Adult Learning Theory: Jack Mezirow’s Transformational Learning
The study of transformative learning emerged as a concept on the field of adult learning through the works of Jack Mezirow. He coined the term perspective transformation referring to the moment when an adult learner experiences a shift in his or her meaning perspective. New codes and categories help the adult learner to manage a much wider range of experiences. It explains how our expectations, framed within cultural assumptions and presuppositions directly influence the meaning we derive from our experiences. It is the revision of meaning structures from experiences that explains the process of how adults revise their meaning structures. Meaning structures act as culturally defined frames of reference that are inclusive of meaning schemes and meaning perspectives (Mezirow, p. 3-4).
It can be argued that adult learning is interdependent and related with the nature of society at any particular point of time. For example, adult learning is relatively simple during the preindustrial society—the rate of change was such that whatever it is that is needed in adulthood can be learned in childhood, as compared today--on such a fast-paced, technologically-advanced society with increasing and diversified demand. Today, adult education is a life-long process. There is a continuous flow of stimulus that people need courses for advice in all facet of life (Merriam et al p.9).
For case in point, I was watching a morning television program days ago and was surprised to find out that there is already a class in New York that offers women lessons on how to walk properly in stilettos. These classes are aimed for young professional women, who on their desire to be trendy and fashionable, are willing to pay hundreds of dollars so that they could wear stilettos all day long for work or other activities. Browsing through the internet, they went so far as developing exercise classes for women while in their stilettos. Then I realized how relative adult education is even on our contemporary world. Compare that class to the livelihood programs for women in third-world countries who are taking courses in weaving, and other handicrafts; to the women of the preindustrial age or farther.
Since prior education is the best predictor of participation in adult learning, the rising educational level of the adult population is a contextual factor of great importance. The Center for Education Statistics shows that 22 percent of adults with fewer than four years of high school participate in organized adult education, while 34 percent of high school graduates and 66 percent of college graduates do. Though this is the case, still, the average educational attainment level continues to soar, a significant number of high school students dropout before graduating. And since high school education is the minimum standard, those dropouts are labeled to be ‘educational underclass’ from which adult education can be the remedy or form of escape. Unfortunately, adults with less than a high school diploma are least likely to participate in adult education. Over all, among these ‘educational underclass’ only six percent in work-related course, seven percent in basic skills education, and one percent in vocational or technical diploma courses will enroll (Merriam et al p.9).
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Dirkx, J.M. & Lavin, R.A. (1991).Understanding and Facilitating Experience-Based Learning in Adult Education: The FOURthought Model. July 23, 2009, from <https://www.msu.edu/~dirkx/EBLRVS.91.htm>
Kelly, C. (1997). David Kolb, The Theory of Experiential Learning and ESL. The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. III, No. 9. July 23, 2009, from <http://iteslj.org/Articles/Kelly-Experiential/>
Merriam, S.B., Caffarella, R.S., & Baumgartner, L.M. (2007). Learning in Adulthood: A Comprehensive Guide. (3rd ed. ). San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons Inc.
Mezirow, J. (2000). Learning as Transformation: Critical Perspectives on a Theory in Progress. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
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