This is a book summary of Understanding and Promoting Transformative Learning: A Guide to Theory and Practice by Patricia Cranton (Amazon).
- All content in quotation marks is from the author (content not in quotations is paraphrased).
- All content is organized into my own themes (not necessarily the authors’ chapters).
- Emphasis has been added in bold for readability/skimmability.
Book Summary Contents:
- Adult & Transformative Learning (+ Infographic)
- Causes, Process, & Outcomes of Transformation
- Importance of Reflection
Transform Your Mind: Understanding and Promoting Transformative Learning by Patricia Cranton (Book Summary)
Adult & Transformative Learning
Interest in transformative learning has spiraled since Jack Mezirow’s (1978, 1981) early works on perspective transformation, and interest continues to grow as the theory itself is changing, developing, and incorporating a variety of perspectives.
Historically, adult education has been seen as a political movement—a movement toward freedom and liberation that is both personal and social.
- is often considered voluntary (this leads to the assumption that people are highly motivated and interested in a content that is relevant to their needs, which may or may not be true).
- is often described as self-directed (a certain amount of self-direction is required for an individual to take the steps of moving into a critical questioning of beliefs, assumptions, and perspectives).
- is particularly collaborative and participatory.
- are mature, socially responsible individuals who participate in sustained informal or formal activities.
- acquire new (and elaborate on existing) knowledge, skills, or values.
- change the way they see some aspect of themselves or the world around them.
- revise their basic beliefs and assumptions.
- share their experiences and resources with each other to create new knowledge.
Facets of Self-Direction:
Transformative learning theory is based on a constructivist view of the world. In the constructivist view, people participate in the construction of reality, and this construction occurs within a context that influences it … Meaning is seen to exist within ourselves, not in external forms. We develop or construct personal meaning from our experience and validate it through interaction and communication with others. What we make of the world is a result of our perceptions of our experiences.
- is a process of examining, questioning, validating, and revising our perspectives (can be rational (cognitive), extrarational (intuitive, spiritual, relational, and emotional), and/or focused on social change/justice).
- questions, reconsiders, and revises previously uncritically assimilated assumptions, beliefs, values, and perspectives (our habitual expectations are the product of experiences, and it is those expectations that are called into question; when people critically examine their habitual expectations, revise them, and act on the revised point of view, transformative learning occurs).
- examines problematic frames of reference (frames of reference are made up of points of view (a cluster of habitual, implicit assumptions we use to interpret experience) and habits of mind).
- leads to habits of mind becoming more open, more permeable, more reflective, more inclusive, more discriminating, better justified/validated, and integrative of experience (a habit of mind is a way of seeing the world based on our background, experience, culture, and personality; broad predispositions that we use to interpret experience).
- involves a deep shift in perspective and leads to a way of seeing the world that is more open (but we cannot say what kind of a learning experience will promote this shift in perspective in any person or any context).
- leads to a changed self-perception (questioning our previously held views about ourselves and the world around us; when people revise their habits of mind, they are reinterpreting their sense of self in relation to the world; frees people from constraints and is a liberating experience).
- makes meaning out of experiences (meaning is seen to exist within ourselves, not in external forms; we develop or construct personal meaning from our experience and validate it through interaction and communication with others).
- takes place in a multiplicity of contexts (stimulated by different types of events).
- involves learner empowerment (learner empowerment is both a goal of and a condition for transformative learning; an empowered learner is able to fully and freely engage in critical reflection, participate in discourse, and act on revised perspectives).
- involves discourse with others (considers alternative perspectives and determines their validity; sees our points of view from the perspectives of others which opens us up to critical questioning; dialogue and support play vital roles in helping individuals maintain a good sense of self during a time when they may be making unsettling changes in the way they see themselves).
Causes, Process, & Outcomes of Transformation
Perspective transformation is a structural reorganization in the way that a person looks at himself and his relationships.
Causes of transformation:
When a person encounters something that does not fit with his or her expectations of how things should be based on past experience, the choices are to reject the unexpected or to question the expectation.
- provoked by a single dramatic event (epochal, disorienting dilemma that may be unexpected, hurtful, or devastating), a series of almost unnoticed cumulative events that occur gradually over time (incremental), a deliberate conscious effort to make a change in one’s life, and/or the natural developmental progression of becoming more mature (people may not always deliberately set out to critically question their beliefs and values; the transformative experience may be a flash of insight (a profoundly moving moment in which a person’s view of himself or herself and the world is changed), or it may be a slow unfolding of the creative process revealed nonverbally (moving from tacit to explicit); even if the precipitating event is abrupt, it seems to be followed by a process of unfolding, including critical reflection, discourse, and a conscious revision of assumptions).
- life crises can challenge individuals to reconsider their values, expectations, moral positions, or self-concept (a loved one dying, a marriage breaking up, losing a job, experiencing financial ruin, receiving a promotion, entering retirement, completing a years-long project; traumatic crises may not lead to critical self-reflection if the person feels disempowered by the event or it just may take some time for reflection to be possible; people respond in different ways to potentially disorienting events based on the content of the event, the circumstances under which it is encountered, the place where a person is in life, and psychological type preferences).
- encountering an unexpected/contradictory perspective that challenges previously accepted knowledge, leads us to question what we thought we knew, and calls prior habits of mind into question (we tend to accept, without question, knowledge acquired from sources like teachers, doctors, writers, and religious authorities, and that knowledge becomes embedded as an uncritically assimilated habit of mind; habits of mind are uncritically absorbed from our families, community, and culture; unquestioned habits of mind may be a product of cognitive development, strong societal values, and personal experiences or traumas in childhood; they tend to remain unquestioned unless we encounter an alternative perspective that we cannot ignore from a book, a film, a poem, artwork, a discussion with others, an unusual or tragic event, a change in work context, a sudden insight, etc).
- unbearable social conditions (Viktor Frankl has shown us we can achieve transformation under any conditions; a person who is oppressed, in need of shelter or food, depressed, or feeling trapped in his or her circumstances may not be able to respond to events in a potentially transformative way).
There are several possibilities:
- A traumatic event that initiates a careful, reasoned exploration of values and beliefs and leads to a changed perspective.
- A traumatic event that lies dormant for a long period of time and only gradually leads a person to change.
- A deeply felt, positive experience or series of positive experiences that leads to a questioning of either personal habits of mind or perspectives on the world.
- A sudden, disturbing experience that leads to an immediate and nonrational switch in beliefs.
- A gradual, unnoticed, and perhaps not entirely conscious process of change over time that is recognized only in retrospect.
- A series of small life changes, none of which are dramatic in themselves, but that lead cumulatively to a revision in a habit of mind over time.
- A deliberate, conscious effort over time to change oneself and the way one sees the world.
Process of transformation:
Mezirow (1978, 1991) described a process of personal perspective transformation that included 10 phases:
- Experiencing a disorienting dilemma.
- Undergoing self-examination.
- Conducting a critical assessment of internalized assumptions and feeling a sense of alienation from traditional social expectations.
- Relating discontent to the similar experiences of others—recognizing that the problem is shared.
- Exploring options for new ways of acting.
- Building competence and self-confidence in new roles.
- Planning a course of action.
- Acquiring the knowledge and skills for implementing a new course of action.
- Trying out new roles and assessing them.
- Reintegrating into society with the new perspective.
Outcomes of transformation:
There is no way that an educator (or anyone else) can ensure that transformative learning takes place. Learners must decide to undergo the process themselves; otherwise, we are venturing into indoctrination, manipulation, and coercion.
- revision of habits of mind and acquisition of perspectives that are more open, permeable, and better justified (sometimes people question, reflect, and discuss, but do not experience any fundamental changes as a result of this process).
- when one has acted on the learning (acting differently; acting on learning or “transfer of learning” is often described as the goal of education; the outcome should be action, but the learning process need not be experiential).
- structural change (in the individual’s way of seeing himself or herself and the world, and also in the social world that provides the context for the individual’s life; experiencing a deep shift in worldview).
- emergence of the Self (“Self” as opposed to “self” to indicate the whole of the psychological construct that represents the psyche both conscious and unconscious; having a deeper self-awareness).
The Importance of Reflection
Reflection is a key concept in transformative learning theory. In adult education generally, reflective thinking is a goal of learning. Reflection on experience is a necessary part of learning, but the process itself may be driven by critical self-reflection, exploration, and intuition with no further reference to the world outside of the self.
Takes the form of: Why is this important to me? Why do I care about this in the first place? What difference does this make? Why is this a problem anyway?
- examination of the premise or basis of a problem (when the problem itself is questioned).
- has the potential to lead people to the transformation of a habit of mind (engages learners in seeing themselves and the world in a different way).
Critical reflection & critical self-reflection:
People have the choice of being critically self-reflective or not.
- reconsidering experience through reason (and reinterpreting and generalizing the experience to form mental structures).
- active, persistent, and careful consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge (in the light of the grounds that support it and the further conclusion to which it tends).
- fostered when individuals encounter a point of view that is different from their own (in response to this discrepancy, people can ignore the new perspective or they can be led to question the perspective they currently hold).
- being aware and critical of our subjective perceptions of knowledge (and of the constraints of social knowledge; critically questioning ourselves and the social systems within which we live).
- questioning assumptions and perspectives (people become aware of assumptions, make them explicit, consider the sources of the assumptions and the consequences of holding them, and question their validity; uncomfortable questions can promote critical self-reflection if a learner is willing and ready to consider the questions).
- gains emancipatory knowledge (that which frees us from personal and social constraints and leads to awareness and development; dependent on our abilities to be self-determining and self-reflective).
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