Transformative Learning – PIDP 3100 Course Journal Category Three

“Some strategies for engaging in critical reflection possibly leading to transformative learning are modelling and peer learning, storytelling and dialogue, coaching , and action learning conversations.” (p.93).

The quote above has inspired me to look in to the theory of transformative learning for the first time.

“Transformative learning theory says that the process of “perspective transformation” has three dimensions: psychological (changes in understanding of the self), convictional (revision of belief systems), and behavioural (changes in lifestyle)” (2015, Wikipedia).

Informational learning is learning that adds to what we already know and accumulates over time; whereas transformational learning changes HOW we know something.

Much of what we learn as adults just adds to our knowledge base but doesn’t change us. Transformative learning happens when we have a dramatic life-changing experience where we transform our thoughts, habits, opinions to make them more “inclusive, discriminating, open, emotionally capable of change, and reflective so that they may generate beliefs and opinions that will prove more true or justified to guide actions (Mezirow, 2000, p. 8).

Some examples of experiences that set the transformational learning process in motion are: having a child, getting married, death of a loved one, graduating from high school or university, winning the lottery, losing your job, being diagnosed with a life-threatening illness…you get the idea.

What caught my attention about this quote were the words “critical reflection” which I have recently discovered plays a huge role in the (successful) learning process, for me personally.

This quote made me realize that much of what students learn in the post-secondary environment is likely informational – and that it probably takes something much more dramatic and personal for transformational learning to occur.

I immediately wondered: Have I ever inspired this type of learning in my students? And, how can I make “transformative learning” happen in my teaching practice?

Here are a few ideas:

Autobiographical Reflection
In order to relate the learning to one’s personal values, I could assign an “autobiographical reflection” where students are asked to reflect upon their past and relate it to the course or discipline. Not only will they become more aware of their own beliefs, values, attitudes, and biases – the learning will also become more personal, relevant and meaningful.

Dyadic Interview
Another activity I could assign is a “dyadic interview” where one pair of students interviews another “asking questions that address individual values, attitudes, beliefs, and prior experience as these relate to course content or learning goals” (2010, Barkley, p. 305). This activity bridges the gap between the academic and real world. Students may benefit by listening to personal experiences shared by classmates in relation to the course concepts.

Circular Response
One last activity that could inspire transformational learning is a “circular response. ” In this activity “students sit in a circle and take turns expressing their thoughts in response to an instructor-designated prompt…this helps students learn to listen to others…integrate what they hear in to their current understandings, and use the new insight for the basis if their own ideas” (2010, Barley, p. 310). Before each student begins their remarks, they summarize what the person before them said.

I know that I have had transformational learning experiences in my own life (marriage, divorce, inspiring mentors, job loss, education) but never really had the learning “vocabulary” to describe how these experiences were different from other learning.

The quote above reinforces my belief in the social cognitive learning theory which “highlights the idea that much human learning occurs in a social environment. By observing others, people acquire knowledge, rules, skills, strategies, beliefs, and attitudes” (Schunk, 1996. p. 102).

My “aha moment” when reading this quote and exploring this concept was that I could make transformative learning occur in my classroom when using the right tools such as storytelling, modelling, coach and action-learning conversations.

What’s more, I don’t always have to be the one talking, or lecturing, or searching for the life-changing story or experience needed to inspire transformative learning! In adult education, the students already have a vast amount of life experience, and by facilitating activities where the tools above can be put in to play in the classroom – I can facilitate transformative learning!

Now that I understand the concept of transformational learning, I can incorporate activities in the classroom to make it happen.

As an instructor, I want my students to walk away from my courses with a certain amount of applicable “informational” knowledge. That being said, I want the experience to be more meaningful then just a bunch of information. I want them to walk away changed – with a new perspective on the course concepts and area of study.

Each of the activities noted above may assist in achieving transformational learning (a.k.a. “the holy grail of learning”) in the educational environment.

Transformative learning. (n.d.). Retrieved April 21, 2015, from

Merriam, S. & Bierema, L. (2014). Adult Learning – Linking Theory and Practice. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. (2014). Retrieved from

Barkley, E. (2010). Student engagement techniques: A handbook for college faculty. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.


About robincookbondy

My name is Robin Cook Bondy and I live in Ladner, BC with my husband and three sons. I am a communications and public relations professional pursuing further education in the area of adult learning.
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