Transformative Learning in the Workplace

Transformative Learning in the Workplace

Patricia Cranton (University of New Brunswick, Canada) and Ellen Carusetta (University of New Brunswick, Canada)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-5780-9.ch062
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Using two silent-dialogue scenarios as a basis for discussion, this chapter provides an overview of how workplace learning can be framed by transformative learning theory. Based on the literature on workplace learning, the authors review the primary kinds of workplace learning that can be found in diverse workplace contexts. In contrast to the debates occurring in adult education about what is and what is not transformative learning, here they suggest that each kind of workplace learning has the potential to be a transformative learning experience. The chapter concludes with a discussion of paradoxes and implications. In this chapter the authors explore the nature of workplace learning from the perspective of transformative learning theory. In order to do this, they present two scenarios, one related to employer-sponsored learning in the workplace, and one related to leadership development facilitated by an external consultant. For each scenario, the authors use a silent dialogue—revealing the thoughts of the educator as the scenario unfolds, and the thoughts of one of the participants during the same timeframe. The silent dialogues reveal the conflicts and issues inherent in the scenarios. Drawing on the literature on workplace learning, the chapter provides an overview of kinds of workplace learning, and then analyzes the first scenario. This is followed by the presentation of the second scenario and an analysis of that scenario, next turning to transformative learning theory, and using that framework to better understand the kinds of workplace learning and how they can be transformative. The chapter discusses the paradoxes inherent in applying transformative learning theory to workplace learning and lists some implications for practice, theory development, and research.
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First Scenario

Employer-Sponsored Learning in the Workplace (Silent Dialogue)

  • Educator:It is with great anticipation that I have been planning a three-day workshop for faculty on how to use a new course management platform. I am excited about having this opportunity. I think I have covered everything, though it seems difficult to get all of the details of this platform thoroughly covered in just three days. I know that some of the participants will have little experience with online teaching and learning, while others tend to take every workshop we offer. I’ll have to find the right balance between the two. I hope I am prepared for that.

  • Learner:Perhaps this workshop will actually be useful. It is bad enough that we are forced to take professional development workshops; it is worse when they waste my time which could be better spent planning lessons or grading papers. Since I teach online, I might as well go to the workshop. I’m not sure I’ll learn anything new, but at least it won’t tax my brain.

  • Educator:First day. The room is buzzing in the morning. We have a computer lab for the workshop, so everyone will be behind a computer and will be able to follow along, doing the same thing that I am projecting from my computer. Lots of people seem to know each other from prior workshops, but there seems to be about one-third of the group that do not know anyone (they sit quietly by themselves). There are twenty or twenty-five people in the room. I have a colleague to assist with helping people who need individual instruction. The “old pros” in the room start asking very technical questions, and I respond to some of these, but then I realize this may be intimidating for those who are unfamiliar with online teaching, so I hand out the agenda for the three days and quickly move into the first item, which is an overview of how software for an online course platform works.

  • Learner:My goodness, what a mix of people. Did they really have to put all these people who haven’t got a clue in with those of us who know what we are doing? At least the teacher recognizes what is happening. It is interesting that she handed out the agenda just as all the questions started flying. I always like to keep my students guessing. The agenda really starts with the basics. I suppose I could read some papers while she goes through this section or I could help the guy with the blank look on his face sitting next to me. I have no idea who he is or any of the others for that matter. Introductions would have been nice. One of the good things about these workshops is talking to colleagues from other places. And, if the teacher had asked, she might have understood the mix she’s got in her group.

  • Educator:After about half an hour, I ask everyone to login and go to the course site. To my astonishment, there are at least two people, maybe more, who don’t seem to know how to do this. The old pros are already scanning through the course site and looking at the options and resources, but some are stuck on a blank screen or unsure of what to do next. I go to help one, and my assistant goes to help another. Others in the group start checking their e-mail and looking up unrelated things. I had not expected this. I ask one person if he can help another person get logged in, but he is reluctant to abandon his e-mail. Finally, we all get on the same page. But the timing of my agenda is now off. I’ll have to speed up the next part, or perhaps shorten the morning break.

  • Learner:Login – really? – I’ve already gone through the course. I guess if I’m not going to learn anything new, I could at least help my seat mate. From the timing of the agenda, we are way off. We had better not lose our break. I missed breakfast and I am starving.

  • Educator:Ok, here goes. I’m going to take everyone through the basics of the platform. I ask everyone to watch closely what I do and to do the same thing as I am doing. I show them the file manager, the grade book, quizzes, chat, discussion forums, all of the basic tools. Then I show them how to set up a content module for a course they will be teaching, and I ask them to do this. I can’t see their screens, as they are sitting in rows in front of me, so I walk around a little. It seems that most people are going through the screens I have shown, though a few are several screens behind.

  • Learner:It seems the teacher is not going to consider those of us with experience. She continues to work from the lowest level. This is a waste of my time. If I did not need this workshop I’d leave after break.

  • Educator:End of the day at last. I am exhausted. Some people left after lunch. Others left during the afternoon break. They didn’t say why they were leaving. If these instructors want to participate in the pilot study of this software, they need to present a certificate that they completed the workshop, so I am not sure what to do about that. I’ll see what happens tomorrow, I guess. At the end of the afternoon, there was quite a clamor of instructors around me and my assistant. They were mostly those with a lot of experience wanting more technical information. I stayed behind for about an hour, then drove the two hours home. I need to think about what I should do for the next two days.

  • Learner:I think a group of us gave the teacher something to think about. We really don’t want to spend our time doing things we already know. Hopefully she will be able to come up with a plan so that we can learn something too.

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