Transformation Theories: A Reflection

By: Shaaban Fundi
In this essay I will discuss transformative theory of learning through four different lenses or approaches. These approaches include Mezirow’s psychocrtitical approach/theory, Daloz’s psychodevelopmental perspectives, Paulo Freire’s sociocultural theory and Boyd’s psychoanalytical approach. I will then, discuss the similarities and differences among these four lenses of transformative learning. Furthermore, I will discuss my views regarding the theories of transformative learning and to whether or not the theories have changing my world view (epistemology) over the years.

Mezirow (1997) defines transformative learning as the process that affects change in persons’ frame of reference. He argues that adults have over the years developed experiences that define their world. Because of this body of experience we tend to “reject ideas that fail to fit our preconceptions” (Mezirow, 1197, p.5). In Mezirow’s psychocritical approach, meaning structures are differentiated into three categories–frame of reference, habits of mind and point of view. In addition, for transformative learning to take place Mezirow argues that transformation must take place in our belief system, attitude and our entire perspectives. And, experience, critical reflection, reflective discourse, and action are central phenomenon in Mezirow’s psychocritical transformative learning theory.
Despite a well-developed theory put forth by Mezirow, critics argue that there is too much overreliance on rationality. According to Merrian, 2004 (as cited on Merrian, S., Caffarerra, R., & Baumgartner, L, 2007, p.136) “one’s cognitive development may influence his or her ability to experience a perspective transformation.” Thus, refuting rationality as the major cause of transformative learning.

According to Daloz, 1986 education is a transformational journey geared at enhancing development in an individual. The focus of transformation in Daloz’psychodevelopmental perspective relies on stories of the journey that someone takes to expand his or her world view. Dialogues and discourse are integral part of the transformation process his perspectives. On the other hand, Boyd “sees transformation as an inner journey resulting into greater personal consciousness (Merrian at al., 2007, p. 139). Boyd also places greater emphasis on the importance of dialogue or discourse for transformation to occur.
The major similarity amongst all these three theories of transformational learning is that they all place a greater emphasis on the discourse and/or dialogue. The difference between Boyd’s perspectives and Mezirow’s theory are that Boyd focused on the importance of stories on the journey towards transformation and Mezirow does not.

The last theory of transformation I will briefly discuss is the sociocultural transformation learning theory by Brazilian educator Paulo Freire. His theory emerged from the context of poverty, illiteracy, and oppression and focuses mainly on social change. Paulo classifies consciousness in three categories: i) magical (no control over own life, everything is externally influenced), ii) Midway (people starting understanding that they have some level of control and can change their circumstances), iii) critical consciousness (people are fully aware of forces that shape one’ life) (Merrian at al., 2007, p.141).
Central to all the four theories of transformational learning is the idea that through dialogue and/or discourse a person involved in a transformative learning experience can move to a frame of reference that is “more inclusive, discriminating, self-reflective, and integrative of all experiences” (Mezirow, 1997, p. 5). I see myself going through this transformation, especially in the sociocultural view point. Over the years I was stuck in the mindset that the problems in my community were too big and I thought too much external forces beyond my control were at play. But as I engaged in self-reflection and dialogue with others, I am now seriously thinking that most of the problems I have seen and continue to see in my community have solutions from within rather than from without.

I will highlight one issue here as an example. The village I grew up in, does not have a library or a computer center where young people and others can access information. There are three secondary schools and one teacher’s college in the area. I looked at the problem and felt helpless in the beginning. But, last year I decided to take action and started to collect used laptop and desktop computers from friends and co-workers for a small learning center. I named the center Kibogoji Experiential Learning Center, Inc. Currently I have 7 computers and bought enough bricks to build just a single room for the center. It is not operational yet, but I feel like this will no longer be a problem in my village the near future.

This example shows the power of transformation through education. It is imperative through education to understand forces that shape one’s life and in the process to become an active agent of change by creating a more just reality for all. I have changed from the mindset that external forces are in charge (the blame game) to becoming a person that will transform part of my previous world. Thanks to education and its transformative forces.

I am trying to instill this kind of transformative education to my students. Teaching them not just lecture hall related subjects but also “teaching them the ability to lift themselves by rethinking and reconfiguring their frame of reference.” To achieve this transformative education, I use research based and theory derived teaching strategies such as blending gizmos with tradition teaching to empower students to create their own meaning from text and/or concepts (Shunk, 2012, p.293).


Shunk, D. H.(2012). Learning theories:An educational perspectives (6th. Ed.). New York: Pearson.
Merrian, S. B., Caffarella, R. S., & Baumgartner, L. M. (2007). Learning in adulthood: A comprehensive guide (3rd ed.). San Fransisco: Jossey-Bass.
Mezirow, J. (1997). Transformative learning: Theory to practice. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 74


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