Transformative & embodied learning

I'm frequently asked about the relation between transformative learning and what we, at Lectica, call robust, embodied learning

According to Mezirow, there are two kinds of transformative learning, Learning that transforms one's point of view and learning that transforms a habit of mind.

Transforming a point of view: This kind of transformation occurs when we have an experience that causes us to reflect critically on our current conceptions of a situation, individual, or group. 

Transforming a habit of mind: This is a more profound and less common kind of transformation that occurs when we become critically reflective of a generalized bias in the way we view situations, people, or groups. This kind of transformation is less common and more difficult than a transformation of point of view and occurs only after several transformations in point of view.

Embodied learning occurs through natural and learned virtuous cycles in which we take in new information, apply it in some way, and reflect on outcomes. The natural cycles occur in a process Piaget referred to as reflective abstraction. The learned process, which we call VCoL (for virtuous cycle of learning) deliberately reproduces and amplifies elements of this unconscious process, incorporating conscious critical reflection as part of every learning cycle. These acts of critical reflection reinforce connections that are affirmed (or create new connections) and prune connections that are negated. Virtuous learning cycles, both conscious and unconscious, incrementally build a mental network that not only connects ideas, but also different parts of the brain, including those involved in motivation and emotion.

Learning through intentional virtuous cycles ensures that our mental network is constantly being challenged with new information, so alterations to point of view are possible any time we receive information that doesn't easily fit into the existing network. But this kind of learning is also part of a larger developmental process in which our mental networks undergo major reorganizations called hierarchical integrations that produce fundamental qualitative changes in the way we think.

Here are some of the similarities I see between transformative learning and our learning model:

  1. Both are based on developmental mechanisms (reflecting abstraction, assimilation, accommodation, hierarchical integration, chunking, qualitative change, and emergence) that were the hallmarks of Piagetian and Neo-Piagetian theory. The jargon and applications may be different, but the fundamental ideas are very similar.
  2. Both are strongly influenced by the work of Habermas (communicative action) and Freire (critical pedagogy).
  3. Both lead to a pedagogy that emphasizes the role of critical reflection and perspectival awareness in high quality learning. 
  4. Both emphasize the involvement of the whole person in learning.
  5. Both transcend conventional approaches to learning.

Here are some differences I've identified so far:

  1. Terminology: Overcoming this problem requires pretty active perspective seeking!
  2. Role of critical reflection: For us, critical reflection is both a habit of mind to cultivate (In VCoL+7, it's one of the +7 skills) and a step in every (conscious) learning cycle (the "reflect" step). I'm not sure how this is viewed in Transformative learning circles.
  3. Target: We have two learning/development targets, one is meta, the other is incremental. Our meta target is long-term development, including the major transformations that take place between levels in our developmental model. Our incremental target is the micro-learning or micro-development that prepares our neural networks for major transformations. 
  4. Measurement: As far as I can tell, the metrics used to study transformative learning are primarily focused on the subjective experience of transformation. We take a different approach by measuring the way in which learning experiences change our conceptions or the way in which we approach real-world problems. We don't ask what people think or what they learned, we ask how they think with what they learned.

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