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Transformative Learning

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:

  • First Order Thinking - compute, memorise, read and comprehend

  • Metacognition - monitoring progress and products of first order thinking

  • 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


Do we need to be more explicit about 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 students (particularly adolescents) in schools and colleges.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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. 


Books on Transformative Education and Learning


The Transformative Learning Centre The Transformative Learning Centre is based at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT).

The Earth Charter Initiative

The mission of the Earth Charter Initiative is to promote the transition to sustainable ways of living and a global society founded on a shared ethical framework that includes respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, universal human rights, respect for diversity, economic justice, democracy, and a culture of peace.

HENT NEWS ARCHIVE Issue 12: Transformative Learning




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Last Update January 13, 2011