Transformational Learning Theory of Adult Education
Transformational learning is a relatively new and thoroughly modern yet evolving learning theory, with timeless implications for the educator. Developed initially by Jack Mezirow, it is a theory that involves, at its core, a shift in beliefs, deep self reflection and a discourse of that reflection. This constructivist-based process of making sense of the world is in stark contrast to simply acquiring knowledge. Most assume that Transformational learning assumes a certain level of developmental and cognitive maturity, though this has been disputed. Professor Mezirow’s interest and study is in adult education, but there are arguments that Transformational Learning may apply to secondary education as well. Jack Mezirow
In 1975, Jack Mezirow began to formulate his theory by studying women in college re-entry programs, trying to find out what typically helped or hindered these women’s successful return to college and ultimately the work force. He studied women who were entering both two- and four-year colleges, and who represented a wide range of individuals from four different metropolitan areas. What Mezirow and his fellow researchers found was that the subjects had “a undergone a personal transformation” that was the key to this new idea (Kitchenham, 2008, p. 105). From this study, Mezirow identified 10 “phases of meaning” outlining Transformational Learning.
Mezirow has officially retired, but is still an active speaker and writer and continues to examine and modify his ideas. He continues to “make presentations and led seminars on transformative learning at many universities” in the U.S. and abroad, and to do research, consultation and writing (National-Louis University, 2005). Key concepts and principles of Transformational Learning
Constructivist in nature, in Transformational Learning individuals “reinterpret an old experience (or a new one) from a new set of expectations, thus giving n new meaning and perspective to an old experience” (Mezirow, 1991, p. 11). In his initial research, Mezirow discovered that his subjects had gone through a dynamic transformation, or shift in their thinking, leading him to develop a table of phases (below) that he claims “transformations often follow some variation” of (Erickson, 2007 p.67). This transformation is a learning that Mezirow describes as: “Learning that transforms problematic frames of reference—sets of fixed assumptions and expectations (habits of mind, meaning perspectives, mindsets)—to make them more inclusive, discriminating, open, reflective, and emotionally able to change.” (2003 p. 58) The table of phases include:
1. A disorienting dilemma (can be triggered by a crisis or major transition, in the case of the women in the study, it was mostly retirement or divorce) 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 (Mezirow, 1981 as cited in Erickson, 2007)
Following a crisis of some kind, the learner goes through a period of self-reflection and assessment of assumptions that maybe don’t have as much meaning or importance that they once did. This process, recognized by Moore “agonizing” and “painful” (2005, pgs 203, 208), allows the learner to let go of old ideas and begin the next steps, which are re-forming new ideas. One of the distinctive characteristics of the theory lies in phase 4; discovering that...
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