Transformative Learning Theory
The transformative learning theory best explains why adults learn because it is based on change. One thing that is always constant in an adult’s life is change. Because of this, adults are continually transforming to adapt to change in their lives. There are two key theorists who support transformative learning theory. First, Jack Mezirow takes a psychocritical perspective to transformative learning. Second, Laurent Daloz takes a psychodevelopmental approach to transformative learning (Merriam, Caffarella, & Baumgartner, 2007). Each of these theorists’ approaches will be discussed next, starting with Mezirow.
Mezirow (2000) believes that transformative learning occurs when an individual’s beliefs are changed or when that individual has a completely new perspective on an issue due to some type of life-changing event. In Corporate Training Programs, this is very often true. Adults who return to school often do so because of a major change in their lives (e.g., children move out of the home, loss of job, desire for a better job, etc.). That change has caused the adult to look at their life experiences in a new way—and learn from those experiences. Even outside of the realm of Corporate Training Programs, Mezirow’s theory is still true. For example, in my personal life, I recently went through a major life-changing event: I became a foster parent for five teenage boys. My own view of parenting changed drastically, and I now have a much greater appreciation for what my parents went through.
While still emphasizing change, Daloz takes a slightly different approach to transformative learning. Daloz (1999) believes adult education is more of a transformational journey, not merely the result of a life-changing event. Because of this view, Daloz sees adult educators more as mentors who guide adult learners in their transformational journey. I find this approach to be valid in Corporate Training Programs. Our students are all on a journey, and we serve as guides and mentors in this process. Instead of seeing them as a group to whom a great deal of lecturing must be done, we must see them as adults who are on a valuable journey, and we can lend our own experience and expertise to help guide them along the way.
Both Mezirow and Daloz believe in transformative learning. While one sees transformation as more of a result of a life-changing event, the other sees it as a journey. The destination for both is the same: Adult learners are changed in their thoughts, actions, and beliefs through the educational practice. It is because of this emphasis on change that the transformative learning theory best explains why adults learn.
Daloz, L. A. (1999). Mentor: Guiding the Journey of Adult Learners. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Merriam, S. B., Caffarella, R. S., & Baumgartner, L. M. (2007). Learning in adulthood: A comprehensive guide. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Mezirow, J. & Associates. (2000). Learning as transformation: Critical perspectives on a theory in progress. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.