Excerpt from Chapter 2 of (Greenberg, KH et al. 2019)*:

Transformative Learning

We begin with transformative learning, which is an internal phenomenon that can be understood in a variety of ways (Taylor, Cranton, & Associates, 2012). The meaning to which we subscribe was included in an article concerning some of our case study findings (Sohn et al., 2016, and see Chapter 7):

While thoughtful teachers in higher education strive to help their students master course content, for many, a further goal is to help them transcend it—to help them go beyond transfer of content skills and knowledge—to a transformative understanding of the world and their place within it. . . . This transformation is manifest in students realizing the relevance of course content in their personal and professional lives—in the aesthetic sense of gratification that imparts confidence in one’s understanding or insight—an intuitive sense of its truth and worth.   (p. 179)

Learning goes on at every level of organization all the time. Cells learn, tissues and organs learn, connections within and between tissues and organs change as result of experience—we learn. It is an expression of the everyday ongoing processes of change and growth, but in its extreme expression, learning which imparts a distinctive sense that “everything is different” is transformative. Of course, connections are always being created, reconfigured, weakened, and strengthened, as we experience the world and ideas, but in its extremity, the transformative learning experience enables more clarity in our thinking about the circumstances that encourage and enable it. It shares attributes with epiphany (“an experience of sudden and striking realization”) and resembles Piagetian “accommodation,” the changing of a mental schema under the influence of new information (Piaget, 19947/2003).


In our view and in phenomenological terms, this is exemplified by students experiencing a paradigm shift from merely knowing course content to realizing its relevance in their personal and professional lives. This shift from knowing to realizing (Greenberg et al., 2015) can be compared to an act of creation (or discovery) that gives course content privileged personal meaning. This “bridge” from disciplinary generalities to an individual’s particulars may have been gradually constructed, but often appears suddenly in a student’s mind when there is a conscious awareness of energizing connections to other information or to intuitive and affective depths that are not usually available for connecting. The transformation is often (but not only) experienced as a cascade of ideas that has been “triggered” by an ecphoric thought or idea—a stimulus that acts as a trigger for a cascade of memories that can be organized into a coherent whole. The metaphoric implications are interesting: very small adjustments in this cascade can have massive consequences. The phenomenologically informed classroom can make the reservoir of a student’s personal resources available for such connections. Students themselves may be unaware of the depth and richness of this reservoir. If we are going to put it in the service of learning, the best the teacher can do is create an enabling environment—potentially teachable moments—in which students feel ownership of canonical content that can create meaning and make the content available to other domains of life, often in highly creative ways.  [see more about THE TEACHABLE MOMENT]


In writing this I was inspired by THE PARABLE OF THE TWO FRENCH PHILOSOPHERS

*Greenberg, K., B. Sohn, Neil Greenberg, Howard Pollio, Sandra Thomas, John Smith (2019)  The Phenomenological Heart of Teaching and Learning: Theory, Research, and Practice in Higher Education.  New York: Routledge. Chapter 2 “Getting DEEP”