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Transformative Learning and Adult Higher Education (New Directions for Teaching and Learning, Number 147)

Book-Review
Cohen, Judith Beth; Gammel, Jo Ann; and Rustein-Riley, Amy, eds.
2016
Jossey-Bass Wiley
iconTags: adult learners   |   teaching for transformation   |   transformative learning

Reviewed by: Michael Thompson
Transformative Learning and Adult Higher Education is a small anthology written by adult education practitioner-scholars in which they share diverse learning perspectives and practices utilized in universities for adult learners. The editors and writers of this volume describe creative experiences, unconventional perspectives, and unusual pedagogical methods in a variety of educational contexts that lead adults to experience learning that is transformative. A fundamental premise of the book is that genuine ...

Transformative Learning and Adult Higher Education is a small anthology written by adult education practitioner-scholars in which they share diverse learning perspectives and practices utilized in universities for adult learners. The editors and writers of this volume describe creative experiences, unconventional perspectives, and unusual pedagogical methods in a variety of educational contexts that lead adults to experience learning that is transformative. A fundamental premise of the book is that genuine adult learning is synonymous with significant life change.

The book’s animating notion is sociologist Jack Mezirow’s influential theory of Transformational Learning, found in his seminal work, Transformative Dimensions of Adult Learning (Jossey-Bass, 1991). Some acquaintance with Mezirow’s theory is necessary if one is to fully appreciate the book since each contributor builds on it or refers to it. According to Mezirow, transformative learning happens when three things take place in the life of the adult learner. First, an adult learner changes their understanding of themselves. Second, she or he revises their behavior. Third, he or she changes their approach to life (19). The contributors to the book pay homage to the groundbreaking ideas of Mezirow, but do not always locate transformative adult learning inside the limits of Mezirow’s definitions. Sometimes the writers expand the perspectives supplied by Mezirow in avant-garde and provocative ways.

The book is composed of eleven short chapters each written by a different practitioner-scholar in which she or he shares the transformational learning that took place within a specific group of adult learners in a particular context. (For example Chapter 3 explores the learning that took place between female professors and female doctoral students in the advising process of working on their dissertations). The writer then usually shares the character of the learning process which catalyzed the transformative change. Typically, each chapter includes a description of the uniqueness of the population of adult learners the writer was involved with, each chapter gives a report of the qualitative study the contributor completed, and each chapter contains the writer’s reflections about the learning process and outcomes. The chapters are very different from one another, demonstrating the eclectic nature of the learning experiences and the diverse learners involved. A couple of examples of chapter content may reflect the variety and uniqueness of the adult learning described in the volume.

Chapter 1 describes the learning journey of eighteen to twenty-eight-year-old emerging adult undergraduate students who struggle with learning differences (such as dyslexia). The chapter contributor, utilizing Mezirow’s theory and Marcia Baxter-Magolda’s stages of self-authorship (13), details the transformational process by which these students went from viewing themselves as intellectually diminished, and therefore inferior to their “smarter” peers, to being uniquely equipped for life, and therefore confident in engaging life. In this chapter transformative learning was expressed as overcoming a seemingly indomitable life challenge and going forward with determination and optimism.

Chapter 2 presents a study of three black women educators: a portraiture of each woman’s transformative journey is given. One of these women had grown up as a Roman Catholic. Part of her transformational learning involved acknowledging the inadequacy of the Catholic faith for her and abandoning it in favor of a new expression of Christianity which she found generative and liberating. According to the writer of this chapter, transformative learning involved rebelling against her faith, abandoning an old and insufficient way of living, and embracing a new way of seeing the world. Adult transformative learning is often depicted in the eleven chapters as becoming aware of a harmful way of living and discarding it.

The Editor-in-Chief, Catherine M. Wehlburg, wrote that this book regards transformative learning as a “‘rich metaphor’ for exploring the interactions and experiences of students and faculty in higher education” (3). She goes on to write that one will find “many examples of the richness of transformative learning” in this volume (3). I agree. The strength of the volume is its diversity in conceiving of transformative learning and describing some of its possible expressions. These conceptions and expressions are sometimes peculiar and idiosyncratic, but they are always creative and stimulate thought. I found that they beckoned me to stretch the boundaries of my own pedagogical creativity. Further, I found particular pedagogical practices described in the book as ones that I could use in my own teaching with a little adjustment to my context.

The chapters are scholarly, concise, and easy to read. One is able to extract useful ideas without wading through lengthy, rambling prose. A weakness of the volume is that nearly every chapter addresses Mezirow’s chief ideas in such a way as to create the feeling of redundancy. The repeated recitation of those ideas is unnecessary and tiring.

The seminary where I teach has a mission statement which expresses its intention to provide its students theological education that is characterized, in part, as “Christ-centered transformation.” Thus, I was drawn to this book about transformative learning with the hope that it would further illuminate my understanding of transformation inside the context of a confessional Christian institution. My seminary, as well as scores of schools with similar confessional commitments, finds it impossible to think about life transformation apart from particular content. For example, knowledge of the Christian Scriptures and the life of Jesus Christ are believed to be necessary catalysts for genuine life change.

Transformative Learning and Adult Higher Education does not venerate any particular content as necessary for life transformation. Instead, this volume exalts process as the means of transformative learning. Transformation is made possible through the masterful facilitation of a process which is conceived without many definitive guidelines or boundaries. Teachers and scholars in confessional learning contexts will likely, therefore, find the conception of transformative learning contained in this book helpful but incomplete.

Reviewed by: Carmichael Crutchfield
In the third edition of Understanding and Promoting Transformative Learning, Patricia Cranton provides new insights into the field of transformative learning. Cranton promotes transformative learning, addresses transformative learning theory, and offers strategies for the concept itself. The author examines and promotes transformative learning in multiple contexts: higher education, business industry, government, health professions, nonprofit organizations, and community development. Cranton traces the origin of the concept of transformative learning and then ...

In the third edition of Understanding and Promoting Transformative Learning, Patricia Cranton provides new insights into the field of transformative learning. Cranton promotes transformative learning, addresses transformative learning theory, and offers strategies for the concept itself. The author examines and promotes transformative learning in multiple contexts: higher education, business industry, government, health professions, nonprofit organizations, and community development. Cranton traces the origin of the concept of transformative learning and then gives a full description of the theory from an integrative perspective. In doing so, she shows the reader that transformative learning takes place both individually and communally.
 
A minor weakness of the book is its use of specialized psychological terminology; the reader unfamiliar with it may lose focus on the overall purpose of the book as they strive to understand the meaning of particular words and phrases. That said, the book is helpful for understanding transformative learning theory, practice, and strategy. These insights alone aid faculty in developing effective teaching strategies to advance student learning. In addition, the author shows not only the importance of the subject, but how it can be used in real life applications.

This book is valuable because it focuses on the core of what it means to learn. At the forefront of this learning is an acknowledgement of various ways of knowing and the author provides examples of these. I was ­­particularly drawn to the section that discusses dialogue, discourse, and support. This section of the book resonates with me because it fits into my own theory of critical pedagogy. The student should be impacted by learning in such a way that it transforms not only the learner, but the learner’s society as well.

Understanding and Promoting Transformative Learning is particularly valuable for helping educators see their role in the learning process. The methodology described throughout the book leads to self-reflection, critical reflection, and thinking about how one’s teaching may fit into contemporary contexts. Furthermore, it converts the process of reflection into active participation in society. Additionally, the book discusses empowerment and the importance of dialogue to this process. This book is valuable in its demonstration of how dialogue is critical to transformative learning and can help the reader see how this affects student self-awareness and consciousness.

Overall, I found this book to be a valuable asset for those interested in social justice and especially for teachers interested in transformative learning.

 

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Comparative Theology in the Millennial Classroom: Hybrid Identities, Negotiated Boundaries

Book-Review
Brecht, Mara; and Locklin Reid B., eds.
2016
Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group
iconTags: teaching comparative theology   |   teaching for transformation   |   transformative learning   |   transformative teaching

Reviewed by: Alison Downie
his is the fourth in the Routledge Research in Religion and Education series. The series editor provides a Foreword distinguishing between religious education as formation within religious institutions and the concern of the series, which is education about religion. In this context, the essays address comparative theology as a process and as a pedagogical method in primarily, though not exclusively, undergraduate classrooms. Editors Brecht and Locklin provide a concise, effective ...

his is the fourth in the Routledge Research in Religion and Education series. The series editor provides a Foreword distinguishing between religious education as formation within religious institutions and the concern of the series, which is education about religion. In this context, the essays address comparative theology as a process and as a pedagogical method in primarily, though not exclusively, undergraduate classrooms.

Editors Brecht and Locklin provide a concise, effective introduction which establishes an overview of the intersecting thematic components of the collection: comparative theology, particularly the “departure-and-return” model as developed by Francis X. Clooney, SJ., and ways in which the digital culture of the millennial generation impacts epistemology and identity.

The fifteen essays are arranged in three sections. The well-placed first essay, by Judith Gruber, offers a postcolonial critique of the comparative theological model as implicitly essentialist. Essays in the second group address issues of identity raised by millennials and the nature of the millennial classroom in relation to comparative theology. Essays in the third section discuss hands-on examples and specific pedagogical practices. An afterword by Clooney, in which he identifies “six recurring issues” which he finds in the essays and addresses sequentially, concludes the volume. Clooney’s frankly personal account of his own context in developing the departure-and-return model and his rejoinder to the charge of essentialism bring the dialogue to a fitting end.

The diversity of the collection is rich in both content and authorial voices, some of whom are well-established scholars and others of whom are emerging, most teaching in religious studies or theology departments at public or private North American universities, though the balance leans toward Roman Catholic institutional affiliations.
Editors Brecht and Locklin note that this collection is the fruit of a Wabash Center teaching workshop. The robust range of reflection invites readers into the feel of a working group of teacher/scholars who share a concern for facilitating transformative learning in the religion or theology classroom, yet who address this concern and comparative theology’s relevance to the millennial context in quite distinct ways. A brief sampling demonstrates the range of perspectives authors develop: soteriological privilege (Brecht); Muslim theology of tawhid (Hussain); embodiment and material culture (Gasson-Gardner and Smith); storytelling as a pedagogical method of African Traditional Religions (Aihiokhai); comparing dharma and moksha, works and faith, ethics and spirituality (Yadlapati); a voluntary female Jewish-Muslim textual study group (Golberg); and use of film in an online context (Sydnor).

As Jeanine Hill Fletcher writes in her essay, “the work of the comparative theology classroom shares in this important work of shaping citizens in a multifaith world toward tolerance, appreciation, meaningful relationships, and the common good” (149). The same may also be said for religious studies classrooms. Many teachers of religion who are neither theologians nor comparativists by academic training will nevertheless find this collection useful and even inspiring for their pedagogical reflection and practice.

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Turning Teaching Inside Out: A Pedagogy of Transformation for Community-Based Education

Book-Review
Davis, Simone Weil; and Roswell, Barbara Sherr, eds.
2013
Palgrave Macmillan Springer Nature
iconTags: liberative pedagogy   |   transformative learning   |   transformative teaching

Reviewed by: Altagracia Perez-Bullard
Debates about the purpose and quality of education tend to center on evaluative tools and the number of persons successfully completing courses of study. The assumption being that education’s primary purpose is to prepare a workforce for a competitive market place. These and several other assumptions about the process and goals of education are challenged in the encouraging text Turning Teaching Inside Out: A Pedagogy of Transformation. This collection ...

Debates about the purpose and quality of education tend to center on evaluative tools and the number of persons successfully completing courses of study. The assumption being that education’s primary purpose is to prepare a workforce for a competitive market place. These and several other assumptions about the process and goals of education are challenged in the encouraging text Turning Teaching Inside Out: A Pedagogy of Transformation. This collection of essays written by participants in the Inside Out Prison Exchange Program describe and analyze a pedagogy that in form, content, and process reflects the educational goals of developing critical thinking skills, integrative learning for comprehensive application, and empowerment. For those who value education as the forming of persons who can positively contribute to and impact society, this program is an affirmation of the promise and power of liberative pedagogies and service education programs.

The Inside Out Prison Exchange program brings together students from universities and prisons to study and learn, initially about the criminal justice system and its social implications, but now encompassing a wide range of subjects: sociology, philosophy, performance art, social work, literature, and law. A liberative model based on the seminal work of Paolo Freire, students and teachers come together across multiple lines of difference to critically reflect on the social issues that impact and contribute to this nation’s alarming incarceration rate, especially of people of color. Utilizing a dialogical methodology, questions are raised, not only about the content of issues, but also about the very process of learning. A space of respect and mutuality is created through icebreakers and small group work, the negotiation of norms, and expectations. Learning is engaged with the basic assumption that all present are both teacher and student. Questions and dialogue lead to strategies for change and when the semester is over, many commit to the ongoing work of community education through projects that expand their experience to incorporate institutional decision makers, politicians, family members, and community organizations dedicated to improving the criminal justice and educational systems. These think tanks and policy development groups lead to praxis, concrete engagement of the systems that impact and contribute to the violence, and social integration explored in the class setting. The ripple effect moves beyond the prison walls and even the collaboration necessary to run this program and expand it internationally are a product of the mutual and collaborative relationships formed through this Inside Out transformational pedagogy.

The essays include historical analysis of the current prison industrial complex, the personal transformation that humanizes social service professionals, the community and political organizing of alumni and the different contexts in which this model has been successfully applied, as well as articles about research methodologies and variations and outgrowths of the original program. The appendices helpful, offering models of the activities and frameworks utilized by the program. These first hand reflections provide rich material for analysis and application useful for all educators. I was left wanting more detail about the setbacks and challenges, especially as the program was replicated and expanded to different contexts. Some strategies are suggested (for example, start the collaboration with people on the ground not necessarily administration [30]) that suggest lessons learned through hard experience and I can only imagine the number of obstacles overcome given the stringent limits set by this particular context. This text invites educators to reconsider or renew their commitment to personal and social transformation. It is an important resource for those seeking to strengthen and improve education everywhere from the inside out.

Reviewed by: Anthony Smith
Sherry K. Watt has assembled talented “conscious scholar practitioners” to address the growing need to design university policies, programming, and classroom pedagogies that address difference. This book addresses both the theoretical and practical aspects of multicultural teaching. As the preferred term “conscious scholar practitioners” suggests, both aspects are vital for developing multicultural policies and teaching practices. Watt explicitly places the book within the model of radical pedagogy most commonly associated ...

Sherry K. Watt has assembled talented “conscious scholar practitioners” to address the growing need to design university policies, programming, and classroom pedagogies that address difference. This book addresses both the theoretical and practical aspects of multicultural teaching. As the preferred term “conscious scholar practitioners” suggests, both aspects are vital for developing multicultural policies and teaching practices. Watt explicitly places the book within the model of radical pedagogy most commonly associated with Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed and bell hooks’ conception of teaching for liberation. The challenge of the book is to translate the theoretical principles of this tradition into policies that shape institutions and to provide practical models for how these principles can be actualized on today’s university campuses.

The book is organized into four parts. The first part lays out the guiding principles for transformative multicultural initiatives. Here the main terms found throughout the volume are laid out clearly and the general theoretical ground is set. Part two moves to the practical question of design and provides helpful tools that should be used during the beginning phases of design as well as how best to evaluate such programs at their conclusion. Since assessment is often difficult to conceive of in the midst of radical pedagogical models, this section struck me as particularly helpful for navigating such a pedagogy within the managerial space of the contemporary university. Part three provides six case-studies in which conscious scholar practitioners present their own programs. This is a valuable section because of the examples given, but perhaps most importantly because they offer valuable lessons learned in their unflinching self-analysis of their programs. Part four provides important reflections on the institutional challenges that exist for those trying to carry out the programs advocated and modeled in the volume. While reading this chapter I had hoped for more constructive advice for dealing with the various forms of institutional and individual resistance to multicultural initiatives, but many of the stories in these chapters highlight the main forms of resistance to radical pedagogical models in the contemporary university.

This volume is not specifically directed towards educators in theology and religious studies. However, all of the chapters are intended to be adaptable to various contexts. For those scholars who want to deepen and center difference in their classroom and across their university this book strikes me as incredibly valuable. For departments of theology and religious studies seeking to form stronger links with other departments, staff members, and administrators, this volume can provide a common vocabulary and methodology. The volume may in fact be most valuable as a model that can facilitate interdisciplinary work as special attention is paid to multicultural initiatives within the physical and mathematical sciences. These fields are often neglected in radical pedagogy models, but as theologians and scholars of religion are encouraged to carry out more interdisciplinary teaching this volume may help frame such work within radical pedagogical models.