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At the core of transformative learning theory is the process of "perspective transformation", with three dimensions: psychological (changes in understanding of the self), convictional (revision of belief systems), and behavioral (changes in lifestyle).
"Transformative learning is the expansion of consciousness through the transformation of basic worldview and specific capacities of the self; transformative learning is facilitated through consciously directed processes such as appreciatively accessing and receiving the symbolic contents of the unconscious and critically analyzing underlying premises."
Perspective transformation leading to transformative learning occurs infrequently. Mezirow believes that it usually results from a disorienting dilemma, which is triggered by a life crisis or major life transition, although it may also result from an accumulation of transformations in meaning schemes over a period of time. Less dramatic predicaments, such as those created by a teacher, also promote transformation.
An important part of transformative learning is for individuals to change their frames of reference by critically reflecting on their assumptions and beliefs and consciously making and implementing plans that bring about new ways of defining their worlds. This process is fundamentally rational and analytical.
There are a number of critical responses to Mezirow's theory of transformative learning have emerged over the years. One criticism of Mezirow's theory is its emphasis upon rationality. Some studies support Mezirow. Others conclude that Mezirow grants rational critical reflection too much importance. Taylor  has since suggested neurobiological research as a promising area that may offer some explanation about the role emotions play, closing the gap between rationality and emotion in the transformative learning process. Taylor implies that with available modern technology such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and positron emission topography (PET), these once obscure factors can now be examined through determining which neurological brain systems are at work during disorienting dilemmas and the journey of recovery that follows. This research also stresses the importance of the role of implicit memory, from which emerges habits, attitudes and preferences that are related to unconscious thoughts and actions.
While this learning process is certainly rational on some levels, it is also a profound experience that can be described as a spiritual or emotional transformation as well. The experience of undoing racist, sexist, and other oppressive attitudes can be painful and emotional, as these attitudes have often been developed as ways to cope with and make sense of the world. This type of learning requires taking risks, and a willingness to be vulnerable and have one's attitudes and assumptions challenged.
Other theorists have proposed a view of transformative learning as an intuitive and emotional process. Dirkx, Boyd, Myers and Ruether link Mezirow’s rational, cognitive and analytical approach to a more intuitive, creative and holistic view of transformative learning. This view of transformative learning is based primarily on the work of Robert Boyd, who has developed a theory of transformative education based on analytical (or depth) psychology.
For Boyd, transformation is a "fundamental change in one's personality involving [together] the resolution of a personal dilemma and the expansion of consciousness resulting in greater personality integration." This calls upon extrarational sources such as symbols, images, and archetypes to assist in creating a personal vision or meaning of what it means to be human.
First, an individual must be receptive or open to receiving "alternative expressions of meaning," and then recognize that the message is authentic. Grieving, considered by Boyd to be the most critical phase of the discernment process, takes place when an individual realizes that old patterns or ways of perceiving are no longer relevant, moves to adopt or establish new ways, and finally, integrates old and new patterns. More recent research has specifically explored the process of transformative learning as it occurs in bereaved elders, maintaining that the “disorienting dilemma” deemed necessary by Meizrow is present in the loss of a loved one, with an additional devastating factor being the isolation that the elderly in particular are likely to face. In another study, transformative learning in the context of suicide bereavement; in these cases the dilemma is compounded by the questioning of conceptions or misconceptions that were held about the relationship with the deceased and resolving the meaning of that relationship during the grieving process.
Unlike Mezirow, who sees the ego as playing a central role in the process of perspective transformation, Boyd and Myers use a framework that moves beyond the ego and the emphasis on reason and logic to a definition of transformative learning that is more psychosocial in nature.
Another definition of transformative learning was put forward by O'Sullivan:
Transformative learning involves experiencing a deep, structural shift in the basic premises of thought, feelings, and actions. It is a shift of consciousness that dramatically and irreversibly alters our way of being in the world. Such a shift involves our understanding of ourselves and our self-locations; our relationships with other humans and with the natural world; our understanding of relations of power in interlocking structures of class, race and gender; our body awarenesses, our visions of alternative approaches to living; and our sense of possibilities for social justice and peace and personal joy.
Positing that understanding transformative learning may have been hindered by perspectives of rational thought and Western traditions, King provides an alternate model grounded in a meta-analysis of research, the Transformative Learning Opportunities Model.
Recent considerations of these varying perspectives seem to indicate that one perspective does not need to exclude the other. For example, Mezirow and Dirkx discussed their views on transformative learning at a 2005 International Transformative Learning Conference. This dialogue, facilitated by Cranton, continued via email after the conference and the overview was published in The Journal of Transformative Education. Dirkx focuses on subjectivity, in the power of the inner world in one’s shift in view of the outer world. Mezirow emphasizes critical assessment of assumptions. Although their approaches are different, they agree that their perspectives are similar in several aspects. This includes transforming frames of reference that have lost meaning or have become dysfunctional and fostering enhanced awareness and consciousness of one’s being in the world. Both perspectives are required to deepen understanding and to incorporate these ways of learning into transformative education.
One of the difficulties in defining transformative learning is that it bleeds into the boundaries of concepts such as "meaning making" or "critical thinking".
The term "meaning making" (i.e., constructing meaning) is found most frequently in constructivist approaches to education, based on the work of educators such as John Dewey, Maria Montessori, Jean Piaget, Jerome Bruner, and Lev Vygotsky. In the constructivist view, meaning is constructed from knowledge.
Mezirow posits that all learning is change but not all change is transformation. There is a difference between transmissional, transactional and transformational education. In the first, knowledge is transmitted from teacher to student. In transactional education, it is recognized that the student has valuable experiences, and learns best through experience, inquiry, critical thinking and interaction with other learners. It could be argued that some of the research regarding transformative learning has been in the realm of transactional education, and that what is seen as transformative by some authors is in fact still within the realm of transactional learning.
According to Brookfield, learning can only be considered transformative if it involves a fundamental questioning or reordering of how one thinks or acts; a challenge to hegemonic implications. In other words, reflection alone does not result in transformative learning unless the process involves a critical reflection, a recognition and analysis of taken for granted assumptions.
Transformative learning in practice
On the surface, the two views of transformative learning presented here are contradictory. One advocates a rational approach that depends primarily on critical reflection whereas the other relies more on intuition and emotion. However, the differences in the two views may best be seen as a matter of emphasis. Both utilize rational processes and incorporate imagination as a part of a creative process. The two different views of transformative learning described here as well as examples of how it occurs in practice suggest that no single model of transformative learning exists.
When transformative learning is the goal of adult education, fostering a learning environment in which it can occur should consider the following:
The role of the educator
In order to foster transformative learning, the educator’s role is to assist learners in becoming aware and critical of assumptions. This includes their own assumptions that lead to their interpretations, beliefs, habits of mind or points of view as well as the assumptions of others. Educators must provide learners practice in recognizing frames of reference. By doing so, educators encourage practice in redefining problems from different perspectives. The goal is to create a community of learners who are "united in a shared experience of trying to make meaning of their life experience".
Educators need to provide learners with opportunities to effectively participate in discourse. Discourse involves assessing beliefs, feelings, and values. This dialogue has the goal of assessing reasons behind competing interpretations through critical examination of evidence, arguments, and alternate points of view. Learners are able to validate how and what they understand as well as develop well-informed judgments regarding a belief. Educators can encourage critical reflection and experience with discourse through the implementation of methods including metaphor analysis, concept mapping, consciousness raising, life histories, repertory grids, and participation in social action.
The educator must encourage equal participation among students in discourse. One strategy is to encourage procedures that require group members to take on the roles of monitoring the direction of dialogue and ensuring equal participation. Educators can also encourage dialogue from different perspectives through controversial statements or readings from opposing points of view. It is necessary that the educator avoids shaping the discussion.
The role of educators is also to set objectives that include autonomous thinking. By fostering learners’ critical reflection and experience in discourse, autonomous thinking is possible. The foundations to thinking autonomously begin in childhood and continue in adulthood. The educator assists adult learners in becoming more critical in assessing assumptions, better at recognizing frames of references and alternate perspectives, as well as effective at collaborating with others to assess and arrive at judgements in regards to beliefs.
It is the role of the educator to promote discovery learning through the implementation of classroom methods such as learning contracts, group projects, role play, case studies, and simulations. These methods facilitate transformative learning by helping learners examine concepts in the context of their lives and analyze the justification of new knowledge.
The educator’s role in establishing an environment that builds trust and care and facilitates the development of sensitive relationships among learners is a fundamental principle of fostering transformative learning. The educator also serves as a role model by demonstrating a willingness to learn and change. As a result, professional development is important to assist educators in becoming authentic and critically reflective.
The role of the learner
The educator becomes a facilitator when the goal of learning is for learners to construct knowledge about themselves, others, and social norms. As a result, learners play an important role in the learning environment and process. Learners must create norms within the classroom that include civility, respect, and responsibility for helping one another learn. Learners must welcome diversity within the learning environment and aim for peer collaboration.
Learners must become critical of their own assumptions in order to transform their unquestioned frame of reference. Through communicative learning, learners must work towards critically reflecting assumptions that underlie intentions, values, beliefs, and feelings. Learners are involved in objective reframing of their frames of reference when they critically reflect on the assumptions of others. In contrast, subjective reframing occurs when learners critically assess their own assumptions.
The role of the learner involves actively participating in discourse. Through discourse, learners are able to validate what is being communicated to them. This dialogue provides the opportunity to critically examine evidence, arguments, and alternate points of view which fosters collaborative learning.
The role of professional development for the educator
Transformative learning about teaching occurs when educators critically examine their practice and develop alternative perspectives of understanding their practice. It is essential that this becomes the role of professional development. With this taken into consideration, the role of professional development is to assist educators in bringing awareness to their habit of minds regarding teaching. When this occurs, educators critically examine the assumptions that underlie their practice, the consequences to their assumptions, and develop alternative perspectives on their practice.
Teachers need education and professional development that will help them to question, challenge and experience critical discussions on school improvement. Transforming teachers so they see themselves as agents of social change can be a challenge within education.
Strategies for transformative professional development include action plans, reflective activities, case studies, curriculum development and critical theory discussions. Action plans and reflective activities provide practice and modelling of critical reflection on the profession of education and provide guidance for the teaching and learning experience. Through the use of real-life examples, case studies provide opportunity to analyze assumptions as well as the consequences of choices and actions. This provides focus for reflection on practice and the opportunity to be involved in discourse to analyze philosophical and practical aspects of educators’ practice. Curriculum development creates the opportunity to connect theory and practice. In addition to introducing new teaching techniques, educators can test and compare these new concepts and practices with previous techniques. This moves away from uncritically accepting new teaching methods. Critical theory discussions can be implemented to guide educators to question the purpose and meaning of information. This then fosters opportunity for educators to question the selection of information they provide for their students.
Examples of transformative learning in educator professional development
Mentoring is another strategy for transformative professional, personal and organizational development. By creating a supportive culture, mentoring can provide the environment for transformative learning to occur. Through this experience mentoring becomes a transformative relationship in which individuals reconstruct possible selves. As a two-way process, mentoring is a learning tool for both the mentor as well as the mentee.
In a recent study, Swanson applied theories of critical reflection, critical incident model and a learning partnership to design a program for practicing teachers with the purpose of transformative teacher development. Experiences were created to support teachers in reflecting on their assumptions, ask them to consider alternative perspectives and develop a language for making connections between theory and practice. Over this two year period, teachers were able to develop ownership and transfer this knowledge into their practice. To be effective, transformative teacher development must value what teachers bring from their personal and professional experience and acknowledge that learning is both an individual and social experience. The process involved: transparency through negotiation of curriculum and finding a common language through discussion of individual assumptions, continuous feedback through critical incident questions, and action research through teacher application of the program within their classrooms. Autobiography and journaling were additional techniques used to within this learning partnership. Both teachers and faculty participating in the program were transformed as beliefs were challenged and knowledge was co-constructed through the experience.
New academics often find expectations ambiguous and lack the self-awareness and understanding to navigate the educational environment. A transformative learning framework was used in a Foundations course for participants to build on individual and collective analysis of teaching experiences and help them to reframe their practice. The author investigated ‘transformation narratives’ which emerged from written reflection of participants teaching practice. Reflections were based on individual reflection and group discussion. By using Mezirow’s work along with Kegan’s constructive developmental theory Constructivism (learning theory) , the author found the following themes: a move from non-reflective habitual action to a more conscious practice, a change in perspective to a more sophisticated view of teaching, an increased sense of agency including the concept that academic practice is an object which can be controlled and shaped rather than something externally imposed, increased confidence to take risks and experiment, and a more multifaceted idea of what it means to be an academic. The conducive environment allowed for transformative experiences to occur. Through creation of a safe social context where ‘disorienting dilemmas’ can be examined, questioned and explored participants were able to develop a new ’frame of reference’and reintegrate learning into practice. The author cautions that there are limitations to the framework such as the possibility that participants will conform to expectations in their reflections. The author notes that the ‘transformation narratives’ examined are not a single, final narrative of the self but a snapshot for further exploration. Similar to Fletcher’s  findings, transformative learning helps to make sense of a complex and often ambiguous work environment which requires multiple selves.
Benefits of Transformative Learning--
When learning is contextualized in a community, connected to one's social identities, and when it asks a group of learners to be better as a people, it is not generally forgotten, because it holds tremendous importance for the learner. As a result, transformative learning develops autonomous thinking that is transferable to other learning contexts.
Challenges of Transformative Learning Environments
While supporting engagement of the entire class, often the most self-efficacious students will voice their suggestions, ideas and concerns. Those with lower self-efficacy can become spectators if not given equal encouragement to participate. Transformative learning inherently requires taking risks and a willingness to be vulnerable and have ones attitude and assumptions challenged.
Acknowledging the role of Self-Efficacy in Transformative Learning
Psychologist Albert Bandura has defined self-efficacy as one's belief in one's ability to succeed in specific situations. One's sense of self-efficacy can play a major role in how one approaches goals, tasks, and challenges. The theory of self-efficacy lies at the centre of Bandura’s social cognitive theory, which emphasizes the role of observational learning and social experience in the development of personality. The main concept in social cognitive theory is that an individual’s actions and reactions, including social behaviours and cognitive processes, in almost every situation are influenced by the actions that individual has observed in others. Because self-efficacy is developed from external experiences and self-perception and is influential in determining the outcome of many events, it is an important aspect of social cognitive theory. Self-efficacy represents the personal perception of external social factors.   According to Bandura's theory, people with high self-efficacy—that is, those who believe they can perform well—are more likely to view difficult tasks as something to be mastered rather than something to be avoided.
In a transformative learning environment, consideration of one's current level of self-efficacy can assist both the Educator and student in preparing for engagement in discourse. As frames of reference play a critical role in shaping one's past and present assumptions or beliefs, so to do they influence the self-efficacy of an individual participating in adult learning activities.
In a study, the majority of a group of students questioned felt they had a difficulty with listening in class situations. Instructors then helped strengthen their listening skills by making them aware about how the use of different strategies could produce better outcomes. This way, their levels of self-efficacy were improved as they continued to figure out what strategies worked for them. Understanding how to foster the development of self-efficacy is important for educators, and others in leadership positions, and to anyone seeking to build happier, more productive, and highly efficacious students.
Through transformative learning, the Educator plays a similar role in facilitating the development of trust, care and sensitivity, so that students feel empowered to discuss their assumptions and beliefs in a way that works best for them, while incorporating strategies that best accommodate their current level of self-efficacy.
The Destiny Idea Further information: Locus of control
Bandura also showed that difference in self-efficacy correlates to fundamentally different world views.  People with high self-efficacy generally believe that they are in control of their own lives, that their own actions and decisions shape their lives, while people with low self-efficacy may see their lives as outside their control.
Such evidence speaks directly to the outcomes of transformative learning, in that the assumptions, beliefs and values of individuals (as a result of their level of self-efficacy), can potentially shape the direction of the critical discourse taking place in the classroom, based on their feelings of either being in control or not in control of their destiny.
Social learning theory
Social learning theory describes the acquisition of skills that are developed exclusively or primarily within a social group. Social learning depends on how individuals either succeed or fail at dynamic interactions within groups, and promotes the development of individual emotional and practical skills as well as accurate perception of self and acceptance of others. According to this theory, people learn from one another through observation, imitation, and modeling. Self-efficacy reflects an individual’s understanding of what skills he/she can offer in a group setting.
Transformative learning ideally promotes equal participation among members of a group, as they work toward establishing a consensus in exploring the depths of subject matter. Should an individual feel they can either offer a lot, in comparison with one who feels they can offer little, the equal participation in transformative learning may become more difficult to attain.
The role of the rational and the affective
Transformative learning has two components that at times seem to be in conflict: the cognitive, rational, and objective and the intuitive, imaginative, and subjective. Both the rational and the affective play a role in transformative learning. Although the emphasis has been on transformative learning as a rational process, teachers need to consider how they can help students use feelings and emotions both in critical reflection and as a means of reflection.
There are a number of educational and research institutions that are based on the principles of transformative learning. Some examples include the Transformative Studies Institute and The Transformative Learning Centre at the Ontario Institute for Studies on Education (OISE) of the University of Toronto.
Evidences are emerging on the applicability of transformative theory in new educational programmes. Some examples include in business and industry education, health professional education, community education such as courses offered by YMCA, and informal settings such as self-help groups. A study in the UK  describes how students in a service-learning section experienced perspective transformation and shifts of their world-view when their training was derived in part by the principles of transformative learning theory.
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