RJ Stages

RJ Underlying Assumptions


The Reflective Judgment Model: Underlying Assumptions

What is the difference between well-structured and ill-structured problems? Well-structured problems are problems that are defined completely and resolved with certainty; they have single correct answers that are ultimately available. They can also be described as monological (e.g., answered within a single frame of reference with a specific set of logical moves). A problem is considered well-structured when the degree of complexity of the problem is known, or known with some degree of certainty. An example of a well-structured problem would be solving an algebraic story problem. Well-structured problems do not require considering alternative arguments, seeking out new evidence, or evaluating the reliability of data and sources of information. Ill-structured problems, on the other hand, are problems about which reasonable people reasonably disagree. These problems cannot be solved by the simple application of an algorithm; they require making judgments based on the strength of available evidence and the adequacy of an argument. Ill-structured problems such as determining the causes of overpopulation, hunger, pollution, and inflation are complex problems of society that "cannot be described with a high degree of completeness or solved with a high degree of certainty" (King & Kitchener, 1994, p. 10).

Why a stage model? King and Kitchener (1994) concluded that a stage model was the most appropriate framework for conceptualizing the RJM because: (1) it captured the observed consistency between defining components of the model that reflect an underlying, organized structure (e.g., concept of justification and view of knowledge), (2) it delineated the qualitative differences between the seven sets of assumptions, and (3) it provided a framework for observed sequential changes in the emergence of epistemic assumptions. However, they endorse Rest's (1979) notion of a complex rather than a simple stage model. Under the assumptions of a complex stage model, it is not appropriate to say a person is "in" or "at" a single stage. "Although an individual frequently may reason using the assumptions of a given stage, it would be incorrect to assume that she or he can use only one such set of stage-related assumptions at a time, regardless of the circumstances under which stage scores were assessed" (King, 1990, p. 84). In fact, most individuals appear to use two and occasionally three (typically adjacent) stages. See Lamborn and Fischer (1988) for a discussion of optimal vs. functional developmental level.

What is the difference between reflective judgment and critical thinking? The types of problems presented in Reflective Judgment assessments differ from those usually presented in measures of critical thinking. Rather than focusing on inductive or deductive logic skills, or on critical thinking as a process of inquiry, reflective judgment assessment problems acknowledge that epistemic assumptions-assumptions about knowledge-are central to recognizing a problematic situation (King & Kitchener, 1994). Wood (1983) articulated three dimensions for the classification of types of problems: difficulty, complexity, and structuredness. These three aspects are related. For example, more complex problems are more difficult, and less-structured problems are more complex. However, just because a problem is difficult does not necessarily mean that it is complex, and just because a problem is complex does not imply that it is less structured.