“The most valuable insights to be gained…can be found when
problems are studied in the actual context in which they arise.”
(Merriam & Brockett, 2007, p. 273)
This quote caught my attention because it is one of the core beliefs of the Transformational Learning Theory that I studied, wrote a paper on earlier in this course, and learned to respect and appreciate profoundly. Two things that I have learned about this quote is 1) it is completely true; and 2) it can prove very difficult to manufacture in a classroom setting.
With a degree in Psychology as my background, I know that experiences can have a profound effect on people. The amygdala is the part of the human brain that stimuli travels through when an emotionally significant event occurs (whether negative or positive, traumatic or elating). This course solidifies the event and stimuli in the memory substantially. Sensations like smells and tastes and sounds present and experienced during the event will often evoke vivid memories when sensed later, even in completely unrelated circumstances. This leads me to think that even less-significant experiences would still have greater effects on learning than mere rote information intake or memorization, simply by being experiential in nature.
While this quote in and of itself did not leap out and change my mind about being an adult educator, the Transformational Learning Theory it represents certainly did. Jack Mezirow’s four-fold process asserts that critical reflection and reflective discourse must follow experience in order to glean the greatest insights and breed the most potent learning experience as well as result in action (Merriam et al., 2007). Being a naturally intellectual man who loves knowledge and enjoys relaying concepts and regurgitating information, this did not line up with my previous educational philosophy. This was largely due to my lack of thought put into the notion. The whole theory made me rethink all aspects of education and come to terms with its truth in today’s world of andragogy.
This, for me, changes everything. The way I have always taught was what Paulo Freire referred to as “banking education” to which his solution was “problem-posing education” (Freire, 1970, p. 80). Freire and his “problem-posing education” is what Mezirow admits would later largely influence his Transformational Learning Theory (Mezirow, 1997). While the formal classroom setting has been a rarity in my past careers, I as instructor was the know-it-all to be listened to by the students. Questions and challenges toward the content was always welcome as an exception, but was never the rule, let alone the focus. So it is with all seriousness when I say that the learning theory represented in the above quote has completely transformed the way I will approach education forever.
Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York, NY: The Continuum International Publishing Group, Inc.
Merriam, S. B. & Brockett, R. G. (2007). The profession and practice of adult education: An introduction. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Merriam, S. B., Caffarella, R. S., & Baumgartner, L. M. (2007). Learning in adulthood: A comprehensive guide (3rd Ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Mezirow, J. (1997). Transformative learning: Theory to practice. New Directions for Adult & Continuing Education, (74), 5-12.