Transformative Learning

Updated: Sep 19

Instructors, instructional designers, and educational leaders have a critical role in leading change within PK-12 education and higher education. Through disruption, educators have the opportunity to reflect on their frames of reference (habits of mind and points of view) to support change and transformative learning. According to Dr. Jack Mezirow:


We have a strong tendency to reject ideas that fail to fit our preconceptions, labeling those ideas as unworthy of consideration—aberrations, nonsense, irrelevant, weird, or mistaken. When circumstances permit, transformative learners move toward a frame of reference that is more inclusive, discriminating, self-reflective, and integrative of experience” (1997, p. 5)


Therefore, change needs to begin with examining one's frame of reference. Mezirow’s 10 Phases of Transformative Learning start with Phase 1: Disorienting Dilemma and conclude with Phase 10: A Reintegration (see Figure 1; Mezirow, 2000). Phase 1, in many ways, resonates with the challenges brought forth from global disruption within the educational ecosystem. A dilemma may be something new or a change that causes us to reflect on our beliefs, assumptions, feelings, or attitudes. As educators, disruption provides opportunities to engage in our own transformative learning and change. We can do this through discourse with others, which assists us in examining our own habitual thinking and points of view. We can reflect on (a) how we teach and (b) what we include in our courses. Do our courses align with research related to the human learning process and neuroplasticity? Do our courses integrate Universal Design for Learning and Culturally Responsive Teaching to support student success for all learners? Do our courses align with regulations or accreditation? Do our courses optimize technology to engage students across all learning formats? How much is too much in terms of content, curriculum, and cognitive load? These are but a few questions to move from doing what we have traditionally done to innovation and transformative learning.


Figure 1

10 Phases of Transformative Learning, Mezirow (2000)


10 Phases of Transformative Learning as a circular graphic

As educators, it is important to engage in transformative learning, particularly when looking at the future of education. While there is much discussion about the new normal, it is important to look at the definition of “normal." The Oxford Lexico dictionary (n.d.) defines normal as “conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected” (para. 1). Merriam-Webster dictionary (2021) defines normal as “conforming to a type, standard, or regular pattern: characterized by that which is considered usual, typical, or routine” (para. 1). In looking at the future of education, there is an opportunity to break away from “typical, standard, regular, and routine” and collaboratively design learning environments in PK-12 education and higher education. There is an opportunity to to build upon the science of learning and research informed practices to meet the needs of increasingly diverse students in alignment with how the brain learns, transformative learning, and neuroplasticity to support optimal learning and student success for all learners.


Author: Dr. Kristen Betts


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