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Transformational Learning

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Saved by Debra Lee
on June 27, 2009 at 3:35:23 pm

Transformational Learning


Taken from http://www.learningandteaching.info/learning/critical1.htm


No study of adult development would be complete without a discussion of Mezirow's theory of transformational (or transformative) learning. His theory is not without critics, some of whom believe that Mezirow deals too much with the individual and not enough with the social context of learning (Baumgartner, 2001).


Mezirow's view of the purpose of transformational learning is that it can be used to

  • structure how we interpret our experiences
  • structure our learning
  • transform our view of life and events. (Hiemstra, in-class presentation, June 2009)


In order to transform, adults must critically reflect (see chart above) on an action, idea, or event. Merriam (2004) critizes Merzirow for not considering the impact of cognitive development on the theory of transformation. Merriam (2004) argues that "a rather high level of cognitive functioning [is] a prerequisite for transformational learning" (p. 61)[.] Merriam further states "[i]t is my position that critical reflection and reflective discourse assume a certain level of cognitive development, most likely something beyond Piaget's fourth stage of formal operations" (p. 63). Merriam's problem with cognitive ability as it relates to transformative learning is that studies have shown that many adults do not function at higher levels of cognitive ability until their 40s or 50s (2004), so age-dependent issues need to be considered.


Mezirow's response to Merriam defines adult education and transformation:

There is a common recognition that the fully development learner moves through a series of developmental forms to arrive at the highest potential for understanding--the capacity to engage in transformative learning. There is also recognition that this occurs only in adulthood but not in all or even most adults. Capacity, an unrealized potential for transformative learning, is one thing. Another is to help these adults acquire the insight, ability and disposition to realize this potential in their lives. This is the role of adult education (Mezirow, 2004).


Teachers should help adult learners find the capacity to transform. If we took this into account in our course design, then university and workforce training classes might be substantially different.



Baumgartner, L. M. (2001). An update on transformational learning. New Directions for adult and continuing education (89). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.


Merriam, S. B. (2004). The role of cognitive development in Merzirow's transformational learning theory. Adult Education Quarterly, 55, 60-68.


Mezirow, J. (2004). Forum comment on Sharan Merriam's "The role of cognitive development in Mezirow's transformational learning theory."  Adult Education Quarterly, 55, 69-70.


Web Links


     An interesting website that include core principles of the tranformational learning theory.





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