Curran & Murray on Transformative Learning

Over the past two days my research has focused on “dispositions.”  We are hoping that some of the research will give us insights into the development of dispositions, which might be part of becoming. I’ve already perused the titles of more than 300 works in EBSCO, and a lot of them have to do with measuring or evaluating dispositions. Fewer have to do with developing dispositions. Yesterday I mostly downloaded articles, and didn’t do a lot of reading, so that we can just get materials. I’ve put in orders for several articles, too.

But today EBSCO is driving me nuts; no pdfs will download (though they sit and wait for a terribly long time until they finally time out). I’m not sure what the problem is, but I’ve given up on downloading for the moment; I’ll tackle it again on Monday. Instead I dug into reading again.

I just finished an article by E. Curran and M. Murray on transformative learning. They argue that, since adults come with more pre-existing assumptions and conceptions, learning must be transformative in nature in order for adults to internalize and appropriately apply concepts, skills, and strategies. Through transformative learning, “individuals may free themselves from unexamined or distorted ways of thinking and engage in more rational assessement and action…. Learning that is transformative…takes place…when adults encounter situations (often referred to as disorienting dilemmas) that cause them to question currently held frames of reference and, as a result, alter them to reflect their acquisition or understanding and knowledge (Mezirow, 1994)” (p. 104)m. Critical reflection and rational discourse are essential, and both processes require a safe, challenging, and empowering learning environment that fosters collaboration, respect and feedback (p. 105).

Curran & Murray list specific activites & contexts that facilitate transformative education include: cultural autobiographies, life histories, diversity workshops, cross-cultural interviews, educational plunges, diversity panels & presentations, activist assignments and reflective analysis journals; also peer learning partnerships, joint and self-reflection, peer feedback, modeling, role reversal and peer-supported experimentation (p. 105). Changes are most influenced by professor support, professor challenges, discussions, journals, class activities and personal reflections (p. 106). “…Boling (2007), Brown (2006), Eisen (2001) and King (2002, 2004) … found that a combination of alternative teaching/learning techniques presented in a way that creates cognitive dissonance for students, discussion, and critical reflection were effective in creating a learning environment in which perspectives were transformed” (p. 116).  Finally, they also state that “…[d]eveloping relationships…is also the mechanism through which transformative learning often takes place” (p. 114), through the development of trust, respect, and understanding.

Is “transformative learning” the same as becoming? It definitely seems closer to it than to just acquisition/informative learning. However, are the researchers merely noting changes in attitudes/ideas, or something even deeper that affects learners’ very sense of self, their being?


Curran, E., & Murray, M.  (2008). Transformative learning in teacher education: building competencies and changing dispositions. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 8(3): 103 – 118.


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