Defining and Analyzing Transformative Learning
There is an important difference between the phenomena we study and the names we call them or theories we use to explain them. Transformative learning theory is a human construction designed to describe a phenomenon, but it is imperfect at best. The author advocates a delineation of the terms. Namely, the term perspective transformation should be used to refer to Mezirow’s theory because it has only ever been used for his specific theory. The term transformative learning should be used to refer to the broad range of theories (including Mezirow’s) that attempt to describe and explain dramatic changes in how people experience, conceptualize, and interact with the world. The author uses transformative learning in adult education investigations to understand the experiences of military veterans transitioning from combat to civilian life, of breast cancer survivors navigating the psycho-social transition of their disease, of students from backgrounds of poverty attending community college, and even the negative transformation of people becoming radicalized into violent terrorism. There are many more situations that cause people to change, and those specific situations shape the processes that lead to change and therefore shape the eventual outcomes of that change. All of the theories and constructs in the transformative learning literature are nothing more than human creations designed to explain the phenomena associated with dramatic learning and change in adulthood. The value of transformative learning as a metatheory is to provide constructs in the form of analytic tools that scholars from disparate disciplines can use in working together to create better, more useful constructs for understanding that phenomena. There are identified and presented the analytic tools (definition, criteria, typology) to provide a framework for scholars to think carefully and with clarity about what they mean when using the word “transformation”. The need in more holistic, interdisciplinary understandings of transformative learning is substantiated, thus promoting the use of transformative learning as a metatheory.
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