Teaching Strategies for Transformative Learning

Questions are one of those mainstay teaching strategies used to accomplish all kinds of learning goals: questions help an instructor gauge levels of understanding; questions can pique flagging interest; questions lead the way deeper into content and questions challenge thinking. Adult educator Patricia Cranton identifies three kinds of questions especially effective at promoting critical self-reflection and self-knowledge.

The goal of these questions is to establish “an environment where people can figure things out for themselves.” Cranton credits other adult educators with phrasing the goal this way (p.138). Said another way, these are the kind of queries that open minds, change perspectives and enable learners to better understand their own and others viewpoints.

Get a copy of Transformative Learning in the College Classroom, now available on CD or print transcript format. Listen in as Maryellen Weimer, editor of The Teaching Professor newsletter, and Professor Patricia Cranton, a noted authority on transformative learning, discuss the nature of transformative learning and the kind of classroom conditions, assignments, and activities that promote and cultivate transformative learning.

Questioning Styles for Transformative Learning

Content Reflection Questions “serve to raise learner awareness of assumptions and beliefs.” (p. 139) Some of these questions relate to knowledge and the way it is obtained. “What knowledge have you gained from your experience in this area?” (p. 139-140). Others relate to “habits of the mind.” “What would you say to this if you were a union leader?” (p. 139)

Process Reflection Questions “address how a person has come to hold a certain perspective.” (p. 140) These questions help learners find the source of assumptions and beliefs. The questions may prompt learners to think of a time when they did not hold that belief so that they can work forward from that point. “Can you remember when you first started to hate working with numbers?” Sometimes process questions go after the social norm on which an assumption rests. “Has the media had an effect on what you believe about this?” And sometimes process questions take aim at moral-ethical perspectives or philosophical views. “What led you to conclude this action is unethical?”

Premise Reflection Questions “get at the very core of belief systems.” (p. 141) They raise questions about the most foundational aspects of thinking and belief. “Why is this so important to you in the first place?” Considering these questions can be emotional and traumatic to the learner. Premise questions also get at the powerful but unquestioned ways language, social norms, and cultural expectations influence belief and behavior. “Why do you value hard work?” “Why do you care about pleasing the person you work for?”

Listen to a preview of Transformative Learning in the College Classroom featuring Maryellen Weimer, editor of The Teaching Professor newsletter, and Professor Patricia Cranton, a noted authority on transformative learning. A CD of the complete 60-minute discussion is now available for $149.

Adult educators write about something they call transformative learning. It is learning that changes who people are. This is high stakes learning and learning that lasts. A lot of what we teach in college does not intend this effect, but four years of college should lead students to new vistas of self knowledge and understanding. Those insights can be prompted by confrontational questions that challenge beliefs and assumptions.

Reference: Cranton, P. Understanding and Promoting Transformative Learning: A Guide for Educators of Adults. 2nd Edition. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2006.

Maryellen Weimer has edited The Teaching Professor since 1987. She is a Penn State Professor Emeritus of Teaching and Learning. In addition to editorship of the newsletter, Dr. Weimer has authored and edited eight books; most recently Learner-Centered Teaching and Enhancing Scholarly Work on Teaching and Learning.

From The Teaching Professor, March 2007.