Tag Archives: rational discourse

transformative learning: making the world a better place

i’m really taking you guys for a ride here. compassion, families, spamming buddhists – and now a little bit of educational research. i guess in my minds it all hangs together: it’s all about how people make a better life for themselves, and a better world for everyone.

so … today we have part three in the four-part series on change and transformation from my research on transformative learning in adult learning. in part one, we had looked at the time before the transformation, in part two at the moment of transformation itself, and today we’ll discuss the time immediately following the transformation.

it is the time that people who have changed look back and measure, each in their own way, how far they have come. one research particpant said this:

if someone had told me in 1980 that i would be in law school in 2004, i would have laughed for an hour straight … i think i am one of those individuals that need to mature before appreciating higher education.

this can be seen as a reference to a developmental theme and also brings up the question of whether there is a certain emotional and/or intellectual maturity needed to recognize and make use of opportunities for significant learning.

the following quote reminds of mezirow’s discussion of rational discourse, a central aspect of transformative learning. it comes from an interviewee whose world opened up because now she feels so much better educated and informed and takes great delight in being able to conduct intelligent conversations:

i think more before i talk. i am more sensitive to people’s needs. i take time to reflect and am able to give my opinion in a well thought out manner.

mezirow’s insistence on rational discourse can be traced to one of the two most important influences on transformation theory, juergen habermas (the other one being paolo freire). he coined the terms ‘communicative action‘ and ‘communicative learning’. this is in contrast to ‘instrumental learning’, which is a type of learning that, metaphorically speaking, puts one building block of learning on top of another but never builds a new building (or asks where the building blocks come from). communicative learning is about

[understanding] what others mean and [making] ourselves understood as we attempt to share ideas through speech, the written word, plays, moving pictures, television, and art … it involves understanding, describing, and explaining intentions; values; ideals; moral issues; social, political, philosophical, psychological, or educational concepts; feelings and reasons. (mezirow, 1991, p. 75)

in parenthesis, it appears that for the interviewee quoted above, there was quite a bit of informational learning involved in coming to this communicative learning or action. this aside, this interviewee’s quote exemplifies one of the main aims of the original driving forces behind transformative learning: the emancipatory, radical humanism found in habermas’s and freire’s work that so much informs mezirow. in very crude terms, the aim is to make the world a better place, and the way to do it is to harness educational forces (the humanist part) for emancipatory purposes (the radical part).

through education, this person gained the freedom to express herself, and to extend a similar freedom to others as she listens to them expressing themselves. many will agree that when such communication is lacking, interpersonal, social, and political problems arise.