Development is a multifaceted process that encompasses both economic growth and improvements in the quality of people’s lives. Economic growth is a necessary ingredient for development and can be accomplished through a variety of means, such as investing in the education, healthcare and transportation infrastructure of a country. Development can also be measured in terms of progress on social issues such as eradicating poverty, hunger and disease and increasing access to literacy and the provision of public services.
In order to study development, researchers must make a number of assumptions about the nature of human beings. These assumptions are referred to as meta-theories and can include such ideas as whether human change is determined by genetics or nurture (environment), whether humans behave in the same ways across cultures, and how much control individuals have over their own development.
Many of these assumptions are contested. For example, some theorists like Piaget and Erickson assume that people go through a set sequence of cognitive developmental tasks at approximately the same time, while others, such as lifespan theorists, argue that these stages are contextually dependent and that different pathways of change can occur in a person over their lifetime.
Regardless of the meta-theory that one adopts, it is important to realize that development is a complex and multifaceted process. It is also an ongoing process and requires the expertise of a wide range of academic disciplines to understand. For example, an introductory course on psychology may cover concepts related to neurodevelopment, but it will not cover the complexities of international development and the need for multidisciplinary approaches in order to address this global issue.