Transformational Learning: A Literature review of contemporary criticism and a path forward


JOSEPH DESAPIO:
Yeah, so first time for me doing this, so
kind of interesting. But if you want me to go
ahead and get started, really, I just have a minute
or two kind of introduction that I can offer. And then I’d be happy
to answer any questions that you might have, if there’s
anything about my poster that seems intriguing. So transformational learning
is an adult learning theory. And it’s a really
fascinating one. It basically seeks
to explore how adults make shifts in their
perspective of how they either view themselves, or others,
or the world around them. And unlike many adult
learning theories, at least in general,
transformational learning doesn’t just understand
learning as something that’s behavioral or cognitive,
but also convectional, and psychological, and
sociological, and emotional. And it’s a very
fascinating theory. You can kind of understand
transformational learning in the workplace as what happens
when a really bad manager– perhaps, he or she is cold,
and distant, and self-serving– becomes a really
good manager, one who is warm, and invitational,
and others-focused. What’s going on there when
that shift takes place? That could be
transformational learning. In society, you can
kind of understand transformational
learning as what happens when, perhaps, someone
with racist perspectives becomes one who is not a racist. So it’s this idea of
core transformation in worldview and perspective. And perhaps, the only thing
that matches the fascination that some have had with
transformational learning is the criticism that others
have had with the theory. And so what I did was
a literature review. So what I wanted to
do was kind of survey where the academic
thought was right now around transformational
learning– the past 10 years or so
of critical literature. And I wanted to see
if I can identify any trends in that
literature of what’s exactly being said about it. What are some most
common critiques? What are the gaps that
are being identified? I wanted to try to
draw some implications of those criticisms. And then I wanted to try to
outline a very brief path forward, maybe how we
could move the dialogue in a positive direction
to continue to the theory. So my poster, I
think it outlines– pretty typical– my purpose,
method, conclusions, implications. And in the center
there, you see, those are the four
trends that I identified in all the literature
that I was surveying. So the first one is
alternative conceptions. That’s basically, practitioners
have taken the initial kind of tone of
transformational learning, offered by a guy named
Jack Mezirow in the ’70s. And there’s been a lot of
alternative conceptions, kind of baseline, staying with
Mezirow’s general thought, but then taking it sometimes
in very, very different directions. The second trend would
be pondering cause. And that’s really getting
at this question of, what is it that
practitioners ought to be targeting to see
transformational learning take place? So with behaviorism, you’re
targeting the motor domains and behaviors. With certain cognitive
theories of learning, you’re targeting cognitive
abilities and things like that. So what is it that we
should be targeting to try to see transformational
learning take place? The third trend was
this use of what I’m calling identity language. And there’s a lot
of different terms that you insert there to
use in place of identity. But it’s basically some
practitioners trying to get at, what is it that we
ought to be targeting to see transformational
learning take place? So what is it about
that bad manager that needs to be targeted to
catalyze some form of learning that is so
transformative that he goes from being a bad
manager to the good manager? And there’s starting to be
some consensus around this idea of identity language. And then the fourth trend– which is somewhat, perhaps,
of an absence of a trend– is that most of the literature
in the last 10 years or so, particularly the
critical literature– it’s very theoretical. So it lacks a lot of
practical implications. How do we do this? How do we close the gap
between theory and practice? What is it that we can
implement in a repeatable way, and therefore, then measure
to see if we can successfully implement some sort of strategy
of transformational learning? So that’s kind of a
nutshell of what I did. And yeah, if you
have any questions, I’d be happy to
try to answer them. SPEAKER 1: So I have a question. How do you measure
the different trends? If you see a pattern or
you see that maybe they’re transforming using that trend,
is there a way to measure it? JOSEPH DESAPIO: To
measure the actual trend? SPEAKER 1: Yeah, like them
trending that way or whatever? Or you just notice that
that’s what they’ve done? JOSEPH DESAPIO: Yeah, so this
was being a literature review, really, what I did was– there was a certain
set of search terms and a searching
methodology that I used to try to
identify papers that would fit into the category
of critical literature, trying to get at
practical applications of transformational learning. So once I tried to identify
a larger group of papers that I wanted to look
through, it really was a process of just
reading, and highlighting, and trying to analyze, and
synthesize, and put some things together in spreadsheets. So the trends, perhaps,
are aren’t quantifiable. There’s not a lot
of data that you’re looking at in that sense
of quantifiable trends. But more so, I was trying to
act as a barometer for where the dialogue is at. So there is a certain
measure of subjectivity that I’m sure plays into that. But in general, I’d
be confident to say that, based on the pieces
that I’ve surveyed, these are the trends
that are prevalent there. SPEAKER 1: OK. So you can us a little bit
more about the implications? JOSEPH DESAPIO: Yeah. So going through all this,
and identifying these trends, there was a pretty interesting
thing that I noticed. And that’s, really, trends 2
and 3, so pondering cause– what causes this– and then
the use of identity language. So there’s a journal
called The Journal of Transformative Education. And upon its
inception, the journal called for academically
provocative solutions to transformational learning,
so things that you wouldn’t typically think of,
perhaps, that are the most easily quantifiable. Because you’re really dealing
with these kind of big ideas that impact society
and the workplace, not just meeting numbers. And that’s really the core of
why transformational learning has received such criticism. Because when you’re talking
about ideas like that, it really is hard
to quantify them. How do you quantify
a good manager? You often, in the workplace,
hear these things like, well, maybe he’s not cut out–
or she’s not cut out– to be people manager. It’s a subjective perspective
of how you interact and relate to people. And that’s why, like I said,
transformational learning is so interesting
in that it really leans into psychology, and
sociology about how people interact with people, and about
how people view themselves and view the world around them. Whereas adult
learning, largely, is very scientific in how
we look at catalyzing learning in the workplace and
in various other institutions and societies. So my implications, to your
question more specifically– that’s kind of context– is that the recent
critical literature, it really seems like
we’re onto something. But I think to
develop it further, we have to be willing
and able to try to explore some of these
provocative, non-rational, non-typical domains of human
emotion, human conviction, human belief systems. And the real work that would
be done is to figure out, how can we analyze those things? How can we, to a
degree, quantify those things to develop a
strategy for implementing transformational
learning, and then also to be able to
assess its success? And so my implications are kind
of summing that up, and saying, this is what we
need to be getting at to dive deeper into this. And then the path
forward section is kind of a very rudimentary
hypothesis about some things that we could explore
a little bit further by way of developing a strategy
that could be implemented to catalyze
transformational learning, and therefore
assess its success. SPEAKER 1: Thank you. Do you have any questions? Is there another question
that’s in the chat? JOSEPH DESAPIO: Oh,
I do see a chat here. Joe, can you share
your poster online? I’m sure that’s possible. I don’t know how. I’m sorry. That was Steve. I could certainly
email it to you. And I’d be happy to do that. STEVE: Yeah, I’d love to see it. I guess, if I think about
transformational learning, two things strike me. One is that it’s one of those
things where probably all of us have experienced
some form of it. It’s also one of those things
that’s very hard to categorize, plan for, or measure. Personally, what
happened to me is I went from being a competent
instructional designer to a person who was a senior
instructional designer who managed other people’s work. That was transformational. Because suddenly, it’s not just
instructional design anymore. It’s all this management stuff
about quality, and schedule, and budget, and building
process, and capacity. That was a major change
in all the variables that you mentioned. I guess if I want to use
transformational learning effectively to help people make
these kinds of career changes, what kinds of
suggestions could you offer for doing that
in a workplace setting? JOSEPH DESAPIO: Yeah. And so I tried to think hard
about good examples to use. Because that’s often the
best way to communicate. I think one of those
examples really is relating to that manager. And so perhaps we fall
into a broader category of leadership development. When you’re talking about that
potentially bad manager who’s cold a bit self-serving,
what are the suggestions that I would make based
on what I’m seeing here and these calls for
non-practical, kind of identity language solutions? That’s where I call out in
that path forward section on my poster– which, obviously,
you don’t have before you. But there’s three things there. And it’s a struggle,
a story, and something about connectedness. And so struggle– Mezirow, his
theory, one of the first things that he called
out was this thing called a disorienting dilemma. And that was you do face some
sort of just shift, or mix-ups, a wrench gets thrown
into your gears. And so the experience
of struggle, or the observation of struggle
within others, I think, can really be used. I don’t think it’s
something that we think of using typically. But I think that that experience
or observation of that struggle can really be used. So in the example
of that manager, he’s probably struggling
to be effective. Maybe his performance
ratings, the folks he manages perhaps aren’t giving
him great reviews. And that’s also probably
causing the job of those he manages to be a
bit of a struggle. So trying to kind of unpack
that a little bit, and expose that, I think is one piece. And then the next
piece I would call story, which is really
compelling narratives. Because we’re trying
to target identity, which is wrapped
up in psychology, sociology, emotions,
convictions. Spreadsheets typically don’t
do that for people, at least for a lot of people. But compelling narratives do. And I often think of– you see a lot of
these documentaries. And certain
documentaries, I think, are actually wonderful examples
of transformational learning, whether they be things
like Blackfish, exposing how animals are
treated, or Food, Inc, different things like that. That’s really an attempt at
creating a compelling narrative that is targeting a person’s
perspectives and worldview, and seeing in such a way
that their hope is to create a shift in perspective. And so I think
those are examples. And then connectedness
kind of has its roots in communities of
practice in the workplace. And like I said, so that
last bit is really– based on everything
that the research that I did in trying to understand
the gaps that were being identified, and the criticisms
that were being offered, this is really my very
rudimentary hypothesis about, what are some ways that could
be studied a little bit more to figure out how to
make a strategy that could be implemented in the
workplace or other institutions of society that can be
then assessed as to whether or not they’re successful
in creating transformation? So yeah, I hope that
answers your question. STEVE: What kinds
of things would you put in the environment
to support this? Learning is one of those
things that happens at the level of the individual. What kinds of
environmental supports might you put in place, in
terms of data, or instruments, or incentives in
support of this? JOSEPH DESAPIO: Yeah,
and so answering that question is probably beyond
the scope of what I initially did. So I could rattle of,
perhaps, some ideas off the top of my head. But I probably wouldn’t
be able to back them up with a lot of deep analysis. Because I didn’t
really go there. My focus is really to
try to understand where the dialogue was at, and kind
of synthesize that, and have a really good
understanding of that, and then being able to
articulate it, along with some suggestions, or
thoughts, or kind of questions that perhaps might lead
to some aha moments. So I wouldn’t want to pretend to
offer some really great answers to that one. Because I didn’t really
go there in much depth. I do think I am one
minute past my time. Time flies when you’re– SPEAKER 1: Yeah, it does. It goes by fast. JOSEPH DESAPIO: I would
want to also call out the acknowledgement– Lisa is on the call here. And she’s provided
a lot of help to me. I bounce ideas back
and forth off of her. This was initially a project
that I worked on in 531, a class that she was on. And so yeah, thank you so
much for all of your help and support through that, Lisa. Really appreciate it. LISA A. GUACUMO: Well, you
did a wonderful job, Joe. STEVE: Joe rocks. Yay! LISA A. GUACUMO: Joe does rock. [LAUGHING] JOSEPH DESAPIO:
All right, well, I don’t want to go into
anyone else’s time. I don’t know how exactly
this meeting is set up. But I think it’s
for me to sign off. So I just [INAUDIBLE]. SPEAKER 1: Great job. Thanks, everybody. Thank you. LISA A. GUACUMO: Well done, Joe. JOSEPH DESAPIO: Thank you. Have a good one.

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