The concept of transformational learning was developed by Mezirow. The fundamental idea is that learning occurs when the learner changes their frame of reference by critically reflecting on their assumptions and beliefs, and consciously making and implementing plans that bring about new ways of defining their world (wikipedia).
The goal of a teacher/coach is to design situations that lead students to internally question their assumptions and beliefs about life, to expose them to those situations, and then to facilitate and support any subsequent worldview re-evaluation and reconceptualization.
Transformation naturally results from a “disorienting dilemma”, often triggered by a life crisis or major life transition. Transformation may also result from an accumulation of transformations in meaning schemes over a period of time (how adult learning often occurs by the repeated exposure to new ideas).
10 Steps in Transformative learning
Mezirow identified 10 steps in transformative learning:
1. a disorienting dilemma;
2. self-examination with feelings of guilt or shame;
3. a critical assessment of assumption;
4. recognition that one's discontent and process of transformation are shared and that others have negotiated a similar change;
5. exploration of options for new roles, relationships, and actions;
6. planning of a course of action;
7. acquisition of knowledge and skills for implementing one's plans;
8. provisionally trying out new roles;
9. building of competence and self-confidence in new roles and relationships; and
10. Reintegration of new assumption into one's life on the basis of conditions dictated by one's new perspective
Critical reflection attempts to deconstruct the learner's prior assumptions such as beliefs, value systems, attitudes, and social emotion in a rational way. According to Burbules and Berk (1999), critical thinking is best suited for recognizing faulty arguments, assumptions lacking evidence, and obscure concepts
Transformative learning theory changes learner's epistemic, sociolinguistic, and psychological perspectives and transforms the learners themselves. Adult learners are usually tenacious in holding on to their assumptions, and even if they overcome the initial personal and social resistance to questioning their assumptions, their critical reflection does not become any less troubling (Cranton, 1994, p. 18).
Habermas's theory of communicative action
Transformative learning is based on Habermas's theory of communicative action: the concepts of instrumental, communicative and emancipatory knowledge. The instrumental domain is where learners form a hypothesis about their perceptions. The communicative domain mainly focuses on learners' interaction to make meaning through understanding others. The emancipatory domain is the place where learners can free themselves from any restrictions and actively question their assumptions. Cranton concisely listed three types of reflection that involves movement toward the emancipatory domain: content, process and premise reflection (Cranton, 1994, p. 48). Content reflection is an examination of the content or description of a problem; process reflection involves checking on the problem; premise reflection happens when the problem itself is questioned.
The importance of the premise reflection is repeatedly stressed throughout Mezirow's theory, and he concludes that "premise reflection is the dynamic by which our belief systems - meaning perspective - become transformed (Mezirow, 1991, p. 111)."
The most important aspect of Transformative Learning Theory is that one has to establish and clarify the learner's prior assumptions. Then strategies can be developed to transform these assumptions. When learners go into critical reflection, they need sufficient evidence to accept the validity of the new concept and to change their perspectives (or schemes.) Through this process, they are able to free themselves from their previous assumptions and become critical thinkers.