Have you ever taught a session where the learners seem resistant to the information you are sharing?
Or have you ever taught a session where the learners appear actively frustrated with the content?
If you have, it could be because what you are teaching does not fit within the learners’ current understanding of the world.
In the theory of transformational learning, Mezirow (1991) proposes that when adult learners experience an event that does not fit in with their understanding of the world, it can create a disorienting dilemma that challenges assumptions about the nature of the world.
In response, a learner can modify their understanding of the world and engage in transformational learning. Alternatively, learners can refuse to accept the new information and keep their original ways of thinking.
Because we want learners to grow in knowledge, it is necessary to be able to help them through transformational learning.
Transformative learning includes 10 phases (Mezirow, 2000):
- A disorienting dilemma
- A critical assessment of one’s assumptions
- Recognition that one’s discontent and the process of transformation are shared
- Exploration of new roles, relationships, and actions
- Planning a course of action
- Acquiring knowledge and skills for implementing one’s plans
- Provisionally trying out new roles
- Building competence and self-confidence in the new roles and relationships
- Reintegration into life with new perspectives
In order to assist learners through these stages consider the following:
- A disorienting dilemma: This is the stage where a learner encounters something they did not know. The information might make them uncomfortable.
- Self-examination: Next, learners need the opportunity for reflection. They need to consider how the new information fits or does not fit with their past experiences. At this stage learners should start to see there may be different ways of experiencing the world.
- A critical assessment of one’s assumptions: The opportunity for reflection leads learners to pause and assess their own assumptions.
- Recognition that one’s discontent and the process of transformation are shared: At this stage there should be an opportunity for a conversation about the disorienting dilemma.
- Exploration of new roles, relationships, and actions: During the conversation, new ways of being in the world and thinking about the world should be explored.
- Planning a course of action: Here, learners consider their next steps based on what they have experienced and realized.
- Acquiring knowledge and skills for implementing one’s plans: Give learners the opportunity to implement the plan they created.
- Provisionally trying out new roles: Give learners the opportunity to act on their new ways of understanding.
- Building competence and self-confidence in the new roles and relationships: Opportunities to act on new ways of understanding should give learners the self-confidence to adopt their new mindset.
- Reintegration into life with new perspectives: Finally, learners can reach transformation in this area and become comfortable with their new ways of understanding.
In the library, transformational learning may occur around topics about information access, information privilege, source evaluation, bias, digital divides, scholarly communication, etc.
I hope you take time to pause and reflect on where you may have encountered resistance from students and see if the transformational learning process would help.
Mezirow, J. (1991) Transformative dimensions of adult learning. Jossey-Bass
Mezirow, J. (2000). Learning as transformation: Critical perspectives on a theory in progress. The Jossey-Bass Higher and Adult Education Series.
Lauren Hays, PhD, is an Assistant Professor of Instructional Technology at the University of Central Missouri, and a frequent presenter and interviewer on topics related to libraries and librarianship. Her expertise includes information literacy, educational technology, and library and information science education. Please read Lauren’s other posts relevant to special librarians. And take a look at Lucidea’s powerful integrated library systems, SydneyEnterprise, and GeniePlus, used daily by innovative special librarians in libraries of all types, sizes and budgets.
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