Changing How You “Know”

Have you ever had that moment in your classroom where a student questions something you have said or taught, which causes you to redesign your way of teaching? Have you ever had an experience in your personal life where you question and reform your current values system? Either of these experiences can be described as transformative learning, which Kegan describes as an epistemological change that causes individuals to change “how” they know things. “This shift results from a critical examination of one’s own assumptions, values, and beliefs, and of the foundations and expectations of the system in which one operates” (Nemec, 2012, pg. 478).

A moment in time when I believe I experienced transformative learning was after my first trip to Africa. I embarked on a journey to volunteer teach in Tanzania, which I believe has ever changed the way in which I view the world and has altered my values system. I taught in a rural school where I was the second “white” visitor they had. Besides the obvious barriers, and the adjustments I had to make to my teaching abilities, there is nothing I would change about my experience. In a village where bathrooms were rare, food was a scarcity, and the cosmopolitan lifestyle was nonexistent, every person I encountered was joyous and appreciative. It made me reconsider the material goods that I had placed value on (and perhaps which our society places value on), and instead to be thankful for the small but meaningful things, like family and friends. When I came back to Canada, my perspectives about what I wanted out of my life transformed from the focus of material items to loving relationships and the simpler life.

Research suggests that transformative learning “has been critiqued, tested, revised, and retested throughout the past three decades to arrive at a definitive framework for describing how adults learn best” (Kitchenham, 2008, pg. 119-120). However, what factors cause a transformational change? We know that the individual as well as social, cultural, familial, and other factors allow for reflection upon changes, but how does this change begin in the first place? Are there individuals who never experience a transformational change? If so, why? Do they lack a growth mindset or are they so fixed in their beliefs that they are not open to it?

Although my questions will remain unanswered, as an educator I will still strive to provide opportunities for my students’ values and beliefs to be challenged and questioned, through exposure to current events, alternative ways of thinking, critical analysis, and individual reflection.

Sources:
Illeris, K. (Ed.). (2008). Contemporary Theories of Learning: Learning Theorists…In Their Own Words. Florence, KY, USA: Routledge. Retrieved from http://site.ebrary.com/lib/alltitles/docDetail.action?docID=10296951 (Introduction, Chapters 1, 2, 3, 4, 14 and 15 [5 and 11].

Kitchenham, A. (2008). The evolution of John Mezirow’s transformative learning theory. Journal of Transformative Education, 6(2), 104-123. Retrieved from http://usm.maine.edu/olli/national/postConference/2012_confWorkshops/workshopMaterials/Jon%20Neidy/The%20Evolution%20of%20John%20Mezirow’s%20Transformative%20Learning%20Theory.pdf

Nemec, P.B. (2012). Transformative learning. Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal, 35(6), 478-479. Retrieved from http://web.a.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.lib.ucalgary.ca/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=c6456d81-0fe0-4dc6-ac6f-d70d0deace7d%40sessionmgr4005&vid=2&hid=4112

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