The overall focus of this paper is the importance of being able to understand the meaning of our own experiences as they are validated by us, not as they are validated by other people – to be autonomous thinkers. According to Mezirow (1997) this is the definition of adult education. Within adult education there must be elements of transformational learning in order for adults to develop their ability to think for themselves and trust themselves. This builds confidence and self-trust and can be an empowering experience.
“Transformational learning is the process of effecting change in a frame of reference” (Mezirow, 1991, 1995, 1996; Cranton, 1994, 1996, as cited in Mezirow, 1997, p. 5). This process refers to creating change in pre-set associations, concepts, values, feelings, and conditioned responses that are already attached to the way adult learners think and perceive the world around them.
It is important in today’s working society that adults know how to make their own interpretations. It is equally important that adults engage each other in conversations about competing interpretations as this process helps adults to learn more and gain confidence about expressing their own ideas. This is how as a society we build collective beliefs and ideas. It is also important to note that the more information that is gathered on a topic the greater the likelihood of change regarding the interpretation of that topic. With additional information adult learners have the ability to critically reflect on what they know about the topic. In some cases the new information can cause a transformation within a learner’s point of view and possibly impact their frame of reference.
This works through the Four Processes of Learning:
- Elaborate on existing point of view
- Establish new points of view
- Transform old point of view
- Become aware, and critically reflect on our biases.
This process happens best when we are learning outside of our comfort zones. We become more exposed to transformational learning when we step outside of what we already know to be true.
As we grow older our minds become more aware and more critical, better able to recognize frames of reference, and imagine alternatives. We also become more responsible and more effective at working with others. This is important for learning in adulthood because learning is a social process and the better able we are to talk about our ideas the better able we are for learning new things.
The workforce of the 21st century requires employees that are able to adapt, change, be critical and flexible, as well as be able to make decisions. It is imperative that the workforce today be able to think for themselves. They must be critically reflective and able to talk with others about their ideas and beliefs. We need people who will not just trust what authority figures believe to be right and true. We need people who will challenge the status quo, who are able to critically examine situations, and who are able to effectively communicate and discuss their ideas without the fear of not being validated by peers and employers.
I never thought about how transformational learning has the ability to prepare adult learners for work in the 21st century. Showing people how to open up their minds as well as their own assumptions and then think critically about why they believe what they believe is a powerful concept.
How are my assumptions true?
How are my assumptions not true?
Asking ourselves these questions opens us up for a transformational experience. This is especially true in situations when an already well-developed idea or belief is being examined. Sometimes even just reframing the way we believe can have an impact on our overall understanding.
It is the responsibility of adult educators to create a learning environment where learners can grow into autonomous thinkers, develop critical reflection skills, and practice discourse. The best way to create this environment is to include the following:
- Learning Contracts
- Group Projects
- Role Play
- Case Studies
- Actively Engage Learners
- Critical Incidents
- Metaphor Analysis
- Concept Mapping
- Consciousness Raising
- Life Histories
- Repertory Grids
- Participation in Social Action
The role of the educator is to challenge learners to think about how or why they think the way they do. Through this process the educator becomes a facilitator and each learner takes turns leading the class through discourse. It is important that there be little to no hierarchy in terms of authority in this learning environment.
This article has helped me to realize the importance of transformational learning within workforce education today. I never thought about transformational learning as having an impact on how employees view their jobs, their voice, their beliefs, and their ideas.
I also learned about the process in which transformational learning takes place. It is helpful to know that autonomous thinking, critical reflection, and discourse are the key components in transformational experiences. It is also helpful to have a list of class exercises that can be used to facilitate these components and give learners an opportunity to engage with each other.
Frame of Reference:
- Structures of assumptions through which we understand our experiences
- Selectively shape and delimit expectations, perceptions, cognition, and feeling
- Composed of two dimensions: Habit of Mind & A Point of View
- Result of cultural assimilation or ideals of primary caregivers
Habits of Mind:
- Broad, abstract, orienting, habitual ways of thinking, feeling, and acting influenced by assumptions that constitute a set of codes
- Codes may be cultural, social, educational, economic, political, or psychological
- Durable and hard to change
- Example: Ethnocentrism
Point of View:
- The constellation of belief, value judgement, attitude, and feeling that shapes a particular interpretation
- Example: Feelings, beliefs, judgements, and attitudes we have regarding specific individuals or groups
- Learning to manipulate or control the environment or other people to enhance efficacy in improving performance.
- May involved empirical testing.
- Learning to enhance one’s impression on others, to present one-self.
- Learning oriented to common values and a normative sense of entitlement (members of the group are entitled to expect certain behaviour).
- Learning to understand the meaning of what is being communicated.
- Involves at least two persons striving to reach an understanding of the meaning of an interpretation or the justification for a belief.
- Involves researching a consensus (ideally)
- Understanding: Purpose, values, beliefs, and feelings – less amenable to empirical tests
- Critical reflection
Question to consider:
- In what situation(s) does transformational learning not work?
Cranton, P. (1994). Understanding and promoting transformative learning: A guide for educators of adults. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Cranton, P. (1996). Professional development as transformative learning: New perspectives for teachers of adults. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Mezirow, J. (1991). Transformative dimensions of adult learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Mezirow, J. (1995). Transformative theory of adult learning. In M. Welton (ed.), In Defense of the Lifeworld. Albany: State University of New York Press.
Mezirow, J. (1996) Contemporary paradigms of learning. Adult Education Quarterly, 46(3), 158–172.
Mezirow, J. (1997). Transformative learning: Theory to practice. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, no. 74 (pp. 5-12). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. http://www.ecolas.eu/content/images/Mezirow%20Transformative%20Learning.pdf
- Lindy Garneau, The Professor’s Apprentice