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Transformative learning theory is a humanist learning theory introduced by Jack Mezirow in 19811). This theory does not address general aspects of learning, but rather transformative learning in adults: the learning that strongly influences learner, his beliefs and values. This kind of learning results in
Since it is based on the importance of experience and its understanding, Mezirow's theory applies to adult learning. Adults accumulate during their lives plenty of experience in terms of associations, concepts, values, feelings, and beliefs. These elements of the experience form a number of various meaning schemata, each of which contains only specific knowledge and values. As defined by Mezirow, a meaning schema is
An example of a meaning schema is how we act around a homeless person.4) All the meaning schemata together form the meaning perspective, as Mezirow describes one's complete perspective on the world or a general frame of reference. Meaning perspectives are acquired passively until early adulthood, often through significant experiences with teachers, or parents, and are later modified through transformative learning.
What characterizes transformative learning is the initial inability to fit the new material into the existing frames of schemata, what results in a need to change them. For example, a change of attitude to homeless people after realizing how hard their life is. These-like experiences are also called perspective transformations. They often come due to life experiences, often related to strong emotional responses. These may be personal crises like divorce, death of a friend or a family member, wars, natural or man-caused disasters, health crises, etc, but do not have to be so radical.5)
In the classroom, commonly three types of experience can result in transformative learning6):
Usually these follow one after another: a strong emotional experience fosters critical reflection and analysis of similar past experiences, which will, when discussed with others with different or similar points of view, result in new conclusions and a perspective transformation.
Different authors suggested different roles of students and teachers during the transformative learning. The role of the students is mostly to take responsibility for their learning and creating a pleasant environment, and suggestions to the teachers generally refer to7):
Cranton, Patricia. Understanding and Promoting Transformative Learning: A Guide for Educators of Adults. Jossey-Bass Higher and Adult Education Series. Jossey-Bass, 350 Sansome Street, San Francisco, CA 94104-1310, 1994.