John Dirkx, PhD

Associate Professor, Higher, Adult, and Lifelong Education

Michigan State University

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Theory: Transformative, psychosocial, and spiritual dimensions of adult learning
Influences: Carl Jung, Robert Boyd, Jack Mezirow, Larry Daloz, Patricia Cranton

Timeline: 1988-Current

Learning Transfer:
Making meaning from experience by accessing spiritual dimension and emotions may aid in learning transfer that uses metaphor and analogy. The use of symbols and myths may be useful tools for learning transfer.

Dirkx asserts that the human spiritual dimension is fundamental to making meaning from human experience. This is done with the exploration of mythos, which may be accessed through symbols, mythologies, and imagination. Mythos allows people to become aware of the unconscious aspects of their lives.
” Viewing our experiences through soul draws our attention to the quality of experiencing life and ourselves, to matters of depth, values, relatedness, and heart. Soul has to do with authenticity, connection between heart and mind, mind and emotion, the dark as well as the light. When we are attending to matters of soul, we are seeking to live deeply, to focus on the concreteness of the here-and-now. This perspective, in the words of Robert Sardello, of “facing the world with soul,” deepens our understanding of the meaning of learning in adulthood. Learning is not simply a preparation for life. It is life, the experience of living. Coming to know ourselves in the world and how we make sense of the other within this world are critical aspects of learning.” (Dirkx, 1997)
Research on the role of imagination, feelings, and emotion in adult learning.
Research on teaching and learning in online environments and students’ experience of online collaborative group work.
Research on teaching and learning in higher and adult education
  • education for professions
  • education for work
  • continuing professional development for teachers in higher and adult education
  • education for academically under-prepared adults

Major Works:

  • A Guide for Planning and Implementing Instruction for Adults: A Theme-based Approach . San Francisco: Jossey-Bass (1997).
  • "Nurturing Soul in Adult Learning," In P. Cranton, (Ed.). Transformative learning in action . San Francisco: Jossey-Bass (1997).
  • "Human Resource Development as Adult Education: Fostering the Educative Workplace," In R. W. Rowden (Ed.). Workplace learning: Debating Five Critical Questions of Theory and Practice . New Directions for Continuing Education, No. 72 (Winter, 1996), San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  • "Self and Not-Self in the Practitioner-Learner Relationship: The Problem of Boundary Awareness in ABE Practice," Adult Basic Education: An Interdisciplinary Journal for Adult Literacy Educators , 3 , 51-68 (1993).
  • "Understanding Group Transformation Through the Focal Person Concept," In R. D. Boyd and Associates, Personal Transformation in Small Groups: A Jungian Perspective . New York: Routledge (1991) .

Dirkx, J. M. (1997). Nurturing the soul in adult learning. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 74, 79-88. Retrieved from
Dirkx, J. (2004). John M. Dirkx, PhD. Retrieved from
Merriam, S. B., Caffarella, R. S., Baumgartner, L. M. (2007). Learning in Adulthood. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass