Jennifer Gidley

Home » Postformal Education » About ‘Postformal Education: A Philosophy for Complex Futures’

About ‘Postformal Education: A Philosophy for Complex Futures’


Jennifer Gidley Postformal Education Final

My book ‘Postformal Education’ was published in August 2016 by Springer International.

Now available to purchase:

TABLE OF CONTENTS (12 chapters)



The book I offer you is about radical change. It explains why the current education model, which was developed in the 19th century to meet the needs of industrial expansion, is obsolete. It points to the need for a new approach to education designed to prepare young people for global uncertainty, accelerating change and unprecedented complexity. Readers will become aware of the limitations of formal reasoning in addressing complex, systemic challenges. They will begin to appreciate the more complex, nuanced and paradoxical features of postformal reasoning and how such reasoning will help us to meet future planetary challenges with courage, imagination, wisdom, rather than relying on techno-fixes. A key question: “If higher order, more complex forms of cognition do exist then how can we better educate children and young people so that more mature forms of reasoning appear at the appropriate life stage?”

PART I: An Evolutionary Approach to Education

Cultural Evolution: Past, Present and Futures


In this chapter a big picture overview of cultural history provides a context for understanding our present situation in relation to education. After introducing the concept of evolution of consciousness and discussing the research challenges, I take a transdisciplinary approach to evolution, to overcome some of the limitations of Darwinian biological evolution. Three theorists of cultural evolution are chosen—Rudolf Steiner, Jean Gebser and Ken Wilber—with the structural framework being provided by Gebser’s model. An overview of five major transitions of culture and consciousness are presented, the most recent being integral, which is emerging today. The purpose of the chapter is to lay the groundwork for creating conceptual bridges between cultural evolution and education as the book unfolds.

Psychological Development: Child and Adolescent


This chapter focuses on the psychological, particularly cognitive, dimension of the evolution of consciousness. After introducing the concept of psychological development, I discuss some of the challenges in researching the evolution of consciousness from the psychological standpoint and point to the need for a transdisciplinary approach. I present an overview of child and adolescent cognitive development pointing to the limitations of Piaget’s model, and then introduce some evidence of widespread changes in thinking occurring across the knowledge spectrum over the last hundred years: megatrends of the mind. The purpose of the chapter is to create conceptual bridges between psychological development and the futures of education.

Evolving Education: Pre-formal and Formal


In the first part of this chapter I make an ambitious attempt to present an overview of what education-as-enculturation might have been like thousands of years before we had formal schooling—even for the elite. I trace fragments of the evolutionary narrative that have been critically underappreciated—the apparent aesthetic sensibilities of some early hominins and humans. I then discuss the early introduction of formal elite schooling in Europe and a handful of other civilisation centres. I show that formal, publicly funded, universal school education began little more than two hundred years ago in Europe and was holistic, idealistic and evolutionary. Only after the Industrial Revolution did schooling begin to resemble factories. The purpose of this chapter is primarily to contextualise the futures of education within the broad macro-historical development from pre-formal, to formal to postformal education.

PART II: Postformal Psychology and Education: A Dialogue

Postformal in Psychology: Beyond Piaget’s Formal Operations


I expect that this chapter will be the most challenging for readers with limited prior knowledge of adult developmental psychology. It has certainly been the most challenging to write—largely because there is so much material on higher stages of reasoning, yet so little coherence of it to date. In this chapter we explore a range of adult development theories created by psychologists who saw beyond the limits of Piaget’s cognitive model. I introduce the main researchers who have identified and described postformal reasoning qualities and reiterate the shift from formal to postformal reasoning. The postformal reasoning features they identify are listed, and from these I theorise and discuss twelve distinct postformal reasoning qualities. By the end you will have a coherent picture of how postformal reasoning is conceptually aligned with four themes distilled from the evolution of consciousness research.

Postformal in Education: Beyond the Formal Factory Model


I first introduce three evolutionary waves of educational initiatives that have occurred over the last hundred years. Before identifying numerous postformal pedagogies—and showing how they align to postformal reasoning qualities—I discuss the educational theory of “postformalism” developed by Joe Kincheloe and Shirley Steinberg. I then introduce other leading educational innovators who are developing evolutionary approaches. Finally, I offer a more complex mapping of the relationships among the four evolutionary themes, the postformal qualities that relate to them and the diversity of postformal educational discourses. A major aim of the chapter is to map these different approaches, explore relationships among them and reflect this out into the broader education discourse

A Boundary-Crossing Dialogue of Postformal Futures


This chapter offers a series of dialogues beginning with interconnections—and distinctions—between cultural evolutionary approaches and developmental psychology approaches. The second set of dialogues identifies and maps the convergences and divergences between postformal reasoning and postformal pedagogies, including an analysis of the extent to which Kincheloe and Steinberg’s core postformal characteristics align with my theorised postformal reasoning qualities. I then begin a more complex mapping of all of the above relationships to explore how the postformal reasoning qualities and postformal pedagogies intersect with the four evolutionary themes discussed in Chapter 5. Finally, I distil four core pedagogical values: love, life, wisdom and voice—the heart of my postformal education philosophy, which supports the development of higher stages of reasoning.

PART III: An Evolving Postformal Education Philosophy

Pedagogical Love: An Evolutionary Force

See also Blog Piece “What’s Love got to do with Education”


In a world of high-stakes testing, league tables for primary schools as well as universities, funding cuts, teacher shortages, mass shootings in school campuses and rising rates of depression and suicide among students who miss out on university entrance, how do we decide what should be the core values in education? Because I believe it is the most important value that is largely missing from education today, I begin with pedagogical love. I discuss the philosophical background as to why love should be at centre stage in education. I follow this with an introduction to the contemporary educational approaches that support a caring pedagogy and some experiences and examples from my own and others’ practice, ending with some personal reflections on the theme.

Pedagogical Life: A Sustaining Force


We live in a world with a globalising culture that does not value life in its many dimensions: the environment, the health and vitality of its children and young people, or the wellbeing of socio-cultural life in general. This chapter begins by reiterating the important evolutionary theme that would shift our thinking from static mechanistic metaphors to life-enhancing ones. I refresh the reader on the postformal qualities and pedagogies that support this shift before discussing the philosophical underpinnings of a life-promoting education. An introduction to the most life-supporting educational approaches today is followed by examples from my teaching experience and that of other alive and vital educators. I finish with some personal reflections on the importance of pedagogical life.

Pedagogical Wisdom: A Creative Force


The dominant 21st-century worldview is replete with stupid rather than wise values, signified by corporate greed, climate crises, environmental degradation and huge economic disparity. Is this what we want for our children and their grandchildren? What do we aspire towards? After a brief diagnostic, I reiterate the evolution of consciousness theme, the postformal qualities and the postformal pedagogies that I conceptually weave into my tapestry of wisdom. The main sections of this chapter explore the philosophical importance of wisdom, educational approaches that encourage and support it, many practical examples from educators of how to cultivate wisdom and some personal reflections on how I have worked creatively, complexly and multi-modally in my educational endeavours.

Pedagogical Voice: An Empowering Force


No matter where we live in the world today, the human voice is mediated by technology. Children born in the last fifteen to twenty years in affluent countries have never known a world without communication technologies of all kinds. And yet Marshall McLuhan claimed decades ago that every advance in technology dulls a former human capacity. What human capacities are we in danger of losing in the age of screens? I propose in this chapter that even an education that is caring, lively and wise will fail in the long run if young people are not empowered to find their voices. I reiterate the evolutionary theme and related postformal reasoning qualities and pedagogies before the philosophical discussion. I then discuss the educational approaches that awaken voice and language awareness and share some examples from my own and others’ teaching experience, finishing with personal reflections.



I offer some concluding reflections here but not a lockstep short cut to what I have already said. Let me be clear. There are no short cuts to evolving education. Unless we resolve to rehumanise education so its core purpose becomes once again to develop whole human beings who care, who have and respect life, who exercise wisdom, and who have the courage to voice their truths to those who would corrupt our futures, then we should forget about the whole idea of education altogether. Nothing less will suffice, if our young people are to become whole enough to navigate the complex futures they will ineluctably inherit.



  1. Thanks Xeni, Let me know how you go with your new model idea. Jennifer

    Liked by 1 person

  2. xsaklari says:

    Dr. Gidley,

    I am delighted with the topic of your book which I have been reading already. Your philosophy presents an affinity with 3 European writers-philosophers and their relativist view of the world: Luigi Pirandello in Italy, Miguel de Unamuno in Spain and Fernando Pessoa in Portugal.
    As an MA student of Language Education & Technology, I have been working on Community Language Learning (CLL) theories revisited in the context of online communities for language learners. I am thinking of proposing a new model of an online community inspired by your principles of postformal education. Many thanks for your precious contribution and knowledge sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

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