Transformational Learning

In the last few years I have become increasingly interested in Transformational Learning Theory (TLT) and its applications to both teaching, administration, and organizational change.

In Education for Perspective Transformation: Women’s Reentry Programs in Community Colleges (1978), Jack Mezirow first laid out the premises of what has come to be known as Transformational Learning Theory (TLT). Unlike many models of cognitive development which posit that human learning past the age of adolescence is limited largely to the acquisition of new information, TLT holds that human understanding can dramatically change throughout life, and that central to this process is critical reflection of previously held habits, values, and assumptions.

Indeed, while Mezirow and his colleagues were initially charged with identifying common traits among highly successful adult education programs across the country, what they discovered was that the students who were most successful in any college program were ones who did not simply adapt previous skills, attitudes and methods to new circumstances, but who recognized the need to abandon old habits and develop entirely new approaches and ways of thinking. Further, in focusing almost exclusively on adult learners, TLT has implications far beyond just the college classroom—indeed, researchers in cognitive science, organizational communication, psychology, education, business management, and a host of other fields have begun to apply TLT to studying how humans as well as institutions react to change, and to develop strategies for assisting individuals and organizations grow and innovate more successfully.

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