VIU Campus

Supporting Student Learning

In the 2019-20 academic year, 13,618 students were registered at VIU. Fifty-eight percent (58%) of them identified as women and half of all students (50%) indicated they were 25 years old or older. Further, 15% of all students were International students, and this percentage varies greatly by faculty, and by program.

Knowing some of the characteristics of the VIU student population can help us keep in mind that our students come from different backgrounds, and have different life experiences. VIU’s Office of University Planning and Analysis (OUPA) produces yearly enrollment numbers on the VIU Facts Online page. These numbers can help us prepare for the students who will be in our classes.

Another way to prepare is to keep in mind that students’ perceptions of “Knowledge” and “Truth” can vary. Below, we summarize two models that shed light on the development of lifelong learning skills in undergraduate students.

 Developing Lifelong Learning Skills

A lot of research has been done to help us understand how students learn and how they view knowledge. Many theorists have studied student intellectual and cognitive development and devised stages or steps of this development. For example, William Perry’s Scheme of Intellectual and Ethical Development and Mary Belenky et al.’s, Women’s Ways of Knowing. Both are tools that many instructors find useful for understanding where students are on their intellectual journey. 

If we are aware of the stages identified by researchers as important steps in the development of learning, we can recognize them, anticipate them, and respond effectively while supporting students as they become critical thinkers and lifelong learners.

Below, we summarize the “Perry Scheme” and “Women’s Ways of Knowing” in an effort to get you started on thinking about how learning works, and to support your understanding of how students’ learning is developing throughout their academic journey. The different stages presented in both these theories can help us understand why some students ask us to just give them the correct answer, or why others are committed to the idea that knowledge can be based entirely on someone’s opinion.

The Perry Scheme

William Perry originally published his research in 1970, using as his subjects the white male undergraduate students enrolled in his courses at Harvard University. In the following decades, Perry’s Scheme inspired a movement of research and theory on the different ways of knowing and learning (Baron, 2006) that continues to this day. Most importantly, many questioned whether results of a study based on 109 white, male, Harvard undergraduates could be generalized to the entire population. His “scheme” has therefore been tested on different populations and different cultures. We include some references to this body of research in the References section below.

The different stages that Perry identified are summarized in Table 1. Perry did note that movement between the stages is gradual, can require “coaxing”, and most students can be at different stages at the same time.

Stage of intellectual development Premises Beliefs regarding the nature of knowledge Beliefs regarding the role of learners Beliefs regarding the role of teachers or authorities
Dualism “Truth” is black and white. Legitimate questions have absolute right answers; all other answers are wrong. Differing opinions or interpretation of information is perceived as errors or incompetency.Knowledge is concrete and absolute, as defined by Authorities. To acquire, store and retrieve concrete knowledge as needed, and in great quantity to demonstrate high achievement. Effectively deliver concrete information, provide strategies to aid in memorization, discriminate between right and wrong.
Multiplicity Differing opinions may be necessary until the “truth” is found. Recognition that some questions will never have certain answers; in the absence of right answers all opinions are considered equally valid. Knowledge is uncertain and can be constructed by anyone with equal validity. To think for oneself. To build and defend (although not necessarily support) an opinion or argument. To guide discussion and give space for different points of view (although not to value one over another).
Relativism Recognition that knowledge and values are both situated in context. Acknowledgment that the world requires relativistic commitment causes anxiety because of the need to take a stand. Knowledge is interpreted within a context and therefore can be seen differently in different situations. To use context as part of building understanding. To use analytical tools to make abstractions and analyze multiple interpretations. To be an expert in disciplinary thinking, who can also help make sense of a body of information.
Commitment Within Relativism (Dialectic) Initial commitments in career, lifestyle, and values are made. Exploration to the selected commitments, the consequences of those commitments. Affirmation of many different commitments and responsibilities, including acceptance of positive and negative consequences of choices. Knowledge is contextualized and being knowledgeable requires unraveling complexity and building ideas within ambiguous situations. To construct personal truth based on developed and examined commitments to personal and professional values and points of view. To acknowledge limitations and change thinking when confronted with compelling information. To act as a mentor and a role model for an intellectually and personally committed way of living.

Source: Gallagher (2019), p. 167

Women’s Ways of Knowing

Inspired by the Perry Scheme, Mary Field Belenky, Blythe McVicker Clinchy, Nancy Rule Goldberger and Jill Mattuck Tarule conducted their own study and interviewed women of all ages, of different races, and from a range of social classes. Their results were published in the book Women’s Ways of Knowing ( 1997) which also inspired a movement of research. The different stages of women’s intellectual development, as described by Belenky et al., are outlined below.  

1.     Silence: women at this stage “have learned to be silent because they have lived their lives afraid to use words to express their thoughts and ideas” (Aldegether, 2017, pp. 3-4). They may view themselves as” unable to follow, understand, or remember” (Aldegether, 2017, p. 4). Women at this stage view knowledge as coming from others, usually others in authority, and do not trust their own ability to generate ideas.

2.    Received knowledge: Women at this stage still listen to the voices of others as they look to authorities for knowledge, truth and guidance. Contrary to the “Silence” stage, at this stage, they feel they are capable of following, remembering and receiving knowledge. They do not see themselves as capable of producing knowledge (Baron, 2006, p. 25)

3.    Subjective knowledge: at this stage, learners are no longer tied to authorities or experts, and are able to create knowledge themselves (Aldegether, 2017, p. 5). They can listen to their own internal voices and evaluate knowledge received from others (Aldegether, 2017, p. 4). Truth and knowledge are seen as “personal, private, and subjectively known or intuited” (Baron, 2006, p. 25).

4.    Procedural knowledge: This stage includes “Connected knowing” and “Separate knowing”. Here, “women are invested in learning and applying objective procedures for obtaining and communicating knowledge” (Baron, 2006, p. 25). For procedural knowers authorities and experts are no longer sources of knowledge that suppress their own voices, they are “a source of guidance to find answers through following the right procedures […] that use critical and analytical thinking to evaluate and judge” (Aldegether, 2017, p. 5).

5.    Constructed knowledge: at this stage, knowledge is seen as contextual, and constructed through the evaluation of evidence. “They evaluate, reflect on, and re-examine their own and others’ ways of thinking, and believe that there is no absolute answer or single and perfect argument that settles the problem” (Aldegether, 2017, p. 5).

Although some see the Women’s Ways of Knowing Model as an alternative to the Perry Scheme, others see them as complimentary:

“The germinating idea for the WWK [Women’s Ways of Knowing] Model came from the Perry Scheme. However, when the WWK collaborative tried to fit women’s voices into the Perry Scheme they found they did not fit. […] Both the Perry Scheme and the WWK Model are relevant for men and women” (Baron, 2006, pp. 28-29). They both provide “a matrix of different ways individuals get their “ah ha” moment” (Baron, 2006, p. 29).

Both the Perry Scheme and the WWK Model can be helpful in understanding where students are coming from when they question the material we present in class, and how they interact with us and with each other. They are meant to be guides for understanding that different students may view “Knowledge” and their role in the creation of it very differently. 


Aldegether, Reem (2017). “‘Women’s ways of knowing’ among female Saudi student teachers and their implications for teaching and learning”, Issues in Educational Research, Vol. 27(1), pp. 1-18.

Baron, Carol Eichholz (2006). “Ways of Knowing, a Quantitative Analysis of the Intersection between the Women’s Ways of Knowing Model and Perry’s Scheme of Intellectual Development”. Adult Education Research Conference.

Belenky, M.F., B.H. Clinchy, N.R. Goldberger & J.M. Tarule (1997). Women’s Ways of Knowing: The Development of Self, Voice, and Mind. Y: Basic Books Inc.

Gallagher, Shelagh A. (2019). Epistemological Differences Between Gifted and Typically Developing Middle School Students, Journal for the Education of the Gifted, Vol. 42(2), pp. 164-184,

Kloss, Robert J. (1994). A Nudge Is Best: Helping Students through the Perry Scheme of Intellectual Development, College Teaching, Vol. 42, No. 4, pp. 151-158. Stable URL:

Marra, Rose M., Betsy Palmer and Thomas A. Litzinger (2000). The Effects of a First-Year Engineering Design Course on Student Intellectual Development as Measured by the Perry Scheme, Journal of Engineering Education, vol. 89(1), pp. 39-45

Perry, William G., Jr. (1970), Forms of Intellectual and Ethical Development in the College Years: A Scheme. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.

Zhang, Li-fang (2004). The Perry Scheme: Across Cultures, Across Approaches to the Study of Human Psychology, Journal of Adult Development, Vol. 11(2)