Article Review – Transformative Learning

This week I wanted to look further into transformative learning theory. This is a theory that I came across in reading an article for last week’s article review. I was interested in reading more about this theory because I felt that it might align with my original intention for the course that I am developing for this course. I am hoping that as a result of taking this course, students will begin to see how their history impacts their lives today. I would also hope that students begin to see their inherent rights as still relevant in today’s modern world and begin to see their value. It seemed to be a transformative process in my thinking.

According to the author, many scholars have written about the transformative process in the past and their have been some critiques of it. The critique of the theory is that the research scope has always been very narrow and it did not represent enough of a variety of people to be considered a tangible theory. This author was attempting to create a study that validated this theory as being relevant to a larger group of people and environments. The author intended to not only define how this process develops but also how it changes over time. “Because transformative learning is defined as a process in which the ‘meaning perspective,’ including ‘thought, feeling and will’ (Mazirow, 1978, p. 105), fundamentally changes, understanding how these processes evolve over time is crucial.” (Nohl, 2015) The study included 80 interviews of people in different stages in their lives and of different backgrounds. The author than developed stages of transformative learning.

Five stages of transformative learning were identified. The first is described by a non-determining start. The process has to start somewhere. Participants described this stage as happening by an unanticipated instance that introduced them to something that sparked their interest. This stage is followed by a person pursuing this interest in the second stage. The participants describe self-directed inquiry about their newfound interest. The next stage is described as testing and mirroring. In this stage participants described being exposed to new practices and people who are in the environment of their interest. Then shifting relevance occurs where participants describe expansion within their new interest while old habits begin to become unimportant. This is the beginning of the transformation process. The process ends where the participants find a new social environment that stabilizes their experience and new interest into their lives.

I think this is relevant to the learning that I hope will take place in this course. I hope students will not only accept the new information, but begin to see how important it is outside of the classroom. This process is about internalizing the information being presented. And according to this article, it starts with an unanticipated instance or spark of interest. Which tells me that this class could not reach every student in this way. It may reach one student to the point where they feel inclined to move to the inquiry stage. The process also doesn’t occur in 12 weeks. So it couldn’t be included as a course outcome. It might be that one of our program outcomes is reflective of this process. If there were one student in this 100-level course that sparked an interest in this topic and pursued it, they would naturally take the rest of the Native Studies courses. That inquiry pursuit could be part of the process of acquiring a bachelors degree in Native Studies. I am just thinking out loud at this point. But this article was enlightening and I would like to know more about this theory.

Works Cited:

Nohl, A. (2015). Typical Phases of Transformative Learning: A Practice-Based Model. Adult Education Quarterly, 65(1), 35-49.

6 thoughts on “Article Review – Transformative Learning

  1. Hi Lexie,

    Congratulations on getting in your 5th and last article review. Well done.

    Some interesting questions regarding Transformative Learning come to mind. How quickly do you think a student could move through the five stages? Would it be possible to move someone through all five in one lecture? What about one day?

    What factors would control how long the process would take?

    I wonder how often the process is derailed at one of the earlier stages? Surprise, inquiry, and then maybe a bit of testing and mirroring and then abandonment in the face of some other surprise? How do we guarantee a student achieves the fifth stage? Or can derailment and iteration in the lower stages actually be beneficial?

    Does anyone ever reach a stable fifth stage? Does that in itself represent an achievement or a failure of some kind?

    Interesting model – I look forward to hearing your thoughts, and if you continue to explore the concept, your ongoing reflections.


    1. huh. This is an interesting take. It makes me think of a course where there is a lot of flexibility in the choice of topics that a student can explore. Like a history class where a student can pick any topic to delve further into and complete an assignment on any topic in the time zone. Or this course where we chose our own literature review and then were allowed to follow the trail where are interest took us. Very interesting.

      1. The comparisons of picking a topic that is of interest to you and a literature review are good ones and they definitely apply. I think this theory is about finding our interest and following it and in the end it changes your outlook.

    2. The question about how fast a student could move through this process is a good question. I am really just now learning about this theory so I don’t really know. But in the article the stories that were presented were stories about a process that could last a lifetime. And there were also stories from young people where the process started and ended in a summer. I guess it really depends on the situation.
      The factors that would contribute to this process would definitely be that first spark of interest. If that spark does not happen, or if the spark is not strong enough to motivate the person to dig deeper into the topic, the process might not happen. I think the length of time depends on how motivated a person is and other responsibilities that person has in life. There was one story where this man had a whole other life and had to slowly make time for this new interest. It really takes time to learn something new, especially if it enters into other parts of your life.
      I haven’t yet come across any stories of derailment but I am going to keep reading about this theory. And I will reflect more as I learn more.

  2. It seems like this model would be an especially advantageous for cases where students have chosen the course out of genuine interest. Professional or personal development classes as well. I say that mainly because of of the first phase “sparking interest.” It seems from my experience that students often choose a major (say biology) because they have been successful with it in the past or have a career in mind that requires a biology degree. The reality, however, is degree seeking programs require students to take many classes that have very little to do with the degree (communication and philosophy were required of biology majors at my undergrad school). So if students are required to take the class as part of a larger program, it may be difficult to create situations that spark a genuine interest. I guess that is problematic whatever model is followed, but particularly when much of the premise is that initial spark.

    This sounds a lot like independent learning too. I’ve been building a cabin for our family for several years now. When I got to the stage of electrical wiring for 12 volt systems, I became a pseudo expert. Same with propane plumbing. The need sparked an interest (1) and caused me to seek out everything I could find on the topic (2). After I had read a bit on the topic and could speak intelligently about it, I found people in the business to ask questions directly(3). I’m not sure how shifting relevance fits in (4) to my analogy, but seems to meld into (5). With the new knowledge acquired, I’m able to engage in conversation with people and topics I couldn’t perviously, and this helps expand social networks.

    Don’t mean to hijack your thread, just thought there was an interesting correlation to independent learning.

    1. Thank you for your comment! I am still learning about this theory so placing it into similar contexts is very helpful. I agree with the independent learning reference. I think this theory is very self-driven. Many of the examples in the article were more about personal interests and less about school.

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