Transformative Learning

Transformative Learning Theory is an excellent tool whether you are conducting professional training, working on a social or behavior change program, or even working on your own self- improvement. We all know how challenging it is to change behavior and motivate individuals to support new processes and procedures. We often fall short in our goals by only relying on didactic training/mentoring and analytic information.

According to Mezirow (1995), we can achieve true learning and behavior change through personal perspective transformations. Personal perspective transformations require three critical elements: changing an individual’s self-understanding (psychological), revising an individual’s belief systems (convictional), and changing an individual’s personal or work-related lifestyle (behavioral).

Within a perspective transformation, a disorienting dilemma is the catalyst for perspective transformation. Dilemmas usually occur when people have experiences that do not fit their expectations or make sense to them and they cannot resolve the situations without some change in the views of the world. This is also known as cognitive dissonance. You can create cognitive dissonance by challenging an individual’s beliefs, values, and knowledge. A program that utilizes transformative learning addresses the cognitive/analytic, rational, and objective components of learning but also the intuitive, imaginative, and subjective. Learning is achieved through rational and emotional experiences.

Most people find experiencing cognitive dissonance to be uncomfortable so designing a perspective transformation should be approached carefully and be appropriate for your target audience.

Mezirow, J. (1995). “Transformative Theory of Adult Learning.” In: In Defense of the LifeWorld, edited by M.R. Welton, pp. 39-20. New York: SUNY Press.

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