Transformative Learning: a critical research perspective for engaging with the challenges of education for change.

Authors: Hutchings, M.

Start date: 15 November 2011

Contemporary society and university education are characterised by complexities and uncertainties associated with major socio-economic and cultural influences linked to globalisation and rapid advances in technological developments and information and communication technologies. The boundaries and spaces for learning are challenged when learning contexts cannot be confined to a particular place defined for the purpose. These challenges encourage possibilities for considering different perspectives towards achieving more integrated, collaborative and sustainable spaces for engaging in theory, practice, and research for transformative education.

Transformative learning has been described as a deep shift in perspective triggered by major life events, marking periods of transition through experiences such as birth, death, disease, or natural disaster. Trigger experiences could also include young adults transitioning from school to university, mature students returning to study, encounters between academia and professional practice, and staff and students coping with the vicissitudes of daily life. While the concept of transformative learning can be contested, this paper will explore how meanings and enactments can provide guiding principles for informing sound pedagogy in the creation of authentic and meaningful experiences towards transforming and empowering individuals in negotiating and developing their identities, praxis and pathways through life.

Research findings from curricular initiatives, including interprofessional and lifeworld-led education, will be drawn upon to consider key processes at work in transformative learning including disorienting dilemmas, critical reflection, more comprehensive ways of knowing, purposeful relationships with others, appreciation of context, and valuing participants as active shapers of their environment, underpinned by ethical responsibilities and sensitivity. The interplay of relationships and linkages between technical-discursive (cognition-head) practical (action-hand) and embodied knowledge (emotion-heart) provide rich and creative opportunities for integration of learning. Moving learning beyond cognitive-rational approaches focused on the individual and personal reflection to more complex socially-situated approaches focusing on connected knowing and embodied relational understanding can nurture more collaborative social-emancipatory approaches for learning. This approach gives primacy to praxis enacted in experiential learning opportunities situated in diverse academic and practice settings, valuing and working with the enablements and constraints of context.

We will explore how this approach can inform strategies for education which support integration, collaboration, and sustainability and implications for research. Explanatory and dialogic leverage can be achieved by shifting the focus of interests from the individual to socially-situated processes and practices, recognizing the interplay between agency and structure facilitated through praxis and reflexivity. This position lends itself to more nuanced and participatory research approaches which acknowledge and work with the complexities and uncertainties of change towards socially responsible transformation in relational and collaborative partnerships with students, staff and professions.

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