Transformative Learning Experience: Wilson & Parrish

I came across a reference to the Wong article while reading another article by Brent Wilson and Patrick Parrish.  In this article, they discuss the definition and indicators of transformative learning experiences (TLEs), as well as moral, aesthetic, and archetypal considerations for creating learning encounters with transformative potential for learners.

Here is the definition which Wilson & Parrish propose for TLE: “an especially meaningful encounter that leaves a lasting impact on a person’s sense of competence or place in the world” (p. 10).  Experiences that rises to the levels of TLEs — the peak experiences of learning —  are related to aesthetic and spiritual experiences.  Drawing on Dewey and James, they write that the experience of beauty “reminds us what is most important about who we are and who we want to become… [T]hese heightened experiences — aesthetic or spiritually based — are as real, authentic, connecting,and instructive as anything in our lives. They ask us to step outside ourselves to not only connect to something beyond us but also to see who we are and how we can grow (Wong, 2007)” (p. 12, italics, mine).

Wilson & Parrish then describe three indicators of transformative learning experience (see p. 12).  They are:

  • personal meaning: Experiences which leave a lasting impression; have resonance; become part of person’s self-narrative; and take on a meaning beyond themselves, becoming mythologized by the learner
  • competence: Experiences which cause a significant restructuring of subject-matter schemas (conceptual shifts allowing complex & related information to be better organized, integrated, and meaningfully connected to action); which lead to new generative stances (new understandings, commitments, problem solving possibilities, and growth in the role of subject matter); which develop agency, efficacy, or empowerment (learners feel their efforts are meaningful and worthwhile); and which encourage a positive shift in interest, values, or attitudes toward the subject matter (helping to integrate the subject into a continuing career focus, interest, avocation, or passion).
  • relationships: Experiences which result in strong feelings of connection toward an instructor or learning peers, who then “become concrete reference points for linking knowledge about the subject matter” (p. 12); a call to action (increased capacity and willingness to engage the world and others); and increased capacity to understand alternative points of view and relate to diverse others.

The term “competence” doesn’t quite fit in my mind with the attending description of restructured schemas, new generative stances, and value shifts.  Regardless, all the “indicators” could be seen as indicators of learning as becoming.  In their list of guidelines for creating facilitative conditions for TLEs, there is nothing specific regarding face-to-face versus machine-/computer-mediated situations.  Many of their guidelines could be applied equally well in a machine-mediated environment as in a face-to-face one.  However, some of the guidelines clearly indicate “the human touch,” such as (p. 13):

  • Build trust and “pedagogical capital” through empathic, competent engagement as an instructor (Wilson & Switzer, 2010).
  • Through every interaction, show caring, professionalism, respect, and commitment to learning (Holmberg, 2003).

Dr. Graham and I have repeatedly said that the human interaction is critical to becoming, and thus when learning is intended to affect becoming, not just knowing or doing, it is most effective that it be face-to-face or otherwise high on the “humanness” scale (Graham, 2006).


Wilson, B. G. & Parrish, P. E. (2011). Transformative Learning Experience: Aim Higher, Gain More. Educational Technology, March-April: 10-15.


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