Transformative Learning Experiences

Transformative learning from different perspectives

Freire (1970): This societal transformation view of transformative learning fosters conscientization among participants through didactic methods and critical reflection for the purpose of creating a more equitable world

Indigenous perspectives: Reflection of personal or shared experience and participation in a greater community of life. (Cajete, 1999).

Mezirow (1978): Changing frames of reference by critically reflecting on assumptions and beliefs and consciously making and implementing plans that bring about new ways of defining the world.

O’Sullivan (2008): Profound shift in awareness that alters one’s way of being in the world; one’s view of the interconnectedness of self, the human community and the natural environment

Puge (2010): Change in perspective, change in value, change in behavior


Head: Reflection

Create meaning from experience by drawing connections and relations to previous experience, knowledge and ideas (Dewey, 1910)

Needed to:

  • Identify, question and reframe underlying values and beliefs;
  • acknowledge and challenge assumptions;
  • recognize bias
  • identify fears
  • understand strengths and weaknesses (ERIC, 1992)


Heart: Relational Knowing

Relationships are essential to human quality of life; people have a fundamental need to belong (Baumeister & Leary, 1995; Riley, Taylor, 2004)


  • means through which we receive recognition and affirmation of our value;
  • nurturing, caring and compassion;
  • connection to purposeful and meaningful lives (Shapiro, 2006)

Native worldview: mitakuye oyasin-we are related to all life.


Hands: Deep Engagement

In terms of educational context, a strong and unique predictor of engagement is authentic, challenging tasks (Fredrick et al 2004)

Related to

  • Success
  • Curiosity
  • Authenticity
  • Relationship (Strong, et al., 1995)

In terms of sustainability, hands refers to proactive environmental behaviors.


Aesthetics: Sensory Knowing

  • Central to engagement; adds purpose and meaning to education
  • Natural environments and local communities are an authentic context that many children find engaging and aesthetically inspiring (Braund & Reiss, 2006; Kellert, 1997; 2002)


Sustainability, meeting the needs of the present without compromising the needs of the future, is necessarily transformative; it requires a change from anthropocentric to ecocentric perspectives, values and behaviors.


Place-based Learning

Place encourages a sense of authenticity, belonging and responsibility (Orr, 1992)

  • Serves as resource or laboratory to investigate water issues, food production, energy, materials and waste flows (Orr, 1992)
  • The uniqueness of every region requires attention to local ecosystems and neighborhood cultures; generic curricular models and explicit standards are inappropriate (Smith, 2002)

Examples: garden programs that feed the homeless; local environmental investigations, park and wetland restoration projects; community recycling or awareness programs; and interpretive trails or museum exhibits (Sobel, 2006)

 A Conceptual Model for Designing and Evaluating Place-based or Outdoor Environmental Education Programs. Head, Heart and Hands refers to the three learning domains, cognitive, affective, psycho-motor reflecting the holistic nature of transformative experience. Reflection, relational knowing and deep engagement are essential aspects of transformative learning theory and can be examined with qualitative data sources. Expansion of perception, expansion of value and active use of concepts are quantitative aspects of transformative experiences to be measured with valid and reliable instruments. It is hypothesized that transformative learning experiences are more likely to occur in a place, such as a natural setting, that offers an authentic, aesthetic context for meaning.