Transformative Learning

Transformative Learning

Victor X. Wang (California State University Long Beach, USA)
Copyright: © 2008 |Pages: 5
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-59904-881-9.ch143


Mention of transformative learning immediately reminds scholars and learners of its chief proponent, Jack Mezirow, who is Emeritus Professor of Adult and Continuing Education, Teachers College, Columbia University, Former Chairman, Department of Higher and Adult Education, and Director for Adult Education. It was Mezirow who popularized the theory of transformative learning in the early 1980s. Mezirow’s theory is such that individuals’ meaning perspectives are transformed through a process of construing and appropriating new or revised interpretations of the meaning of an experience as a guide to awareness, feeling, and action (Jarvis, 2002, p. 188). Later, scholars such as Cranton and King, expanded this theory of transformative learning by publishing two more books in this area. Cranton (1994) published a book titled Understanding and Promoting Transformative Learning. King (2005) published another titled Bringing Transformative Learning to Life. Both books, including Mezirow’s original books, have greatly enhanced the theory in the field of adult learning.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Transformation: Transformation refers to pervasive forms of development that occur in every culture as an aspect of every rite of passage in the grand movements from one social paradigm to the next. All transformations have a beginning, a middle, and an end. There are conditions that support changes, processes that initiate them, and ones that complete the changes. Typically, a transformation is considered irreversible, although there are conditions that drive a situation back to an earlier form. Transformation is a possibility in the mind of every social revolution and the awakening of consciousness that gives meaning to life for many people.

Sagehood: Sagehood is defined as striving to become a genuine human being who through self-transformation, a kind of inner illumination, realizes not only the moral goodness that is intrinsic to human nature but also the cosmic creativity that embraces the universe in its entirety ( Tu, 1979 ). In this journey, the “rectification of the mind” is a crucial step to extending knowledge of the self (Confucius, 500BCEc). The rectification of the mind is the phrase used to refer to the meditative practice that cultivates and furthers the devotee’s pursuit of self-control and integration with nature. Based on the philosophy and teachings of The Great Learning, self-directed learning is the primary adult learning method used in the quest to become fully human or a sage.

Transformative Learning: It often refers to the theory of reflectivity as it is currently used in Europe. The key concept in transformative learning is critical reflection. According to its chief proponent, Jack Mezirow, individuals’ meaning perspectives are transformed through a process of construing and appropriating new or revised interpretations of the meaning of an experience as a guide to awareness, feeling, and action. Transformative learning can simply be explained as learners making sense or meaning of their experiences. Both inner experience and external situations are important to critical reflection. However, the chief proponent of this theory was primarily interested in perspective transformation, which may lead to change in cognitive domain, affective domain, and psychomotor domain of learning. Transformative learning became popular in North America since its inception in the early 1980s. More and more universities in North America offer a course in this area. It is said that the theory has been applied to various groups of learners although it has been criticized for lack of social attention. Transformative learning was later expanded by scholars such as Patricia Cranton in Canada and Kathleen P. King in the United States. Finally, Wang and King (2006 , 2007 ) made a connection between Mezirow’s transformative learning and Confucianism by publishing a journal article and a book chapter. Despite criticisms, the theory of transformative learning has remained a useful and powerful theory in the field of adult learning and it does help explain how learners achieve perspective transformation via its three types and seven levels of reflectivity. The three types and seven levels of reflectivity do not deviate very far from Confucianism, which emphasizes silent reflection and the rectification of the mind in order to reach sagehood.

Jack Mezirow: He was professor of adult education and former chairman in Teacher’s College, Columbia University in New York. He is the major exponent of transformative learning theory. His extensive research involved 83 women returning to community colleges. His theory was based upon Habermasian critical theory and Freire’s interpretation of Marxist socialism. The theory of transformative learning is considered an important development of adult education theory. Mezirow’s research sparked subsequent research in this area and he still continues to write articles and books in an effort to expand and popularize this theory.

Marx: Karl Heinrich Marx (1818 AU7: The in-text citation "Karl Heinrich Marx (1818" is not in the reference list. Please correct the citation, add the reference to the list, or delete the citation. - 1883 AU8: The in-text citation "Heinrich Marx (1883" is not in the reference list. Please correct the citation, add the reference to the list, or delete the citation. ) was a German philosopher, political economist, and revolutionary. Marx addressed a wide range of issues; he is most famous for his analysis of history, summed up in the opening line of the introduction to the Communist Manifesto: “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.” Marx believed that the downfall of capitalism was inevitable, and that it would be replaced by communism. Marx has a big following in communist countries such as the former Soviet Union, China, Cuba, North Korea, and Vietnam. As most countries have turned a market economy, his influence has dwindled to a certain extent. As a scholar, Marx has influenced learners. His socialism has inspired Jack Mezirow who successfully advanced the theory of transformative learning.

Confucius: Confucius (551 – 479 BC), Chinese “Master Kong,” but most frequently referred to as Kongzi, was a famous Chinese thinker and social philosopher, whose teachings and philosophy have deeply influenced East Asian life and thought. His philosophy emphasized personal and governmental morality, correctness of social relationships, justice, and sincerity. These values gained prominence in China over other doctrines, such as Legalism or Daoism during the Han Dynasty. Confucius’s thoughts have been developed into a system of philosophy known as Confucianism. His teachings are known primarily through the Analects of Confucius, a collection of “brief aphoristic fragments,” which was compiled many years after his death. Modern historians do not believe that any specific documents can be said to have been written by Confucius, but for nearly 2,000 years he was thought to be the editor or author of all the Five Classics such as the Classic of Rites (editor), and the Spring and Autumn Annals (author). From his books, one can tell that Confucius launched the theory of transformative learning 25 centuries ago in China. He taught his followers to be authentic human beings and he emphasized “silent reflection” and “the rectification of the mind,” and “one’s inner experience.” These concepts are closely related to Mezirow’s “critical reflection” in the theory of transformative learning.

Knowles: Malcolm Knowles (1913-1997 AU6: The in-text citation "Malcolm Knowles (1913-1997" is not in the reference list. Please correct the citation, add the reference to the list, or delete the citation. ) is considered by many the father of adult education. He was an American adult educator who had popularized andragogy by publishing numerous journal articles and books. He was also executive director of the Adult Education Association of the United States of America, and thereafter a professor of adult education for several universities. He died at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville where he was a professor of adult education. Knowles is one of the most frequently quoted authors in the field of adult education.

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