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Transformative Learning Cheat Sheet by

learning     transformative     mezirow


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

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).

Transf­orm­ative Learning

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.

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