Transformative Learning: Adult studying in library

How to Create a Transformative Learning Experience for Adults Learning Online

Online learning offerings can provide a distinctive and impactful experience for adult learners. As an adult and lifelong learner, I’ve come to appreciate the transformative benefits of interactive participation, self-reflection, and community engagement in my personal and professional growth. With numerous online learning options available, it can be challenging to design engaging and meaningful learning experiences for adults learning online. However, with the right approach and tools, it is possible to provide learners with a high-quality online experience that meets their needs and supports their learning goals. When combined with the right instructional design framework, online learning can become a truly transformative experience for any learner, especially adults learning online.

What is Transformative Learning?

One such framework is Mezirow’s Transformative Learning Theory. Transformative learning occurs when individuals critically reflect on their assumptions, values, and beliefs, leading to a shift in perception and a new understanding of self and the world around them. This process can occur gradually over time or through intentional reflection. Mezirow outlines ten phases contributing to transformative learning, including disorienting dilemma, critical reflection, and reintegration of new perspectives into one’s life:


Four Phases of Transformative Learning Experience

It is important to note that the application of these phases varies according to context and cannot be generalized. However, we can design a truly transformative learning experience for adults learning online if we take into account the triggering events (or disorienting dilemmas), critical reflection, dialogue, and integration of new perspectives processes. Therefore, the four phases of experiences below can provide a framework for designing transformative learning activities for online learning:

  • Disorienting Dilemma: The learner’s view is challenged by disruptive and triggering experiences.
  • Critical Reflection: Learners reflect critically on their beliefs and values through questioning and prompts.
  • New Perspective Development: Learners develop new perspectives to address discrepancies in the original experience, by engaging with others in a community space.
  • Transformative Learning Integration: Learners integrate their new perspectives into their experiences.

See Transformative Learning: Four Activities that Set the Stage, for details on how you can tailor make this to your own course.

Online Experiences to Facilitate Transformative Learning

In the context of online learning, this type of experience can be facilitated through discussion forums, reflective journaling, scenario-based learning, case studies, chat and instant messaging, collaborative tools, and more. These tools allow learners to disorient their dilemmas, critically reflect on their preconceived beliefs, develop new perspectives, and adapt their new perspectives to their existing environments. A few examples of transformational learning strategies in online courses include using:

  • Discussion forums facilitate collaboration between instructors and students and allow ample opportunities for interaction and sharing experiences.
  • Virtual reality simulations allow learners to actively engage with content
  • Scenario-based learning places learners in situations similar to those they will face in real life, and their responses are evaluated. The learners can analyze the situation critically, apply their learning, and react accordingly.
  • Chat and instant messaging can be informal tools for facilitating spontaneous real-time discussions among learners. 
  • Quizzes and polls can help learners reflect, express opinions, and provide feedback through self-assessment techniques.
  • Collaborative tools such as hypothesis and Annoto can be used with the reading material and videos to help the instructor present information. Learners are invited to view and critically reflect and contribute to discussions.
  • Online community forums, blogs, wikis, and other social networks allow learners to talk about their perspectives and engage in critical thinking.

Creating a Safe and Supportive Learning Environment

It’s crucial to provide learners with an environment that is safe, supportive, and conducive to a learning experience where personal experience, critical reflection, and integration are prioritized. A transformative learning framework, therefore, provides a valuable framework for unlocking the potential of adult learners for growth and development. With the right approach and tools, it is possible to create a truly transformative online learning experience for adults.

In conclusion, transformative learning frameworks provide a valuable framework for unlocking the potential of adult learners for growth and development. With the right approach and tools, it is possible to create a truly transformative online learning experience for adults.

At Construct Education, we offer instructional design services to create high-quality online learning experiences. Our team of instructional designers, developers, and consultants work together to design custom online programs tailored to our client’s needs and goals. We focus on designing engaging, meaningful, and impactful learning experiences that encourage reflection and new perspectives. Contact us to learn more about how we can help you create a transformative learning experience for your adult learners.

  1. Mezirow, J. (1991). Transformative Dimensions of Adult Learning. San Fransisco: Jossey-Bass.

  2. Mezirow, J. (2000). Learning as transformation: Critical perspectives on a theory in progress. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

  3. Henderson, J. (2012). Transformative Learning: Four Activities that Set the Stage. Faculty focus.

  4. Image by Freepik

This blog post is made available by the author for educational purposes only and to provide general information. All views expressed are the author’s own and do not represent the opinions of any entity whatsoever, to which they have been, are now, or will be affiliated. If you have a specific problem related to this topic and need advice, contact Construct Education directly.

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