Transformative Learning and Higher Education

The primary goal of higher education is to help to prepare those who have been students to this juncture in their lives for the first steps into adulthood. But beyond this, there are various philosophically-grounded objectives to which the university should aspire, including the cultivation of ingenuity, the facilitation of positive social action and the formulation of tomorrow’s upstanding citizens. Unfortunately, the perspective on transformative education argues, these goals are often far overshadowed by the demands placed upon individuals to get good grades, to remain focused on narrow disciplinary imperatives and to formulate professional objectives. The discussion here denotes that transformative education aims to dismantle the separation between these objectives by eliminating the boundaries between disciplines, the boundaries between professional objectives and personal objectives and the boundaries between the academic world and the social realm.

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Transformative education thusly promotes the pursuit of positive social change through the learning development of individuals. This is a premise which strikes one as particularly relevant to the context of higher education, and yet, our review of the texts by Glisczinski (2007) and Moore (2005) shows, such a perspective is often critically lacking at the instructional level. This, Moore indicates, is so in spite of the relative theoretical acceptance attained by transformative education. Moore reports that “many academics supports the ideals of transformation and social change and the importance of these constructs for the public — outside of the university.” (Moore, p. 77)

However, certain conceits of the educational system have made this quite a secondary interest. The experience that greets many students when they have reached the level of higher education is one of simultaneous social unfamiliarity and, all too frequently, a less than novel academic reality. The study by Glisczinski (2007) argues that in spite of the inherently transformative nature of the university experience, classes often do not reflect this notion of transition. The result, the article indicates, is that the experience of personal transformation far out-shadows the transformation achieved in the academic context. Accordingly, the article “revealed that 35% of participating college students reported experiencing transformative learning as a result of critical reflection on disorienting college experiences. This study explores curricular and pedagogical interventions designed to move critical reflection and perspective transformation from the periphery of higher education curriculum into a central framework for teaching, as an act of intentionality and decision making.” (Glisczinski, p. 317)

This denotes the ambition to render curricular procedure and academic content according to the broader needs that must be fulfilled as one moves forward on one’s academic journey. Accordingly, the approach taken to academics will center on the refinement of more generally applicable skill sets such as interpersonal communication, team orientation and learning through practical usage of emergent skills. Accordingly, Moore points to instances of interdisciplinary learning as the manifestation of this set of values which is increasingly seen as essential to yielding the best results from one’s higher education. Accordingly, Moore indicates that “new models of interdisciplinary education promote student teamwork in a shift toward transformative, experiential, and collaborative learning.” (p. 77)

The text goes on to note that in spite of the rising scholarly consensus on the value of such approaches, they contrast from actually practices across the general higher education spectrum. Here, there is instead a tendency toward retrenchment in traditional modes of instruction, pedagogy and evaluation. This suggests that the absence of transformational strategies in many higher education contexts is not as a consequence of curricular restrictiveness or limited resources. Instead, these seems to emerge from a cultural commitment to familiar, comfortable and predictable modes of instruction and testing. As Moore points out, “despite having academic freedom in teaching and research, few professors engage in alternative models for teaching and learning in their classrooms or emphasize social change as an outcome of their classes.” (p. 77)

Moore suggests that this may be both an outcome of cultural constructs and of the university system’s broader mode of operation. Accordingly, the text makes the argument that certain educational prerogatives such as formal graded evaluation and strict degree course paths will tend to dominate the experience of students in a way that defies the opportunities for transformation which might otherwise be keyed into by coursework. An example which Moore provides and which therefore forms the basis of the recommendations emerging from the present discussion is that relating to environmental education. Here, the researcher proceeds from the argument that a transformational curriculum will recognize the opportunity of a higher learning institution to seize on the individualized talents, competencies and ambitions of students for the benefit of society as a whole. By imbuing all course content with an interdisciplinary sustainability lens, Moore indicates, her university successfully brought about a transformation in the culture of the institution as a whole. The unifying emphasis would help to transform myriad students into a multi-disciplinary, socially conscious generation of professionals.

Works Cited:

Glisczinksi, D.J. (2007). Transformative Higher Education: A Meaningful Degree of Understanding. Journal of Transformative Education, 5(4), 317-328.

Moore, J. (2005). Is Higher Education Ready for Transformative Learning? Journal of Transformative Education, 3(1), 76-91.