Transformative Learning Theory— an Overview

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  • Topic: Paulo Freire, Adult education, Learning
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Transformative Learning Theory— An Overview
This section of the monograph provides a brief overview of transformative learning theory from the perspective of Jack Mezirow. Also discussed are the conditions that need to be present, from his perspective, to foster transformative learning. Its intent is to provide a synthesis of its major premises, not an exhaustive discussion, that includes enough information from which to understand the implications and insights gained from discussing the various unresolved issues about transformative learning theory. This overview is followed by two alternative perspectives of transformative learning: Boyd’(transformative education) and Freire’(social transfors s mation) that contribute to our understanding of transformative pedagogy.

Mezirow: A Rational Transformation
Transformative learning offers a theory of learning that is uniquely adult, abstract, idealized, and grounded in the nature of human communication. It is a theory that is partly a developmental process, but more as “ learning is understood as the process of using a prior interpretation to construe a new or revised interpretation of the meaning of one’experience in order to guide future action” s (Mezirow 1996, p. 162). Transformative learning offers an explanation for change in meaning structures that evolves in two domains of learning based on the epistemology of Habermas’ communicative theory. First is instrumental learning, which focuses on learning through task-oriented problem solving and determination of cause and effect relationships— learning to do, based on empirical-analytic discovery. Second is communicative learning, which is learning involved in understanding the meaning of what others “ communicate concerning values, ideals, feelings, moral decisions, and such concepts as freedom, justice, love, labor, autonomy, commitment and democracy”(Mezirow 1991a, p. 8). When these domains of learning involve “ reflective assessment of premises . . . [and] of movement through cognitive structures by identifying and 5

OVERVIEW judging presuppositions”(p. 5), transformative learning is taking place. Transformative learning attempts to explain how our expectations, framed within cultural assumptions and presuppositions, directly influence the meaning we derive from our experiences. It is the revision of meaning structures from experiences that is addressed by the theory of perspective transformation.


Transformative learning attempts to explain how our expectations, framed within cultural assumptions and presuppositions, directly influence the meaning we derive from our experiences.



Perspective transformation explains the process of how adults revise their meaning structures. Meaning structures act as culturally defined frames of reference that are inclusive of meaning schemes and meaning perspectives. Meaning schemes, the smaller components, are “ made up of specific knowledge, beliefs, value judgments, and feelings that constitute interpretations of experience” (Mezirow 1991a, pp. 5-6). They are the tangible signs of our habits and expectations that influence and shape a particular behavior or view, such as how we may act when we are around a homeless person or think of a Republican or Democrat. Changes in our meanings schemes are a regular and frequent occurrence. Meaning perspective is a general frame of reference, world view, or personal paradigm involving “ collection of meaning schemes made up of a higher-order schemata, theories, propositions, beliefs, prototypes, goal orientations and evaluations”(Mezirow 1990, p. 2) and “ they provide us criteria for judging or evaluating right and wrong, bad and good, beautiful and ugly, true and false, appropriate and inappropriate”(Mezirow 1991a, p. 44). Our frame of reference is composed of two dimensions, habits of mind and a point of view. “ Habits of mind are broad, abstract, orienting, habitual ways of thinking, feeling, and acting influenced by...
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