Transformative Learning (J. Mezirow)
The Transformational Learning Theory originally developed by Jack Mezirow is described as being “constructivist, an orientation which holds that the way learners interpret and reinterpret their sense experience is, central to making meaning and hence learning” (Mezirow, 1991). The theory has two basic kinds of learning: instrumental and communicative learning. Instrumental learning focuses on learning through task-oriented problem solving and determination of cause and effect relationships. Communicative learning involves how individuals communicate their feelings, needs and desires
Meaning structures (perspectives and schemes) are a major component of the theory. Meaning perspectives are defined as “broad sets of predispositions resulting from psychocultural assumptions which determine the horizons of our expectations” (Mezirow, 1991). They are divided into 3 sets of codes: sociolinguistic codes, psychological codes, and epistemic codes. A meaning scheme is “the constellation of concept, belief, judgment, and feelings which shapes a particular interpretation” (Mezirow, 1994, 223).
Meaning structures are understood
and developed through reflection. Mezirow states that
“reflection involves a critique of assumptions to determine whether the
belief, often acquired through cultural assimilation in childhood, remains
functional for us as adults” (Mezirow, 1991).
Reflection is similar to problem solving and Mezirow talks about how we “reflect on the content of the problem, the process of problem-solving, or the premise of the problem” (Mezirow, 1991). Through this reflection we are able to
understand ourselves more and then understand our learning better. Merizow also proposed that there are four ways of learning.
They are “by refining or elaborating our meaning schemes, learning new meaning
schemes, transforming meaning schemes, and transforming meaning
perspectives” (Mezirow, 1991).
Transformative Learning theory is focused on adult learning, particularly in the context of post-secondary education (e.g., Craig et al., 2001; King, 2002). Taylor< (2007) provides a summary of research studies about the theory.
Applying transformative theory to curriculum evaluation, one looks for evidence of critical reflection in terms of content, process and premise. Content reflection consists of curricular mapping from student and faculty perspectives; process reflection focuses on best practices, literature-based indicators and self-efficacy measures; premise reflection would consider both content and process reflection to develop recommendations.
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