In general, this textbook is designed for three primary audiences, and for each target group, it would be combined with different sets of materials (see Table 1.1 for an overview). First, more senior researchers, interventionists, and methodologists might use the text as a primary guide to their own reflection which, in combination with their day-to-day readings in developmental science and their own specialties, could be used as an opportunity to reconsider and improve their ongoing work, guiding their own professional development to be more fully informed by systems approaches. A complementary text for such an expedition might be Slife and Williams (1995) small book, What’s behind the research? Discovering hidden assumptions in the behavioral sciences, which deals with many of the same issues for psychology and social sciences more generally.
Second, the textbook can be used in courses designed to prepare graduate students for several different kinds of careers. For graduate students considering careers as researchers in the applied social sciences, the text could provide the primary guide, in combination with original conceptual and empirical readings that illustrate the key principles of a developmental systems approach. To select readings, instructors can use the menu of those listed in the textbook or find alternative readings that cover the range of topics appropriate for the respective doctoral program. For graduate students in developmental science, this text could be combined with an advanced textbook covering the contents of lifespan human development (e.g., Bornstein & Lamb, 2010) or focused on a specific aspect of development (e.g., cognitive development, ) or age period (e.g., child and adolescent development, Damon, Lerner, & Kuhn, 2008), as a way to frame and ground an understanding of the many programs of research that contribute to descriptions, explanations, and optimization of development. To prepare graduate students as researchers or methodologists in dynamic systems, this text could be used as an introductory bridge from current conventional perspectives to dynamic systems approaches, in order to prepare and motivate students for an advanced text on theories and methods in dynamic systems (such as Molenaar, Lerner, & Newell, 2014). This text could also be used as a supplement for graduate courses in the applied practice disciplines, such as education, social work, health care, or business, where it could help frame major debates and decisions in policy and practice.
Third, the text can be used in courses for advanced undergraduates, as a supplement to more standard textbooks, whether the upper division class focuses on human development (or specific areas of development or age groups), or on preparing undergraduates for further research training in the applied social sciences or for further study in practice careers. Although this textbook deals with complex ideas, it intentionally presents them in a clear and straightforward manner, according to a developmentally sequenced set of activities, that together allow undergraduates to grapple with, master, and apply its principles to their own thinking and applied practice. For example, when we used the chapter on meta-theories in an advanced undergraduate lifespan human development class, we found that over the course of 10 weeks, with repeated guided practice and discussion, students were able to thoughtfully and accurately analyze the meta-theoretical assumptions underlying major theories, research questions, and intervention applications of developmental science.
We have modeled this textbook after a small paperback book by Paul Baltes, Hayne Reese, and John Nesselroade, entitled Life-span developmental psychology: Introduction to research methods, which was first published in 1977. This small text was part of the paradigm shift from child psychology to lifespan developmental science and was instrumental as a tool in graduate training in lifespan development. We do not aspire to instigate a paradigm shift in the field, as these great theoreticians and researchers did, but we do hope to help researchers and their students create conditions and interactions that can facilitate their own internal paradigm shifts.
Table 1.1. Who should use the textbook?