What is Transformative Learning?

Article by Vera Mirzoyan / Updated at .30 Aug 2023
8 min read
What is Transformative Learning?

Everybody is always learning something, yet, everyone learns differently. And to reach educational success, it is very crucial to understand the different ways that human brains learn. Education providers, as well as learners, may greatly benefit when they imagine how the learning process or methods work for different students. Realizing how the learning happens, creators may increase their efforts to the maximum and create learning groups where learners do well. This is a very accepted approach especially in case you want to start an online school and no matter the industry you are experienced in. Teaching is about any specialty from the English language up to life coaching or fitness training.


Transformative Learning 


Transformative learning is based on the idea of making the changes easier. The transformative learning theories may refer to different situations regardless of their scale. For instance, it may be about such a large-scale event as providing support to the online learners to reach their lifelong goals. Or, it may be as small as improving the progress in task efficiency.

But, what is transformative learning exactly? Transformative learning is a common learning theory that is particularly focused on adult education and young adult learning. This way of learning is also known as transformation learning, and the main focus is on the idea that students can adapt their way of thinking based on newly acquired information.


What You Should Know about the Transformative Learning Theory


The theory of transformative learning was first presented by Jack Mezirow.




Mezirow transformative learning relies on the basis that individual performance and experience are considered to be an integral part of the overall learning process. According to this theory, a student’s interpretation of the experience creates meaning, which, in turn, leads to a change in the behavior, mindset, as well as beliefs. When the learners experience transformational learning, they are likely to undergo a shift that has a direct impact on their future experience and behavior. For instance, let’s imagine that the learners discover that they have a hidden talent or that a long-held expectation turns out to be inaccurate. This is one of the various transformative learning examples that help to learn what it is about. In the continuation of this article, you will get familiar with the core principles, dimensions, and components of this type of learning theory. You will also learn how to apply transformative learning in your e-learning course design.


Mezirow's Transformative Learning Theory


As Mezirow mentions, transformative learning is characterized as a kind of orientation according to which, the way learners interpret and reinterpret their sense experience is essential in the process of making meaning and then learning. To make the long story short, this refers to the idea that those students who gain new information also assess their past ideas and understanding, then change their point of view as they obtain new information through critical reflection. It goes beyond simply acquiring knowledge, and dives deeper into the way students find meaning in their lives and understanding. Usually, such a way of learning experience involves a significant change in our beliefs — when the learners start to ask questions about all the things they knew or thought before. In this way, they try to examine things from new perspectives having an aim to make room for new insights and information. Many learners and experts agree that such a learning process leads to true independence of thinking and understanding.

According to Mezirow, transformative learning basically focuses on 2 different points:

✓ instrumental learning

Which puts the main emphasis on providing solutions for task-oriented problems, as well as evaluation of cause and effect relationships.

✓ communicative learning

Communicative learning, on the other hand, focuses on the way people communicate their feelings, requirements, and desires.

Both approaches to the learning process are essential elements in transformative learning. Learners need to focus on the ways of their understanding and consider new perspectives that are not only logical but also emotional. In this way, they will be able to challenge their previous points of view.




The meaning scheme, also known as meaning structure, is another critical element of transformative learning and the theory by Mezirow. Perspectives and meaning schemes are considered to be 2 major elements included in meaning structures. These offer willingness and assumption to set for the expectations. Basically, the meaning structure covers concepts, beliefs, judgments, as well as feelings that help to shape an interpretation of information. Following this approach, learners are able to understand their meaning structure with self-reflection, self-directed learning, and critical theory. Accordingly, they critique their assumptions to identify whether or not their knowledge gained as a child still holds true at their adult ages. Therefore, we learn to understand ourselves, and our learning material better. Both the understanding related to our past perspective as well as the ability to deal with new structures and perspectives are key points to consider when following the theory of transformative learning.


The Stages Of Transformative Learning


Now, let’s pass to and discuss the phases education providers and learners go through when they choose the transformative learning approach. When you are familiar with these stages, you may better organize the process of learning management and help students overcome the challenges more easily. Let’s discuss these phases. 


Phase 1. A Disorienting Dilemma


The first stage of transformational learning covers the situation when students turn out that their previously acquired knowledge and believes are not right. Usually, it may evoke an “a-ha” feeling when the learners realize something they may not have understood before. Such a disorienting dilemma is usually very uncomfortable and even challenging for the learners. However, this is the first spark of fire when starting transformational learning.


Phase 2. Self-Examination


Once the learners overcome the disorientation they start to look back and examine their personal beliefs and previous understanding. Taking into consideration their previous experience and expectations they try to link to the present confusion and find some points in common. At this stage, the learners understand that there are more points of view and it is not just black and white. There may be other perspectives rather than the one they have always trusted on.


Phase 3. Critical Evaluation of the Assumptions


In this phase of transformational learning, students analyze their previous perspectives more deeply and in detail and take a more critical look to review. In spite of all the past experiences, now they accept the inaccuracy of some of their beliefs and become more open to getting and acquiring new information content. This leads to perspective transformation as they become able to look at their own past acceptances more neutrally.


Critical-Evaluation-of-the- Assumptions


Phase 4. Planning a Course of Action


Shaping a clear image of how the previous beliefs and understandings may be inaccurate and shifting their accepted opinions, the learners start planning a course of action. In this phase, they take into consideration what approach of learning they need and prefer to completely realize the problem or topic. Learners create a strategy for easily learning new ideas or things from another perspective. This is better implemented by getting in touch with new people, appearing in different situations, or dealing with new subject matters.


Phase 5. Acquisition of Knowledge or Skills to Carry Out New Strategy


Here comes the time for carrying out the plan and go forward in the transformative learning process. Learners get familiar with new things and ideas and consider different points of view or approaches to completely get the idea. Of course, it takes relatively more hard work and effort, yet the results are better and this is where the actual learning happens.


Phase 6. Exploring and Trying New Roles


When choosing transformational learning we should be ready to act. In this process, analyzing and doing the best to identify the changes are the most essential points to achieve success.  The process requires a lot of hard work and experience in things that are new to you. This is more than just studying something.


Phase 7. Building Self-Efficacy in New Roles and Relationships


Self-efficiency helps to reach the point when you make your decisions on your own and gain personal beliefs. In this stage, it is very important to earn confidence in your own understanding and go on practicing the cycle while moving forward and dealing with new ideas.


To Sum Up


This much about the transformative learning theory. Hopefully, you like the article and it will be useful for you. You may rely on this process to let your students do better and have a more clear user experience. The transformative learning approach is widely accepted in the e-learning process.


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