How to Support Transformative Learning

22 Oct

Instrumental and communicative learning are two very different approaches in education. [1] As educators, we make decisions every day between these two approaches: we either assess truth claims or validate understanding. In my professional opinion these two approaches must be in appropriate balance. Alas, it appears that instrumental learning is often overemphasized in contemporary education.

Instrumental learning and teaching is about improving performance and controlling the learning environment to produce desired results among learner population, and measuring these results with tests. This is very close to viewing learning as a product. Communicative learning is about seeking mutual understanding and validating both the accuracy and context of assumptions. This is very close to viewing learning as a process.

When transformative learning happens we go through a series of steps starting from facing a problem that makes us to rethink some of the “truths” we know. (Just for a moment, imagine that we got new scientific evidence of earth actually being flat! That would be hard to accept!) We would have to adjust to the new reality and deal with the emotions and fears it might evoke, and also assess our own assumptions very critically.  After that the process of transformation can begin.

For transformative learning to start happening, students must have ample opportunities to consider what they think about their learning topic (this is the critical thinking part!). If students are accepting everything they read or what their teacher or instructor says as an absolute truth, there will not be any transformative learning happening, just simple memorization of given truths. Supporting students’ self-reflection is the very necessary next step, as well as helping students to assess their own assumptions.

Transformative learning is more often connected to communicative learning than instrumental due to its very personal nature: we all have our own dispositions and worldviews, and transformation occurs when our assumptions of the world are changing.  This is why classroom dialogue is so crucially important for deeper learning to happen!

I try to remind myself every day that I will want to support my students’ transformative learning experiences. Because I love coffee, very much, this image and the idea of a Cafe helps me to provide that support and communicate, acknowledge, feeback and encourage my students, every day.

Communicate. Make sure to listen and try to understand! Have a dialogue with your students, the most effective communication is reciprocal and includes negotiations of meaning.

Acknowledge both the competence and the struggle. Learning is hard work! Validate students’ existing knowledge and understanding, support their attemps to learn (even if it isn’t your preferred way to learn).

Feedback early and often. Provide feedback about the learning process. As educators we possess the big picture of what students are learning, feedback helps students to know they are on the right track.

Encourage and empower. Support students’ choices. You can point out other possible directions but make sure not to choose for students because that deacreses their agency.

 

Mezirow’s theory has 10 steps of transformative learning process, and we really covered only the three first steps: creating space for the dilemma, supporting self-reflection, and assessing our assumptions.

 

There is much more to learn about transformative learning, and fortunately Mezirow’s theory is easy to search in the internet.

As educators we must challenge our own assumptions – every day – and be open to engage in the transformative learning experiences to grow in our profession.  Teacher’s Pedagogical Knowledge is so much more than just delivering the curriculum!

 

[1] Habermas 1981, as seen in Mezirow, J. Transformative Learning Theory  in K. Illeris (Ed.). (2018). Contemporary theories of learning: learning theorists… in their own words. 2nd Ed. Routledge.

2 Responses to “How to Support Transformative Learning”

  1. D K Powell October 29, 2019 at 6:20 am #

    Good to see the encouragement of transformative learning – something close to my heart and which I (hopefully) use in all lessons. I would say though that the caveat is that our education system (speaking of the UK here but I think it is similar all over the world) is heavily geared towards informative learning and we have to juggle this. I don’t think that is wrong either. While the great geniuses of this world were able to think beyond what they had been taught, they still, nonetheless, were empowered by the knowledge they had as much as by the ability to go beyond it. As a teacher it is my constant struggle to find that balance between that which must be learned and helping the student empower themselves in the learning process.

    • Nina October 29, 2019 at 2:46 pm #

      Thanks for your comment! 🙂 I absolutly agree teaching always being a balancing act – which presents the requirement for us as educators to keep on engaging in our own learning processes.

      I have found it to be useful for myself to dedicate time to all three main domains of teachers’ pedagogical knowledge: instructional process, learning process and assessment.

      🙂
      Nina

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