Ed.D.: 288.

Recommended readings

  • Spring, J. H. (1989). Chapters 1 and 2. The sorting machine revisited: National educational policy since 1945 (pp. 1-61). New York: Longman.
  • Lemann, N. (1999). Book 1. The big test: The secret history of the American meritocracy (pp. 3-115). New York: Farrar, Straus and Grioux.
  • Ravitch, D. (2010). Chapters 2 and 6. In The death and life of the great American school system (pp. 15-31 and 93-113). New York: Perseus Books.


  1. Describe 3 ways in which the DiscoTest approach differs from mainstream testing, as described by Ravitch. What are some of the implications of these differences for education?
  2. Toch offers a peek into the world of large-scale educational testing. Consider two of the themes he investigates and explores their implications for the current state of educational testing in America.
  3. Dawson and Stein describe several basic design principles for ideal tests. Select three of these principles, describe them, and explain why Dawson and Stein consider them to be fundamental. Then, using an original example, explain how each of these principles would impact a specific decision about how to implement, interpret, or design an educational test.

Module 11: LectaTests

Lectical Assessments and adult learning

In this module, we invite you to consider the state of adult education and learning in light of the material covered in Parts 1 & 2. As you take in the lecture and readings for this module, reflect upon prior teaching points concerning the nature of human transformation, including the non-linear dynamics of the transitional phases between developmental levels, the within-level prerequisites that set the stage for healthy transformation, and the ways in which culture and context shape the behavior and developmental trajectories of individuals.

Guiding questions

  • How might developmental assessments be productively used in adult educative and professional contexts?
  • What are the educational implications of understanding transformation in terms of whole-system categories—like "center of gravity" or "structure of the whole”—or in terms of more fine-grained categories—like "skill" or "line"?
  • What are the implications of employing whole-system assessments like Loevinger’s or Kegan’s, compared to those of evaluating particular skills?

Learning goals

To use adult learning as a context for integrating the many lessons about human development discussed in the course.

Required readings

  1. Mascolo, M. F., & Fischer, K. W. (2010). The dynamic development of thinking, feeling, and acting over the lifespan. In R. M. Lerner & W. F. Overton (Eds.), Handbook of life-span development. Vol. 1: Biology, cognition, and methods across the lifespan (pp. 149-194). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley. [pp. 151-170].
  2. Dawson, T.L. & Stein, Z. (2011). We are all learning here: Cycles of research and application in adult development. In C. Hoare (Ed.), Oxford Handbook of Reciprocal Adult Learning and Development, (447-461). New York: Oxford University Press.
  3. Jaques, E. & Carson, K. (1994). Parts 1 and 3. Human capability: A study of individual potential and its applications (pp. 3-38 and 75-127). Falls Church, VA: Cason, Hall, & Co. Publishers.

Recommended readings

  • Fuhs, C. J. (2015). A latent growth analysis of hierarchical complexity and perspectival skills in adulthood. Santa Barbara, CA, Fielding Graduate University.
  • Kegan, R. (1994). The mental demands of public life: Work and self-expansion. In over our heads: The mental demands of modern life (pp. 135-304). Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press.


  1. What is the relation between hierarchical complexity (level of development) and perspective taking that was reported in the lecture and in Dawson and Stein's article, We are all learning here? Compare these characterizations of this relationship with the way it has been thought of by other scholars represented in the readings for this module. What are some of the implications of Dawson & Stein's findings for the models of these other scholars?
  2. In the lecture for this module, Dr. Dawson argues that the focus of most adult education should be on within-level growth rather than between-level growth. In your own words, sketch out her arguments and evidence. Then consider Mascolo's and Fischer's discussion of how changes in the moment or over the short-term, contribute to broader, long-term changes in the structure of thought. Do Mascolo and Fischer's observations support or contradict Dawson's claim? How?

    Module 12: Pragmatization

Coming soon...

Final assignment

Your final assignment is a 1800-2000 word scholarly paper. You will choose from three types of papers.

  • An in-depth literature review describing the body of work in one of the developmental areas covered in this course.
  • A comparison of two of the broad developmental theories covered in the course that lays each out in some detail, examines the ways in which they are different and similar, and explores the implications of these differences and similarities.
  • A comparison of two different domain-based theories of development, such as a comparison of Loevinger's work in Ego development and Damon's work on self-understanding or Turiel's and Kohlberg's approaches to moral development.

Before beginning the final assignment, you will need to obtain approval for your topic. Please submit topic suggestions in an email to your instructor. If you are taking this course as part of an independent study, check with us to see if your final assignment for the independent study will serve as a final paper for this course.

FOLA logistics

Payment information

Registration in the FOLA gives you unlimited personal access to FOLA materials for as long as the series is offered on our website. The series is occasionally supplemented with new lectures or updates of previous lectures. Once you have purchased the FOLA, you will have access to all new material as it is added. All amounts are in US dollars. There are no refunds once FOLA course materials have been released.

  • The self-guided course is $1,300.
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  • The "Year of Developmental Delight" live version of the FOLA is $1,700.
  • The certificate version of our "Year of Developmental Delight" is $3,199.
  • One-on-one face time with FOLA instructors is available at $250 per hour.
  • In certificate versions of the course, FOLA instructors provide written evaluations for 12 FOLA assignments. They will also evaluate revisions to 4 assignments. Evaluations of additional revisions can be purchased for $149 each.
  • You will be given 24 months to complete any FOLA certificate course.
  • Registration in the FOLA does not include any readings that cannot be accessed from this page.
  • We may add to readings in later modules when new knowledge becomes available.

FOLA form

Selected funders

IES (US Department of Education)

The Spencer Foundation


Dr. Sharon Solloway

The Simpson Foundation

The Leopold Foundation

Donor list

Selected clients

Glastonbury School District, CT

The Ross School

Rainbow Community School

The Study School

Long Trail School

The US Naval Academy

The City of Edmonton, Alberta

The US Federal Government

Advisory Board

Antonio Battro, MD, Ph.D., One Laptop Per Child

Marc Schwartz, Ph.D. and former high school teacher, University of Texas at Arlington

Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, Ed.D., University of Southern California

Willis Overton, Ph.D., Temple University, Emeritus