How Transformative Learning Unfolds

This post comments on Brookfield’s quote “my awareness of how transformation incrementally takes place has undoubtedly influenced my sequencing of curricula and classroom activities” (p. 26). I have not read much to date on transformative learning; just little bits here and there. I was curious about what the steps may look like for transformative learning to occur. The diagram below outlines the 10 steps but it is important to know that a person may not go through each and every step and not necessarily in this sequence and they may even jump around from one step to another and return to the same step several times before a person has really integrated the new perspective.Steps of transformative learning

Image  from Donlon, C., Alconcel, B., Luna, E., Reader, D. (2015). Retrieved at

Knowing the steps of transformative learning can help us as educators learn how to best layer in various learning activities to encourage transformative learning. As educators we are creating paradigm shifts for our students; either intentional or not. Their minds are expanding to new ideas all the time. I tell my first year nursing students that the person they are now will be very different than the person that comes out at the end of the nursing program in four years. The growth is immense. A lot of this growth is due to old mental frameworks being challenged by new ones. One’s lens and worldview can be forever changed once this happens. Often there are these life changing events that cause us to shift. When I look back on my nursing education and when those pivotal moments occurred for me, most of them were incidental learning. For example, these often occurred when caring for a patient challenged me in a way I could never have foreseen. I remember caring for a patient that had the most peaceful and beautiful death with their family at the bedside. My view of death and the role of the nurse in this critical part of life was forever changed.

As a teacher in the classroom we can also create these disorienting dilemmas that Mezirow speaks of in his transformative learning theory. The question is where do we go from there? There are ways that we can help students through the process of transformative learning and layer it in incrementally as Brookfield suggests. We can do this by engaging with them in rational discourse either one on one or in large or small group settings in class or even encourage them to have these discussions with the people in their lives outside of class. The teacher can encourage them to write a critical reflection to examine their assumptions, where they came from, what implications the assumptions may have in the world, the alternative viewpoints and how they can adopt these alternative viewpoints as well. This can sometimes be examined when you assign a student to the opposite viewpoint to what they currently hold. This forces them to think outside of themselves and try to see things through another person’s perspective. A learning activity could be polling the class for differing viewpoints and making small groups of half one viewpoint and half the other viewpoint. At the end each student has to argue to adopt the other viewpoint as if it is their own and engage in a large class debate/a written reflection about it. Or an alternate form for this activity could be that the small groups of differing viewpoints are to come to a group consensus on the issue and present it to the class or write a reflection about it. At the end of the class you could ask the students some reflective questions like: what have you learned from this activity? Did your viewpoint shift at all? Explore why it did or did not. How did it feel to argue the other side of this issue? (At the beginning of an activity like this I would ensure we set some ground rules/reviewed our class norms list and spoke about safety).

I am now intrigued to learn more about transformative learning theory and this emerging field that is constantly developing far beyond the reaches of Mezirow’s theory as well.


Brookfield, S.D. (2015). The skillful teacher: On technique, trust and responsiveness in the classroom (3rd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Donlon, C., Alconcel, B., Luna, E., Reader, D. (2015). Retrieved at


About turnera2014

I am a Nursing (RN) Instructor taking the Professional Instructor Diploma Program at Vancouver Community College in hopes to challenge my current teaching modalities and inspire me to be the best teacher I can be.
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