What I have learned is that transformative learning is “a process by which previously uncritically assimilated assumptions, beliefs, values, and perspectives are questioned and thereby become more open, permeable, and better justified”. It requires learners “to examine problematic frames of reference to make them more inclusive, discriminating, open, reflective, and able to change,” and it can be “provoked by a single event, or it can take place gradually and cumulatively over time”. In trying to understand who we are and by developing a sense of self, we can go through a transformative learning process to help us develop a personal sense of identity. It is in this transformative journey that we question our assumptions and norms, and see how our values are different from and the same as those of others in the community and environment that we exist and try to make meaning our experience (Cranton, 2006). While combined motivation and active learning promote basic student engagement, some teachers are pushing for more: they want students to be truly transformed by their educational experiences. Although any learning, by definition, results in some level of change, transformative learning is deep and thorough change (Barkley, 2010).
Transformative learning occurs when students are challenged intensely, creating the kind of growth described by upper levels of intellectual and ethical development (“Perry model,” n d.). In Perry’s observations, most students enter college as dualists, believing that there are clear and objective, right-or-wrong answers. Transformative learning theory is based on constructivist assumptions. This means that we construct meaning from our experiences and validate it through interactions with our community. Aspects of constructivism, especially the social construction of knowledge are central to transformational learning (Cranton, 2006). One model within the paradigm of situated cognition or contextual learning perspective is emphasized in cognitive apprenticeships wherein the thinking process is modeled and supported for new learners. I am drawn to the cognitive apprenticeship theory as it mirrors the same style of methods and processes that are typically shared in the relationship between the apprentice and the instructor in the metal fabrication trade. Cognitive apprenticeship is a theory of the process whereby the master of a skill teaches that skill to an apprentice. This process is modeled after craft apprenticeship as novices are taught to think about what they are doing as well as learning the skills associated with the activity. Like traditional apprenticeships, in which the apprentice learns a trade such as tailoring, woodworking, or in my case metal fabrication, by working under a master teacher cognitive apprenticeships allow the master to model behaviors in a real-world context with cognitive modeling (Bandura, 1997). By listening to the master explain exactly what he is doing and thinking as he models the skill, the apprentice can identify relevant behaviors and develop a conceptual model of the processes involved. The apprentice then attempts to imitate those behaviors with the master observing and providing coaching.
One of the goals of a college education is to help students move beyond dualistic thinking to more complex stages as they learn to deal with uncertainty and relativism. As experiences challenge their thinking, students begin to see that truth is contextual and relative, and since there is not a single correct answer, everyone has a right to his or her own opinion. Eventually students recognize that there may be multiple answers to a question but not all answers are equal, and specific criteria such as empirical evidence and logical consistency can help them evaluate the usefulness and validity of knowledge claims. Perry (Perry Model, n.d.), posits in his fourth and final stage that students come to recognize that they must make individual choices that require both objective analysis and personal values. As students’ thinking matures to this level of sophistication, it is truly transformative. Bowen (2005) observes that students often resist teachers’ attempts to promote transformative learning precisely because it “necessarily threatens the student’s current identity and world view” and cites a study by Trosset, at an elite liberal arts college, that revealed that the majority of students did not want to participate in a discussion until they felt well prepared to defend their already firmly held views.
There are many theories that provide valuable insights into the learning process and implications for good teaching and learning methods. Some teachers consider transformative learning to be an element of engaged learning, but it may not be so much a required element as much as the result of sustained engagement or engagement that has achieved a higher level of personal intensity (Barkley, 2010). Teaching methods should be designed to give students the opportunity to observe, engage in, and invent or discover expert strategies in context. Such an approach will enable students to see how these strategies combine with their factual and conceptual knowledge, and how they will use a variety of resources in the social and physical environment. Aspects of constructivism, especially the social construction of knowledge are central to transformational learning (Cranton, 2006). One aspect of constructivism, which is cognitive apprenticeship, has become increasingly prominent as a model of instruction. The concept of apprenticeship as a model for cognitive development is ideal as it focuses on the active role of the learner’s development, the active support and use of people in social interaction, and the arrangements of tasks and activities. Through many years of metal fabrication experiences, I will be able to model, as a future metal fabrication instructor, those skills in a hands-on approach, as the apprentice identifies the relevant behaviors and then develops a conceptual model of the processes involved. As an instructor, I will monitor the student’s progress and provide coaching, including additional modeling as necessary, corrective feedback, and reminders intended to bring the apprentice’s performance closer to that of the expected outcome. Although student empowerment and support are important, an “environment of challenge” is the central ingredient for transformative learning. Students must have their beliefs and assumptions actively challenged. For transformative learning to occur in my classroom, I will need to ensure that I include some of the following strategies to strike a careful balance between support and challenge (Cranton, 2002):
Identify current assumptions
- The best strategies for helping students identify their current assumptions all require that students explain their thinking.
- Use a critical questioning technique by asking students to explain their reasoning and the reasons behind their reasoning.
- Help students identify their assumptions by offering counter-examples, alternative scenarios, or differing perspectives.
Encourage critical reflection
- Ask students to keep a class journal of questions, observations, and experiences. Encourage students to keep track of “Aha!” moments (when they suddenly understood a new concept or viewpoint), as well as conflict and confusion.
- To encourage participation, I can give students five minutes at the end of each class to write in their journals. At various times in the quarter, have students turn in the journal, or exchange journals with another classmate for feedback.
Foster intellectual openness
- I will need to foster trust among students in my classroom especially if the primary strategy is for critical reflection and discourse.
I believe that although student empowerment and support are important, an “environment of challenge” is the central ingredient for transformative learning. Students must have their beliefs and assumptions actively challenged (Cranton, 2002).
Bandura, A. (1997). Social learning theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_apprenticeship
Barkley, E. (2010). Student engagement techniques. A handbook for college faculty. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, pp. 5-7.
Cranton, P. (2002). Teaching for transformation. [ITAL:] New directions of adult and continuing education, 2002, no. 93, 63-7. Retrieved from https://tomprof.stanford.edu/posting/759
Cranton, P. (2006). Understanding and promoting transformative learning: A guide for educators of adults. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. Retrieved from
Hoare, C. (2011). The oxford handbook of reciprocal adult development and learning. Retrieved from
McGonigal, K. (n.d.). Teaching for transformation: from learning theory to teaching strategies. Stanford University. Retrieved from https://tomprof.stanford.edu/posting/759
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