Transforming the way adults learn

Transformative learning can take students out of their comfort zones.

The term “transformative learning” has been buzzing around higher education since the early ’80s, when Teachers College of Columbia professor Jack Mezirow founded his influential theory.

Put very simply, transformative learning is an “aha!” moment. For Mezirow, this crucial life transition usually occurs through spiritual crises, when a student’s preconceived beliefs are fundamentally challenged through an educational experience.

Mezirow based his research on adult women returning to college, and transformative learning remains a foundational concept of adult education today. But over the last 30 years, the theory has been increasingly applied to psychological counseling situations.

This month, Information Age Publishing will release what is, perhaps, the first attempt to integrate both counselor and teacher perspectives in one book: “Pathways to Transformation: Learning in Relationship.”

“The idea of ‘transformative learning’ brings up lots of difficult questions for professors: How do you structure a learning experience that might make a student uncomfortable but not alienate that student?” says Carrie J. Boden-McGill, who, with Sola M. Kippers, edited the new book. “Counselors have a lot of experience in negotiating that very situation, so we wanted to foster that conversation.”

With contributions from over 20 leading counselors and educators, “Pathways” is an attempt to shift the “transformative” conversation toward a more holistic, campus-wide approach.

“For us, it’s about interconnectedness: the way a student interacts with the literature, professors, life experiences, virtual worlds,” says Boden-McGill. “That’s why ‘relationship’ is in the title. How do we have the kinds of relationships with students that create possibilities for transformation?”


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