Transformative Learning

Transformative Learning

Kathleen P. King (Fordham University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-59904-883-3.ch128
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Abstract

Given the broad spectrum of life experience as we reach adulthood, our learning histories, abilities and preferences are as varied as we are. Thus emerges the field of “adult learning.” In addition to these many variations of experiences, this field of education and human resource development also recognizes that there is the infinite multiplier of the many contexts within which adults live and work to further variegate their learning experiences. With such a perspective of human experience, a framework with which to understand and appreciate the differences, developments, and process of learning adults may experience can guide consideration and development of training, teaching, learning, and professional growth. Transformative learning offers one such guide as a prominent and open-ended theory of adult learning. This theory of learning is consistent with the stark realization that our world and work are changing more rapidly than that to which we can adjust. Transformative learning helps us as those interested in HRIS to better understand the process through which adults address new information and views that do not smoothly articulate with their current understanding. Dramatic transformations face organizational leaders and support staff and entire organizations frequently. They are clearly evident and recalled staff and leaders alike whether organizations are facing the introduction of a new vision, adapting to a changing organizational culture, coping with economic hardship, or being forced to re-examine their mission and purpose (Altman, 1998; Caudron, 2000; Waldersee, 1997). What is the impact of such shared experience? Are there common stages of experience? And how can human resource information specialists benefit from and use the perspective of transformative learning to support significant learning within our organizations? This chapter will briefly begin to answer to these questions by introducing transformative learning theory, the background research, and trends related to it. Based on many years of adult learning research and theory building across many contexts, transformative learning has only come to the field of human resources information systems recently.
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Introduction

Given the broad spectrum of life experience as we reach adulthood, our learning histories, abilities and preferences are as varied as we are. Thus emerges the field of “adult learning.” In addition to these many variations of experiences, this field of education and human resource development also recognizes that there is the infinite multiplier of the many contexts within which adults live and work to further variegate their learning experiences.

With such a perspective of human experience, a framework with which to understand and appreciate the differences, developments, and process of learning adults may experience can guide consideration and development of training, teaching, learning, and professional growth. Transformative learning offers one such guide as a prominent and open-ended theory of adult learning.

This theory of learning is consistent with the stark realization that our world and work are changing more rapidly than that to which we can adjust. Transformative learning helps us as those interested in HRIS to better understand the process through which adults address new information and views that do not smoothly articulate with their current understanding.

Dramatic transformations face organizational leaders and support staff and entire organizations frequently. They are clearly evident and recalled staff and leaders alike whether organizations are facing the introduction of a new vision, adapting to a changing organizational culture, coping with economic hardship, or being forced to re-examine their mission and purpose (Altman, 1998; Caudron, 2000; Waldersee, 1997). What is the impact of such shared experience? Are there common stages of experience? And how can human resource information specialists benefit from and use the perspective of transformative learning to support significant learning within our organizations?

This chapter will briefly begin to answer to these questions by introducing transformative learning theory, the background research, and trends related to it. Based on many years of adult learning research and theory building across many contexts, transformative learning has only come to the field of human resources information systems recently.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Emancipatory Learning: That learning which includes students examining what brought them to the point of examining and questioning the positions, values and/or power of not only themselves, but also of their groups or societies ( Freire, 1970 ). Transformative learning is an example of emancipatory learning which may, but not always, focus on freedom from personal rather than societal constraints.

Disorienting Dilemma: An experience within which a current understanding is found to be insufficient or incorrect and the learner struggles with the resulting conflict of views. Such experiences often are those to which learners point as the beginning of the process of questioning their understanding and views and entering the transformative learning process ( Mezirow, 1991 ). This disorienting dilemma is also sometimes descriptively referred to as creating a state of “disequilibrium” for the learner.

Perspective Transformation: The process through which adult learners develop different frames of understanding and action, which results from a transformative learning experience ( Mezirow, 1978 ).

Critical Reflection: Learners engage in questioning their understanding or experience by exploring the underlying meaning, assumptions, and implications ( Brookfield, 1990 ). Critical thinking might include examining why they think the way they do, alternate viewpoints, and perspectives, and reconsidering their values, assumptions, and/or beliefs. Critical reflection is the core skill and task that drives emancipatory and transformative learning.

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