Experiential education is exciting terrain.
There are many possibilities for learning and teaching it. As a pedagogy, it is holistic and integrative. It presents students and educators alike with the potential for transformation.
David Kolb set the foundation for experiential education, and the branches that have extended from it. His theories of experiential learning convey how learning is primarily personal development that is extended beyond academic learning, into the realm of adaptability to life events and problem-solving.
It is within this realm that transformative learning is made possible.
Transformative learning is a process of perspective change, or a shifting of worldview. It is “becoming critically aware of how our presuppositions have come to constrain the way we perceive, understand, and feel about our world.”
It is a habit of mind, not just an accomplishment or outcome. As educators, we want to help our students understand, identify, and form their mental habits, and to expand their learning potential.
Transformative learning ultimately gives students the potential to become more engaged scholars and professional citizens. It is one of the many goals of service-learning, and will positively impact leadership capacities as well.
There are different ways to approach how to facilitate transformative learning. Below are four specific desired outcomes of transformative learning, followed by examples of classroom activities that can guide learning content and teaching strategies to help students achieve them.
Outcome #1: An understanding of and appreciation for human diversity
Encourage your students to share: their backgrounds, their opinions, their values and beliefs. Organize a debate day (or project, or perhaps this could even be the focus of an entire course), where different teams hold starkly different positions. Challenge them to engage with each other and to really listen to, and respect, one another.
Outcome #2: A higher level of empathy
Try to have your students find common ground even after the most heated debates. Push them to really acknowledge other perspectives. You want them to develop an understanding of and respect for diverse opinions, and you also what them to feel a human connection to one another. As people, we have both differences and commonalities, and it is healthy to truly acknowledge both aspects.
Outcome #3: Enhanced communication skills, written and verbal
The more your students hone their writing and speaking skills, the more comprehensive their outlook on diverse topics will become. Different methods of approaching this could include: presentations (small group or individual), conducting interviews, persuasive writing pieces, opinion essays, or comparison pieces on different countries, governments, cultures, religions, etc.
Outcome #4: A deepened capacity for confidence, knowledge, and gratitude
Factor some space for reflection in class time. Especially if you’re engaging with complicated material or topics (such as social oppression, civil rights, global conflicts, etc), give students time to process. Let them sit with new information or revelations, or emotions. Give them time to actively and critically think about what it all means. This means incorporating silent time (or maybe music time), as well as a time for dialogue, for deepening student consideration of complex ideas.
Use these points as a reference for how to direct student understanding of their values, beliefs, and perspectives. Engage with transformative learning as a lived experiment.
In doing so, you will empower the entire learning experience.
For Further reading, please see:
Mezirow, J. (1991). Transformative dimensions of adult learning. San Francisco, California: Jossey-Bass.
Mezirow, J., & Taylor, E. W. (2009). Transformative learning in practice: Insights from community, workplace, and higher education. San Francisco, California: Jossey-Bass.
Think a service learning course might be a good fit for you? GVI is a multi-award winning International Service Learning organization. Find out more about our international programs and see how students from around the world are making a difference.