Transformative Learning: Part 1, An Overview

October 16, 2009

You may have noticed that I’m presenting a paper in November at the 8th International Transformative Learning Conference. You might be wondering: What exactly is transformative learning? How is it different from other types of learning? How can I use it to achieve business and performance results in my organization?

Let me answer these questions by, first, posing one to you.

Have you ever been presented with a situation that caused you to critically question your assumptions and expectations?

If so, you’ve experienced the first steps in the transformative learning process. There are 10 steps to transformation:

  1. Experiencing a disorienting dilemma
  2. Engaging in self-examination
  3. Assessing internalized assumptions; making assumptions more permeable
  4. Relating to others; recognizing the problem is shared
  5. Exploring options for new ways of being
  6. Planning for action
  7. Acquiring knowledge and skills to implement the action plan
  8. Trying out new roles; assessing them
  9. Building competence
  10. Reintegrating into life with the new perspective

You’ll notice that knowledge and skill building are part of the transformative learning process. However, transformative learning is more than the acquisition of knowledge and skills. Transformative learning is about shifting mindsets, changing perspectives, and interpreting the world through a new lens.

Transformative learning was originated by Jack Mezirow in the late 1970s and has advanced as a theoretical framework in adult education over the past thirty years. To learn more about transformative learning, check out these books: Transformative dimensions of adult learning by Jack Mezirow, and “Learning to think like an adult: Core concepts of transformation theory” in Learning as transformation: Critical perspectives on a theory in progress.

So now that you know what transformative learning is, you’re probably wondering how it applies to learning in today’s organizations. I’ll be covering that in Part 2 of this series, “Applying Transformative Learning.”

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