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H E N T   N E W S

Holistic Education Network of Tasmania

 October 18th, 2004         Send this email to a friend

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Issue 12: Transformative Learning

Why Transformative Learning?

Until recently Transformative Learning has largely been the province of adult learning theory. However there are several reasons to consider transformative learning theory and practice for older adolescents in schools and colleges.

Firstly, the transition to adult life often involves personal transformation as students move from a safe school environment to take on complex work, study and social responsibilities.  Transformative learning equips students with the concepts and understanding necessary to make a success of this transition.

Secondly, when students are led to a deeper understanding of concepts and issues their fundamental beliefs and assumptions may be challenged leading to a transformation of perspective or worldview. Students who understand transformative learning may be better able to recognise the common stages of transformative change and have the tools to assist them during this process.

Thirdly, as we ask students to develop critical and reflective thinking skills and encourage them to care about the world around them they may decide that some degree of personal or social transformation is required.  Students will need the tools of transformative learning in order to be effective change agents. Otherwise students may feel disempowered, become pessimistic about the future, fear change, or develop a degree of cynicism towards those who promote change.

Finally, we are living through a period of transformational change in society and culture. Students will be better able to understand and deal with such change if they understand the nature of transformation and the impact it has on individuals, groups, organizations and nations. 

Learning to Think Like an Adult

Mezirow claims that transformative learning leads to greater competence in:

  • mindful learning
  • autonomous learning
  • self-directed learning
  • critical reflection
  • self-knowledge
  • reflective discourse
  • dealing with change, transformation and uncertainty
  • dealing with "meaning perspectives" and worldviews
  • social responsibility
  • decision-making and problem solving

Most, if not all, of these are highly valued in the Tasmanian Essential Learnings, particularly for students in years 9 and 10. They also appear in the current drafts of the Post Year 10 Curriculum Values, Purposes, Outcomes and Learning Statements for Tasmanian colleges.

From Learning to Think Like an Adult in Mezirow, Jack et al. (2000) Learning as Transformation

What is Transformative Learning?

According to Mezirow learning occurs in one of four ways:

  • by elaborating existing frames of reference,
  • by learning new frames of reference,
  • by transforming points of view, or
  • by transforming habits of mind.

And cognitive processing involves three levels:

Books and Internet

Books on Transformative Learning

The Transformative Learning Centre

  1. First Order Thinking - compute, memorise, read and comprehend

  2. Metacognition - monitoring progress and products of first order thinking

  3. Transformative Learning - reflecting on the limits of knowledge, the certainty of knowledge, and the criteria for knowing.  Emerges in late adolescents.

Transformative learning therefore involves the transformation of frames of reference (points of view, habits of mind, worldviews) and critical reflection on how we come to know. From Mezirow:

“Transformation theory's focus is on how we learn to negotiate and act on our own purposes, values, feelings, and meanings rather than those we have uncritically assimilated from others -- to gain greater control over our lives as socially responsible, clear thinking decision makers.”

“... we transform frames of reference -- our own and those of others -- by becoming critically reflective them of their assumptions and aware of their context…  Assumptions on which habits of mind and related points of view are predicated may be epistemological, logical, ethical, psychological, ideological, social, cultural, economic, political, ecological, scientific, or spiritual, or may pertain to other aspects of experience.”

"Transformative learning refers to transforming a problematic frame of reference to make it more dependable ... by generating opinions and interactions that are more justified. We become critically reflective of those beliefs that become problematic.”

Ref. Mezirow, Jack et al. (2000) Learning as Transformation

Phases of Transformation

Personal transformations often follow  the following phases:

  1. Experiencing a disorientating dilemma, paradox, enigma or anomaly
  2. Feelings of fear, anger, guilt, or shame
  3. Questioning one's assumptions
  4. Recognising the need for personal transformation
  5. Exploring new roles, relationships and actions
  6. Planning a course of action
  7. Acquiring new knowledge and skills
  8. Provisional trying of new roles
  9. Building confidence in new roles and relationships
  10. A re-integration of a new perspective into one's life

Ref. Mezirow, Jack et al. (2000) Learning as Transformation

"Letting Go" and "Letting Come"

Peter Senge in Presence has some interesting things to say about the transformation of organizations. He talks about the importance of first transforming our perceptions so that we can experience the whole - sensing. Then we must go through a period of letting go of historical processes before moving to a state of presencing where an expanded sense of self takes time to reflect. There is then a process of letting come where we allow new processes to become realized, often spontaneously, as we envision, enact and embody new processes and structures.

Attempts to cut across the U can result in new processes and structures that are unsustainable or undesirable because they were conceived by an 'old self'. A successful transformation then requires us to be comfortable with a journey of uncertainty where future details remain unknown until we are ready to envision them through new eyes. Source: www.pegasuscom.com/presencereview.html

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