Wednesday, September 6, 2017

The Need for Transformational Learning

“Learning is about transformation, it’s about change, it’s about seeing yourself in relation to the world differently” - Apte (2003, pg. 168)


The world is changing faster than we can imagine. The social, political, economic, technological and cultural context of learning and work is changing. In this new world, individuals may not know the right answers but they must know the right questions. A change in learning is required to meet these challenges. To facilitate that process, as adult educators, it is important that we move beyond teaching ‘what’ towards teaching ‘how’. It is transformational learning that can help us focus on “changing how we know ” (Kegan, 2000, p.48). Dirkx states that “Transformational learning represents one of the most generative ideas for both practitioners and researchers concerned with adult learning” (Dirkx, 2001, p. 139).

In general, the process of transformational learning is consistent with a constructivist paradigm. Constructivism is a view of learning where the learner is an active participant in the learning process, creating and interpreting knowledge rooted in personal experience. The theory of transformational learning and the process of making meaning of one's experience, emerged from the work of Jack Mezirow. Transformational learning occurs when there is a transformation in one of our beliefs or attitudes (a meaning scheme), or a transformation of our entire perspective (habit of mind) (Mezirow, 2000). Mezirow (1997a) explained transformational learning as a process of effecting change in a frame of reference and identifies four main components that characterize this theory including experience, critical reflection, reflective discourse and action.

As adult educators and learning experience designers, we need to clearly distinguish between informational learning and transformational learning. The traditional view of learning is that educators lead and individuals follow; the content is prescribed and is built around instruction and information transfer; books or courses are the primary resource and the goal of education and training is standardization. In the transformative view, personalization, collaboration, creativity, reflection and experimentation are the core elements. The learning environment is purposefully designed for individuals to research, think, act, analyze, question, reflect and make meaning of their lives.

As learning experience designers, we are placed in a unique position to play a role in helping individuals develop the skills they need to deal with change and complexity. We can leverage transformational learning as a tool to enable individuals to question their own beliefs and feelings and become more aware of their own assumptions and myths. We can prepare individuals to adapt to the changing nature of work and help them engage with others in a more collaborative, co-creative way. We can strive to equip individuals with the right tools that they can use in order to address issues and challenges from multiple perspectives, reflect on their actions and make new meanings of their experiences. We can act as empathetic provocateurs who encourage critical thinking, challenge biases and misconceptions and provide encouragement to think differently.

With transformational learning, we can help them engage in self-reflection and trigger a dramatic, fundamental change in the way they see themselves and the world (Mezirow and Taylor, 2009).