The Importance of Transformational Learning in Adult Education

Topics: Adult Education

What is learning, and how can the learning process be improved to provide a highe quality education? The ability to receive a quality education is a privilege taken for granted in modem society. The development of the public school system and statutory education guidelines, lay the groundwork which form the foundation with which transformative learmers build their scope of knowledge through critical thinking and reflection. The transformative definition of learning is the process by which an individual uses beliefs, knowledge, and environment to understand a set of events and then use the information gathered to affect later decisions (Mezirow, 2000, p.


Transformational learning pushes the learner to be their own advocate; forcing students to stretch the boundaries of self-awareness, and apply the requisite skills of critical thinking and analysis. Asserting control in the educational process requires the development of well-defined goals, by creating a timeline of achievable objectives (Mezirow, 1997, p. 8). The transformative process changes the way educators relate to students and vice versa.

Cristi, Carey, Robertson, and Granger (2015), found in a study regarding the active teachers
in a developing province of Papua, Indonesia (p. 17). The teachers participating in the program were faced with a completely adverse methodology in teaching, which directly conflicted with the standards and practices that had become part of their identity as an
educator (Cristi, et al. 2015, p. 18).

Teachers were forced to reflect on and compare the standards and practices they had become accustomed to with the knowledge gained during the study. The response from the teachers showed in increase in autonomy and teachers began taking a more active role in the
classroom, developing a conversational rapport with students, and creating new lessons.

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Cristi, et al., (2015) shared feedback which exemplified the autonomous response; “..I always followed what’s in the books, but now realized no, I have to make the lesson myself..
T don’t need to blame the government for something; it forced me to make my own ideas come out and help students” (p. 19). After reviewing the results of Cristi et al. (2015), it is apparent that success in a classroom setting requires an active student willing to take responsibility for his/her own actions, and an educator with at least a minimal level of control over the environment.

A learning system inherently based in the transformative theory is further defined through instrumental and communicative domains of learning. Instrumental and communicate learning fulfill different aspects and requirements of the learning process. Under the scope of
the transtormative theory the domains of learning are represented in the process of inquiry and analysis. Mezirow (2000) defines instrumental learning as the process of staging an environment to generate a specific result (p.8). Kevin M. Roessger, in The Effects of
Reflective Activities on Skill Adaptation in a Work-Related Instrumental Leaning Setting (2014) defines the role of instrumental learning through the action of manipulating the perception of a problem in combination with learner’s personal belief system to find a solution and inspire transformation (p. 325).

Opponents of instrumental learning theorize that the strict use of control preventsstudents fro m more effective learning through the application of boundaries and guidelines (Kuboni, 2013, p. 230-231). The flaw in this reasoning falls into the assumption that the use
of boundaries prevents the educator and student from adapting the boundaries to their individual needs. Opponents appear to assume that the instrumental learning that takes place in the structured setting stays within that structured setting. The predominant purpose of
instrumental learning is to inspire inquisitiveness and self-reflect. Mezirow (2000), defines communicative leaning as the development of
communication skills through assessment and critical reflection (p. 9). Communicative leaming rests on the ability of the parties involved to engage in an effective exchange of knowledge, opinions, and ideas. Success is found when the parties are able to understand, analyze and reflect on the information presented (Mezirow, 1997, p. 7). The relationship that is developed is one of mutual gain, as each party involved has the opportunity to evolve.

Communicative learning the more accepted and supported of the two domain. The practice of communicative learning can be best described as the polar opposite of instrumental learning. (Mezirow, 1991, p. 79-80). The philosophy of learming is changing as society develops new educational forums and delivery systems. An example of this change is online leaming, once restricted to adult learners is now open to children and adolescents from kindergarten to twelve grade. The adaptation of online education for younger students has likely changed teaching methods used in the online forum. Online adult learning is the prime example of communicative principles as it requires a student to be assertive, take responsibility for the learning process, and effectively communicate through impersonal discourse (Kuboni, 2013, p. 231).

Children require a more hands on environment, generally falling under the scope of instrumental learning. I must then ask how children are receiving the hands on instruction Outside of a physical classroom? It can be easily assumed that either parents are taking on the role of educator to stand in for the physical aspect of the classroom, or the online environment has developed to allow for real time communication creating a virtual classroom which imitates traditional child teacher relationship.

Understanding how learning occurs is imperative for an educator. The theory of transformative learning provides valuable insight into how to improve the educational process. As Mezirow (1997), states “[t]ransformative learning is not an add-on. It is the essence of adult education” (p. 11).


  1. Christi, M., Carey, M., Robertson, A., & Grainger, P. (2015). Putting transformative learning theory into practice. Australian Journal of Adult Education, 55(1), 09-30.
  2. Gouthro, P. A. (2006). Reason, Communicative Learning, and Civil Society: The Use of Habermasian Theory in Adult Education. Journal Of Educational Thought, 40(1), 5-22.
  3. Kuboni, O. (2013). The Preferred Learning Modes of Online Graduate Students. International Review Of Research In Open & Distance Learning, 14(3), 228-249.
  4. Mezirow, J. (1991). Transformative dimensions of adult learning. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.Merizow, J. (2003).
  5. Transformative learning as discourse. Journal of Transformative Education 1(1): 58-63. doi: 10.1177/1541344603252172.

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The Importance of Transformational Learning in Adult Education. (2023, Mar 10). Retrieved from

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