Jack Mezirow (1923 - Present)

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Theory: Transformative Learning
Influences: Paulo Freire and Jürgen Habemas

Timeline: 1978 - Present

Transformative Learning Theory describes a process of learners becoming critically aware of their current experiences, believes, and assumptions then re-evaluating and assessing these experiences, believes, and assumptions to create a new understanding. Mezirow asserts that transformative learning develops autonomous thinking. This is achieved by the person making their own understanding of the meaning of their experience.
Fundamental concepts:

Frame of reference – a person’s experience, concepts, values, associations, feelings and habitual responses that identify the world.
The 2 dimensions of frame of reference:
Habits of mind – conceptual, extensive, conditioned ways of feeling, acting, and thinking – beliefs that are influence by a preset code or codes (economic, social, cultural, etc).
Point of view expressed in a specific point of view or particular interpretation.
Critical reflection – the process of identifying, questioning, and reflecting on assumptions through personal experience while incorporating new knowledge. This provides the ability to take action on this new frame of reference.
Four main components of the transformative learning process:
  • Experience
  • Critical reflection on assumptions
  • Discourse to corroborate critically reflective insight
  • Action
Ten phases of transformational learning:
  • Disorienting dilemma
  • Self-examination
  • Critical assessment of assumptions
  • Recognition that others have been through a similar process
  • Exploring options
  • Acquiring knowledge and skill
  • Trying out new roles
  • Renegotiating relationships
  • Self-confidence/build competence
  • Reintegrate new meaning
Four processes of learning:
  • Expand existing a point of view – seek evidence to verify and expand a point of view
  • Learning a new point of view – can be influence by habits of mind
  • Transforming a point of view – critical reflection of assumptions
  • Transforming habits of mind – awareness and critical reflection of general bias
Two basic types of learning:
  • Instrumental – focus on task-oriented problem solving and determining cause and effects relationships
  • Communicative – communicating feelings
Three levels of cognitive processing:
  • First order thinking – read and comprehend, memorize, compute
  • Metacognition – monitoring the progress and outcomes of first order thinking
  • Transformative learning – reflecting on the criteria and limits of knowledge

Major Works:
Fostering Critical Reflection in Adulthood, Jossey-Bass Inc, 1990Learning as Transformation: Critical Perspectives on a Theory in Progress, Jossey-Bass Inc, 2000Transformative Dimensions of Adult Learning, Jossey-Bass Inc, 1991Transformative Learning in Practice: Insights from Community, Workplace and Education, Jossey-Bass Inc, 2009

Learning Transfer:
Transformative learning (and constructivism) essentially follows the fundamentals of learning transfer: building on previous experience, especially in with problem solving and analogical reasoning.

Bear, L. (2006). Transformational learning theory. Retrieved from
Merriam, S. B., Caffarella, R. S., Baumgartner, L. M. (2007). Learning in Adulthood. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass
Mezirow, J. (1997). Transformative learning: Theory to practice. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 74, 5-12. Retrieved from
Wallace, W. S. (2007). Transformative learning theory. Created June 28, 2007. Retrieved from