July 23rd, 2010

Teaching for Transformative Learning


Picking up where we left off on the previous post, so how do teachers intentionally teach for transformative learning? And how do they do that, given the fact that a teacher cannot make (as in require or force) students have a learning experience that changes what they believe, how they think, or how they act? Like all learning, it’s about creating conditions that are conducive to transformative learning.

For example, adult educators recommend that teachers offer students plenty of opportunity for critical reflection—that teachers put students in belief-confronting situations. Critical reflection doesn’t always involve fancy new techniques: questions can effectively raise issues and help “people figure things out for themselves,” so writes Patricia Cranton (p. 138). But the questions that force reflection aren’t usually the easy ones with straightforward answers. More often they are questions the teacher can’t answer, at least in any definitive way. And I can hear my good colleague Spence reminding me that it isn’t just the questions teachers ask—it’s teachers encouraging students to ask questions and helping them frame their questions so that they inquire about things that are relevant, profound, and worthy of contemplation.

Cranton also writes about the power of a consciousness-raising experience to promote insights and learning that is transformative. Service-learning experiences often do this for students as do travel and study abroad. But it can also be an activity that occurs in the classroom—one that uncovers flawed thinking or alternative perspectives in direct and compelling ways.

Sometimes transformative learning occurs when students must write about an experience. Journal assignments can accomplish this effectively. Here too, having students respond to a thoughtful and provocative question can stimulate the kind of analysis that leads to insights.

Finally, Cranton writes (in this book and elsewhere) about the role of teacher authenticity in creating climates supportive of transformative learning. Authenticity conveys the kind of support learners need—confronting long-held beliefs, asking questions about has been long been taken for granted can be frightening. Cranton notes that there is no one “correct” way to be genuine in our relations with students. Teachers can be authentic without being all warm and fuzzy and they can be authentic at the same time they are professional. Authenticity is about personal honesty and being just as open to transformative learning experiences as students are expected to be.


Cranton, P. Understanding and Promoting Transformative Learning. 2nd Ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2006.