Mezirow’s Transformational Learning Theory

After reading and researching the many learning theories, the constructivist learning theory is the theory that I am most interested in. For this assignment I will focus on Mezirow’s Transformational Learning Theory. As with many theories, this theory falls into two of the orientations of learning, the Humanist and Constructivist. The Humanist orientation requires the learner to be self-directed for their learning. Whereas the Constructivist orientation emphasizes is on the learner constructing knowledge from experience. Mezirow’s Transformational Learning Theory consists of four main components.  “Experience, critical reflection, rational discourse and action” and ten phases (Merriam et al 2007, p 134). Other theorists believe that “you construct knowledge from experience” (Merriam et al 2007, p 295). In this paper I will summarize this learning theory, explain my rationale forselecting this theory, summarize the roles of the Instructor and student when using this theory, and provide examples how this theory could be used for student nurses in the classroom or lab setting.

 Summary of Mezirow’s Transformational Learning Theory

Learning theories go back as far as Plato and Aristotle. Learning theories are frameworks that explain how the learning evolves for the learner. There are many views how this occurs, depending on the writer. Aristotle, believed that “all knowledge comes through senses” (Merriam et al 2007, p 275).  Whereas Maslow’s theory is “based on a hierarchy of needs” (Merriam et al 2007, p 282). Transformational learning is a conceptual framework for adult learning. And is a form of communicative learning. This progression involves personal change, and includes how one views their self and the world. Theorists, Mezirow, Brookfield, and Freire all agree that Transformation Learning is essential to adult education. They believe that the adult learner has many life experiences and will encounter new experiences, reflect on these experiences and then transform rom the experience.The constructivist view of learning is “compatible with the notion of self-direction” (Candy, 1991, p 278).This involves “understanding the meaning of what others communicate concerning values, ideals, feelings, moral decisions, concepts as freedom, justice, love, labor, autonomy, commitment and democracy” (Mezirow, 1991, p 8). Values are influenced by cultural, social, and change over time. Individual values influence one’s behavior, relationships, and personal needs. In nursing practice values are critical in delivering of safe competent ethical nursing care. Self directed learning can be challenging for some learners. It requires the learner to take ownership of their learning, be autonomous, self motivated, to have the ability to set learning goals, engage in self-reflection and perform ongoing monitoring of their progress. The work of Mezirow’s Transformational Learning Theory was introduced in 1978. This occurred as a result of studying a number of women who had returned to college as adult learners. Both Mezirow and Friere “view knowledge as something that is constructed by the individual in relation with others” (PAACE Journal of Lifelong Learning, 1998). Mezirow defines learning as “the process of using a prior interpretation to construe a new or a revised interpretation of the meaning of one’s experience in order to guide future action” (Merriam et al 2007, p 132). His theory consists of ten phases and four components. The first component, experience begins in childhood and involves social cultural aspects. The second component, critical reflection occurs through personal reflection or group discussions. This often involves questioning assumptions and beliefs on past experiences. At times it occurs due to feelings or actions which the learner may view as being wrong. At this point the person involved may make a shift and alter his or her way of thinking or doing. This may include personal or social transformation. Mezirow states: “discourse is not a war or a debate. It is a conscientious effort to find agreement and, to build a new understanding” (Merriam et al, 2007 p 134). The final component of this theory is action. The person may take “immediate action, delayed action or reasoned reaffirmation of an existing pattern of action” (Merriam et al, 2007 p 135). In Mezirow’s Transformational Learning Theory there are frames of reference. These are divided into two dimensions. “One is a habit of mind which includes assumptions, the other is resulting point of view, which includes attitudes, beliefs, and judgments”. Mezirow believes that “a transformation of our belief or attitude must take place before learning occurs” (Merriam et al 2007, p 133). 

Rationale for choosing this learning theory

The components of Meizrow’s Transformational Learning Theory are critical components for nurses in their daily practice to ensure optimal outcomes for their clients. These components include experience, critical reflection, reflective discourse and action (Merriam et al, 2007 p 137).  Constructivism learning is active. Therefore in the nursing lab, students will learn by practicing skills, performing tasks, assigned activities or case scenario simulations. At the beginning of the class I will provide a demonstration while providing rationales for my actions. This will provide the student the opportunity to view and interpret a skill or procedure from a culturally skilled nurse. At the end of the activity or skill I will facilitate a group debriefing of the activity. At the end of the class I may opt to assign the students’ journal writing to encourage self-reflection. Nurses are required to be critical thinkers and must have the ability to rationalize their decision making to ensure safe nursing practice. Critical thinking for nurses is to think in a systematic and logical manner with the ability to question and reflect to arrive at judgments in regards to patient care. An example n my nursing practice on the Palliative Care Unit is, my patient is scheduled to receive their pain medication. I assess my patient and find that they are sedated and the respiration rate is at the lower acceptable limits. I need to critically think if I should administer the dose or with hold the scheduled dose to arrive at the best outcome for the patient. While researching for this assignment I found that I already carry out some aspects of this theory in the classroom, lab setting, and practice setting. I currently have the students develop learning plans at the beginning of the module. After each evaluation I have them revise their learning plans based on the results of their evaluation. This encourages the student to engage in critical reflection and may lead to transformation. By focusing on this theory it has enhanced my knowledge base, which will benefit myself as an Instructor and the students that I am responsible for.

Role of the learner in Transformational Learning

The learner must be willing to actively participate in discourse to validate their beliefs and the belief of others. Be able to critically reflect on their assumptions as well as other’s assumptions. The student must have the ability to work collaboratively with classmates, be open minded, engage in activities and or conversations, act as a mentor, and be self-directed in their learning.

Role of the Instructor in Transformational Learning

In order for Transformational Learning to be effective, an Instructor must ensure they know their students background, knowledge base, strengths and deficits.  And ensure to provide a trusting, safe and caring learning environment. And maintain the ability to transfer their knowledge into practice. One method is to relate the material being delivered to a previous clinical experience. The Instructor must be able to effectively challenge the students during learning to meet the objectives of the class. This must include autonomous thinking, collaboration, and critical reflection. During the class the Instructor must continue to keep the learners engaged while ensuring equal participation from all students. It may be through lecture, interactive problem solving group activities, case studies, group discussions or simulations. This will provide the learner the opportunity to analyze the new knowledge, and arrive at judgments. As a role model the Instructor must engage in ongoing professional development. This could include developing new or revised action plans, curriculum development, and reflective activities. The Instructor must be willing to change their delivery method to suit the learners needs. To be an effective leader in adult education you must remain current with trends in adult education. Some of the benefits of remaining current with trends will be, establishing professional networks, enhancing their knowledge base, keeping current with best practices, and latest technology.

Examples of Transformational Learning in the Practical Nursing Program

Example # 1

The students are required to learn how to provide personal care to patients. I will ask one student to volunteer to be my patient for the purpose of this demonstration. Throughout each step of the procedure I will provide rationales and allow for questions or discussions. After I have completed the demonstration, students will be divided into groups of two and each student will have the opportunity to role play both the patient and nurse. This will provide experience of being cared for by a care provider and being a care provider. At the end of the session I will facilitate a group debriefing on the experiences (critical discourse). This example provides the learner to put knowledge into actions which equals experience. I will assign a journal writing assignment with the following questions. How did you feel providing personal care to a client? What was it like to have another person providing personal care to you? Would you do anything different next time you are providing personal care to a patient, now that you have had the experience of being a patient? This journal will facilitate self reflection for the learner.

Example # 2

Nursing students have a skills component in the Integrated Nursing Practice module. They are required to pass a theory examination and an individual skill test to be deemed successful in this module. In order to prepare the learners for their skills test, I will use practice simulations with different case scenarios, With simulation, the Instructor sets the mannequin to demonstrate a disease or health problem. This will provide the learner with an opportunity to provide nursing interventions to a patient while problem solving using critical thinking skills. This activity could also be carried out in groups giving the students the opportunity to work collaboratively. In order for this to work effectively as a group the Instructor must assign a primary nurse who would be responsible for the client. At the end of the simulation I would engage the students in a group discussion about the patient’s health problem,  the chosen nursing interventions, their rationales for their decisions,  and the patient outcome. This will facilitate communication amongst the team players, allow the learners to hear other’s frames of reference, enhance the learners knowledge and allow for critical reflection.  This example will provide the learner with the experience through actions and reflection of those actions. It will provide me the Instructor the opportunity to assess the students nursing skills, problem solving skills, critical thinking, communication skills and ability to work under stressful situations.

 Example # 3

Assign a group activity or presentation on an ethical dilemma. As nurses we face ethical dilemmas daily in our practice. The groups would present to the class on the chosen topic. The students would be required to identify the problem, communicate with the group their frames of reference and make decisions on consensus (discourse)of the group As an Instructor, I would allow for discussion and debate amongst the learners. These discussions would allow the students explore alternate sets of assumptions. This will result in critical reflection through group discussion and or personal reflection and may lead to transformation.


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 This learning theory is an adult based communicative learning process. Transformation usually occurs from an experience, problem or event that is often unpleasant. After this experience a change often occurs. At times this change does not occur immediately, but shifts over time. Learning is a process that brings together cognitive, emotional, and environmental influences and experiences, skills, values, and worldviews (Merriam et all 2007 pg 277).  Mezirow theory consists of ten phases and four main components. He believes that adults learn from experience, by critically reflecting on the experience, communicate about the experience with others, and then act on the new perspective (Merriam et al, 2007 p137). Most theorists that have studied and written about transformational learning believe that knowledge, social factors, and cultural transform one’s learning. Taylor states “transformational learning is both a social and solitary process” (Taylor,1998). There have been many studies done on Transformational Learning, and there is no one way in which this theory should be applied to practice. Different theorists have different views. Some believe transformational is spiritual and motional, others view it as intuitive and emotional.


 Merriam, S.B., Caffarella, R. S., & Baumgartner,L.M. (2007), Learning in Adulthood A Comprehensive Guide (3rd Edition)

McGonigal, K (2005), Speaking of Teaching, Retrieved November 28, 2012 from the World Wide Web      df

Jack Mezirow, Volume 1997 Issue 74, Transformative Learning Theory, Retrieved December 1, 2012 from Wiley On-line Library:

 Jack Mezirow, Learning to Think Like an Adult Core Concepts of Transformation Theory, Retrieved November 28, 2012 from the World Wide Web:      

http://abl-uni- Learning to Think_an_Adult.pdf

John M. Dirkx, Transformation Learning Theory in the Practice of Adult Education: An Overview, Volume 7, 1998, Retrieved on November 26, 2012 from the World Wide Web:                                             

Jack Mezirow, Theories of Learning in Educational Psychology, Retrieved November 28, 2012 from the World Wide Web:

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