The posting below gives a brief summary of transformative learning
theory, an important educational development of the last decade.
It is from CHAPTER 4: Evidence of the Transformational Dimensions
of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning: Faculty Development
Through the Eyes of SoTL Scholars, by Connie M. Schroeder, University
of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, in To Improve the Academy, Resources for
Faculty, Instructional, and Organizational Development, Sandra
Chadwick-Blossey, editor, Rollins College and Douglas Reimondo
Robertson, associate editor, Eastern Kentucky University.
Copyright © 2005 by Anker Publishing Company, Inc. All rights
reserved. ISBN 1-882982-76-2
Anker Publishing Company, Inc. P.O. Box 249 Bolton, MA 01740-0249
UP NEXT: Service-Learning for Depth in a Fluid World
Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning
-------------------------------------1,123 words --------------------------------------
TRANSFORMATIVE LEARNING THEORY
Transformative learning was introduced by Mezirow (1997) as a
change process that transforms frames of reference (Imel, 1998).
His theory defines frames of reference as "the structures
of assumptions through which we understand our experiences. They
selectively shape and delimit expectations, perceptions, cognition,
and feelings" (Mezirow, 1997, p. 5). According to this view,
"actions and behaviors will be changed based on the changed
perspective (Cranton, 1994, p. 730).
Several key elements of the transformational learning process
are cited frequently in the literature. Initially, a disorienting
dilemma, or "an activating even that typically exposes a
discrepancy between what a person has always assumed to be true
and what has just been experienced, heard or read" (Cranton,
2002, p. 66) and may contribute to a readiness for change (Taylor,
2000). Cranton (2002) describes this as a "catalyst for transformation"
(p. 66). It could be a single event or a series of events that
occur over a much longer period as in "an accretion of transformation
in points of view" (Mezirow, 1997, p. 7). For example, engaging
in problem solving may challenge and expose discrepancies (Mezirow,
1997; Taylor, 2000).
The literature highlights the central importance of cultivating
a process of critical reflection with certain key elements (Mezirow,
1991; Sokol & Cranton, 1998). "Critical reflection is
the means by which we work through beliefs and assumptions, assessing
their validity in the light of new experiences or knowledge, considering
their sources, and examining underlying premises" (Cranton,
2002, p. 65). Cranton (1994) explains, "Transformative learning
theory leads us to view learning as a process of becoming aware
of one's assumptions and revising these assumptions" (p.
730). Cranton (1994) simply states, "If basic assumptions
are not challenged, change will not take place" (p. 739),
and elaborates that we are more likely to have sets of assumptions
that guide teaching practices. Sokol and Cranton (1998) further
explain, "As transformative learners, they question their
perspectives, open up new ways of looking at their practice, revise
their views, and act based on new per!
spectives" (p. 14). Mezirow (1997) cautions, "learners
need practice in recognizing frames of reference and using their
imaginations to redefine problems from a different perspective"
(p. 10). Several authors point out the necessity of making the
time necessary for critical reflection (Pohland & Bova, 2000).
In addition to critical reflection that challenges assumptions,
transformative learning calls for a trusting, social context for
the dialogue referred to as reflective discourse (Mezirow, 2000)
or critical discourse (Grabove, 1997). Cranton (1994) argues that
the most promising transformative learning potential in faculty
development work is long-term work with others, including "a
group of faculty genuinely interested in teaching" (p. 735).
Taylor (2000) found that the key ingredient most common in the
process of transformational learning was the context of relationships.
Imel (1998) concurs with the importance to establishing a community
Several sources emphasize individual agency; learners having
their own design (Taylor, 2000); autonomous thinking; and control
and choice (Grabove, 1997; Mezirow, 1997). Mezirow (1997) suggests
that the educator serve as a facilitator or provocateur, in order
to foster the self-direction and control needed for transformative
learning. The role of the educator or faculty developer in transformative
learning processes changes from that of a directive expert by
shifting power, responsibility, and decision-making to the faculty
(Cranton, 1994). Robertson (1997) writes extensively on the importance
of creating a helper relationship. According to Baumgartner (2001),
action on the new perspective, as in "living the new perspective"
(p. 17), is critical for transformative learning to occur.
As opposed to the elements critical for the process of transformative
learning, the outcomes indicative of transformation may include
Cranton's (1992) framework of three types of change: change in
assumptions, change in perspective, and change in behavior. Boyd
(1989) claims an outcome of transformative learning includes a
change in self.
Mezirow's theory and ideas have been expanded upon by several
theorists in order to address his emphasis on the rational and
linear aspects of transformation (Boyd, 1991; Grabove, 1997; Robertson,
1997). Baumgartner (2001) argues that "transformational learning
is a complex process involving thoughts and feelings (p. 18),
and compares Dirkx's (1998) extra-rational emphasis in which transformation
involves soul-based learning that is not constrained by rational
and cognitive learning. Grabove (1997) further emphasizes the
potential for integration of self and other, renewal and rebirth
as themes indicative of the nonrational dimensions of transformative
learning. She suggests the transformative learner "moves
in and out of the cognitive and the intuitive, of the rational
and the imaginative, of the subjective and the objective, of the
personal and the social" (Gabrove, 1997, p. 95).
We might ask ourselves as faculty development professionals,
do we offer programs that incorporate the processes that enable
deeper understanding, discovery, or transformative change? Are
we aiming for increasing knowledge and skills as primary program
outcomes, but falling short of creating opportunities in which
faculty can critically reflect, reconceptualize, and engage in
soul learning? Wouldn't it make sense to imagine that at some
point, in some faculty members' careers, they will seek deeper
understanding and affective as well as cognitive transformation?
Are we considering how, and are we willing to offer a palette
of opportunities that include a broader array of learning and
development? Though time and budgetary resources are stretched,
must we provide only the most popular programs, and not venture
into opportunities that may promise a different kind of development?
Certainly not all faculty at all points in their careers would
have the interest or time to in!
vest in transformative change programs and, given time constraints,
may prefer brief exposure to new techniques in order to improve
their teaching. But the question facing faculty developers is
not necessarily how to appeal to the masses, but rather, how to
offer a diverse array of opportunities for improving teaching
and learning that meet the needs of faculty at a variety of levels
of involvement and development. What type of programs produce
this type of transformation, and how would we determine evidence
This empirical analysis of a SoTL, program examines the experience
of SoTL from the scholars' perspectives, in light of the theoretical
literature on the process and outcomes of transformation. Looking
at evidence of transformative learning through SoTL may help us
to consider investing in programs soundly linked to individual
change and which may better prepare faculty to advance sustained
departmental and structural changes in teaching and learning that
have not been able to occur in higher education (Lazerson, Wagener,
& Shumanis, 2000). Perhaps we have been selling learning and
change short by investing in quick fixes in our faculty development
efforts. In order to transform not only teaching and learning,
but institutions and their structures, have we considered the
value of transforming individuals, or individuals transforming
Baumgartner, L.M. (2001). An update on transformational learning.
In S.B. Merriam (Ed.), New directions for adult and continuing
education: No. 89. The new update on adult learning theory (pp.
15-24). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Boyd, R.D. (1989). Facilitating personal transformation in small
groups, Part I. Small Group Behavior, 20(4), 459-474.
Boyd, R.D. (1991). Personal transformation in small groups: A
Jungian perspective. London, England: Routledge.
Cranton, P. (1992). Working with adult learners. Toronto, Ontario:
Wall & Emerson.
Cranton, P. (1994, November/December). Self-directed and transformative
instructional development. Journal of Higher Education, 65(6),
Cranton, P. (2002, Spring). Teaching for transformation. In J.M.
Ross-Gordon (Ed.), New directions for adult and continuing education:
No. 93. Contemporary viewpoints on teaching adults effectively
(pp. 63-71). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Dirkx, J.M. (1998). Tranformative learning theory in the practice
of adult education: An overview. PAACE Journal of Lifelong Learning,
Grabove, V. (1997, Summer). The many facets of transformative
learning theory and practice. In P. Cranton (Ed.), New directions
for adult and continuing education: No. 74. Transformative learning
in action: Insights from practice (pp. 89-95). San Francisco,
Imel, S. (1998). Transformative learning in adulthood. Washington,
D.C.: Office of Educational Research and Improvement. (ERIC Document
Reproduction Service No. ED42326). Retrieved April 29, 2004, from
Lazerson, M., Wagener, U., & Shumanic, N. (2000, May/June).
Teaching and learning in higher education, 1980-2000. Change,
Mezirow, J. (1991). Transformative dimensions in adult learning.
San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Mezirow, J. (1997, Summer). Transformative learning: Theory to
practice. In P. Cranton (Ed.), New directions for adult and continuing
education: No. 74. Transformative learning in action: Insights
from practice (pp. 5-12). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Mezirow, J. (2000). Learning to think like an adult: Core concepts
of transformation theory. In J. Mezirow & Associates (Eds.),
Learning as transformation: Critical perspectives on a theory
in progress (pp. 3-34). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Pohland, P., & Bova, B. (2000). Professional development as
transformational learning. International Journal of Leadership
in Education, 3(2), 137-150.
Robertson, D.L. (1997). Transformative learning and transition
theory: Toward developing the ability to facilitate insight. Journal
on Excellence in College Teaching, 8(1), 105-125.
Sokol, A., & Cranton, P. (1998, Spring). Transforming, not
training. Adult Learning, 9(3), 14-17.
Taylor, E.W. (2000). Analyzing research on transformative learning
theory. In J. Mezirow & Associates (Eds.), Learning as transformation:
Critical perspectives on a theory in progress (pp. 29-310). San
Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
TOMORROW'S PROFESSOR MAILING LIST
is a shared mission partnership with the
American Association for Higher Education (AAHE) http://www.aahe.org/
The National Teaching and Learning Forum (NT&LF) http://www.ntlf.com/