Transformative learning

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Criticisms of Mezirow's Transformative Learning Theory
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See also Adult learning theory (andragogy) | Benjamin Bloom | Constructivism | Jack Mezirow | Teaching library users | Etienne Wenger

"Transformative learning is a term used in educational theory to describe a process which leads the learner to re-evaluate past beliefs and experience transformational learning, the student is able to critically reflect on his or her own assumptions about how the world works and sees the world with a new perspective. "

Mezirowian transformation

Transformational learning is a "constructivist" perspective and theory of deep learning that goes beyond content knowledge acquisition. TL is a process for adults to learn to think for themselves based on critical reflection or assessment of events in their lives. In fact, the way we interpret and reinterpret our experiences in the world is central to transformative learning (Jack Mezirow, 1995). In organizations, for example, professional development is a major form of transformative learning and may dwell on activities that are reflective in nature. Often, these activities embrace transformation of professional identity and work practices. Jack Mezirow, the major theorist in the area, says that critical reflection on our assumptions (particularly about ourselves) leads to "transformation". Mezirow’s work is part of a critical tradition in adult education that extends back through Freire, Dewey and Habermas. Mezirow described transformative learning environments where learners have full information, are free from coercion, have equal opportunity to assume roles in class, and can become critically reflective. Moreover, learners are empathetic and willing to search for common ground with others or a synthesis of different points of view in the classroom.

The theory of transformative learning comprises two aspects: instrumental (or instructional) learning and communicative learning. As Mezirow says, "... a key proposition of transformative learning recognizes the validity of Habermas's fundamental distinction between instructional and communicative learning". Further, instructional learning focuses on "learning through task-oriented problem-solving" and may include an examination of cause and effect (Taylor, 1998). Instructional learning aims to achieve short term objectives such as improved performance; often, the adult learner will ask what the most direct route is to learn something. In communicative learning, how adults communicate their needs, especially how needs link up with feelings, encourages the learner to be self-critical, autonomous and ultimately responsible for their learning path (Mezirow, 1991).

The goal of transformational learning is to change one's "frame of reference". Mezirow says that the frame of reference is the collective assumptions through which we interpret and understand something. A frame of reference includes two elements: habits of mind and points of view. Habits of mind are shaped by the many assumptions which build on cultural, social, educational and political codes. Specific points of view originate from habits of mind. When people begin to examine predetermined assumptions and beliefs, they tend to be more open, inclusive, reflective and willing to change (Choy, 2010). However, not every experience will be transformative; thus reflection is central to it (Mezirow, 1997).

Ten Phases of Transformative Learning

  1. A disorienting dilemma
  2. A self-examination with feelings of guilt or shame
  3. A critical assessment of epistemic, sociocultural, or psychic assumptions
  4. Recognition that one’s discontent and the process of transformation are shared and that others have negotiated a similar change
  5. Exploration of options for new roles, relationships, and actions
  6. Planning of a course of action
  7. Acquisition of knowledge and skills for implementing one’s plans
  8. Provisional trying of new roles
  9. Building of competence and self-confidence in new roles and relationships
  10. A reintegration into one’s life on the basis of conditions dictated by one’s perspective



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