Transformative Learning for Progressive Change - 2008
Transformative learning is learning that enables irreversible, profound, emancipatory change for the better – in our values, world views, beliefs, perspectives, understandings, and frameworks (or ‘meaning schemes’) for imagining, thinking, designing, planning and acting; and in our day-to-day living and relating (to self, others, and the built and natural world). It is the ‘highest’ level of learning: above “refining or elaborating our meaning schemes, learning new meaning schemes, [and] transforming meaning schemes” (Jack Mezirow 1994, Understanding transformation theory, Adult Education Quarterly, 44(4): 222-232; p. 224).
It is the sort of foundational learning that is needed globally to enable individuals to contribute significantly to addressing our many current crises and, more importantly, to enable us to progress as a species (and as communities, businesses, groups, families and individuals) towards ways of being and doing that are supportive of wellbeing, ecological sustainability, social responsibility, caring, meaning and joy.
It may be precipitated by a challenge or crisis not solvable by one’s ‘old approaches’, or by a longer-term sequence of less challenging experiences that eventually cross a ‘critical threshold of enough’ to require such a profound change.
Such changes may be self-initiated or enabled by others (including trusted and caring family members, friends, mentors, teachers, therapists and personal development facilitators), directly and/or indirectly (through books, articles, the media etc). The environments, contexts and circumstances in which we live also play a major influencing role.
Depending on one’s personality preferences and beliefs, such changes may be experienced as primarily involving thinking, feeling, behaviouristic, intuitive and/or spiritual experiences and processes. Thus, whereas some theorists have emphasised critical reflection as a core part of the process, others have documented the potentially equally important role of feelings, intuition and unconscious (and ‘spiritual’) processes. All agree that dialogue with others and deep reflection are essential parts of the process, as is deconstruction of the inadequate ‘old’ approaches, often involving a process of profound ‘grieving’, and construction of a more holistically enabling ‘new’ approaches.
Such transformation often includes gaining a more profound understanding of the interrelationships between power, gender, work and play, biology and ecology, and psychology and sociology (including the full range of historical, linguistic, political, economic, scientific and technological aspects).
Decisions and transformations may range from all-encompassing values changes, to related acceptance of responsibility and letting-go, to the implementation of new initiatives and the abandonment of old no longer appropriate attitudes and activities.
Broader psychosocial outcomes may include a more aware, empowered, purposeful and discerning, grounded sense of being (living more proactively from the inside-out, and less reactively from the outside-in); also progress towards more holistic expressions of peace, caring, love, equity, community, wellbeing, meaning and joy (all in the broadest sense). This has most profoundly been described as progressing towards being in a [co-evolutionary] process of mutual synthesis with one’s [living and non-living] environment (G Scott Williamson & Innes H Pearse 1965, ‘Science, Synthesis and Sanity’, Repr. 1980, Scottish Academic, Edinburgh, p. 23).
Teachers may best enable such transformation by providing a “sense of safety, openness and trust”, and by supporting “autonomy, participation and collaboration”, and “activities that encourage the exploration of alternative perspectives, problem-posing, and critical reflection” (Edward W. Taylor 1998, The theory and practice of transformative learning: a critical review, ERIC, Columbus, OH, pp. 53-4). My particular approach to this type of learning is described in more detail (as ‘Learning Ecology’) in Hill et al. (2004) and Sattmann-Frese and Hill (2008).
Hill, SB, S Wilson, & K Watson, 2004. Learning ecology: a new approach to learning and transforming ecological consciousness: experiences from social ecology in Australia, in EV O'Sullivan & M Taylor (eds), Learning Toward an Ecological Consciousness: Selected Transformative Practices, Palgrave Macmillan, New York, pp. 47-64.
Sattmann-Frese, W & SB Hill, 2008. Learning for Sustainable Living: Psychology of Ecological Transformation, www.lulu.com
Emeritus Professor Stuart B. Hill, Foundation Chair of Social Ecology,
School of Education (includes previous School of Social Ecology & Lifelong Learning),
Western Sydney University (Kingswood Campus),
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