Transformative Learning: Critical Thinking + Discourse

The question posed for this week’s blog reflection, “Does Learning 2.0 as an organizational/personal learning tool support or align with the theory of transformative learning?”, had special meaning for me while reading Mezirow’s chapter. My Learning 2.0 group, Literacy and Students Learning 2.0, have been in discussion with our site liaison about how to focus our program on the needs of the intended audience, which include a number of native Spanish speakers who are at the library participating in an ESL program as well as many of their tutors. The site liaison has mentioned that many of these users have very little experience with – and potentially some fear of – the technology we’ll be introducing them to.

As a (relatively) young person, an early adopter and someone who works on a development team, I tend to assume that most others in my field share my comfort with technology, so considering how to create a program for the intended audience has been something of a transformative learning experience in and of itself. In reading Mezirow’s chapter on “Transformative Learning: Theory to Practice,” I thought a lot about how crucial it is that we create a transformative learning experience for these users. One quotation in particular jumped out at me:

Thinking as an autonomous and responsible agent is essential for full citizenship in democracy and for moral decision making in situations of rapid change. The identified learning needs of the workforce implicitly recognize the centrality of autonomous learning. – Mezirow, p.7

In creating this program, we’re trying to provide these users with the skills necessary to be autonomous and responsible in environments that will require their contextual understanding of technologies like email and social media. That includes one environment the site liaison has made explicit – the job market, which Mezirow calls out multiple times as valuing the outcome of transformative learning – as well as the larger environment of their communities and the country as a whole, where they need these skills to fully participate.

This audience’s current frame of reference includes relatively little knowledge of the potential of technology to open those kinds of doors for them, and potentially includes a fear of their inability to use it in ways that would be expected of them. My hope is that we can create a participatory and ultimately  transformative learning experience for them that will shift this frame of reference and introduce these users to a larger context in which to understand their own and others’ interactions with these technologies. So my hope is certainly that the Learning 2.0 framework can align with the theory of transformational learning.

That said, another quotation from Mezirow also jumped out at me:

There is an egregious assumption that the acquisition of knowledge or attainment of competencies will somehow automatically generate the understandings, skills, and dispositions involved in learning to think autonomously. – Mezirow, p.9

Mezirow writes often of the role discourse plays in making the leap between acquiring knowledge and integrating it into one’s frame of reference in a way that will “generate the understandings, skills, and dispositions” necessary for learning to really be transformative, for someone to learn to think autonomously. My concern is that for someone who’s unfamiliar with the technologies we want to teach, the potential for each one as a platform for discourse may be unclear and we may not be able to provide the opportunities for discourse required for a truly transformational learning experience. My hope, though, is that through clear explication and consistent engagement and encouragement, we can at least provide the window in which that kind of a learning experience could occur.




One thought on “Transformative Learning: Critical Thinking + Discourse

  1. This is so good to think about. I wonder how blogging fits to promote discourse. I think it promotes reflection and improves writing/thinking abilities. And where does self-directed learning fall? So many questions!

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