Major assumptions of Mezirow’s theory
For a transformation to occur, one must have plenty of information about the old worldview as well as the new one. It is quite difficult to change how one conceptualizes issues if one does not have a firm grasp on the alternatives that are prevalent out there. Therefore, a thorough knowledge of these perspectives must be present before any change takes place.
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Mezirow’s theory only holds when the change or transformation has been done out of one’s own free will. No one should coerce or intimidate a person into changing his worldview. This is a personal journey that needs to be taken by specific individuals, and must be free from any external interference. Sometimes the coercion may not just come from a specific individual; it may emanate from an entire institution or one’s culture. These social realities should not be permitted to affect the way learners determine their realities.
If a transformative learning process involves more than one individual, then all the concerned people need to have the freedom to assume various roles. No stance or role should be fixed, and a person ought to have an equal opportunity to question certain ideas or rationales. It is likely that more than one person will be involved in the transformative process. Consequently, there should be an atmosphere of care and trust between the participants. A great degree of sensitivity should be cultivated among the people concerned.
In this theory, it has also been assumed that the person undergoing the transformation has the capacity to reflect upon his or her assumptions. Since this kind of learning involves the assessment and reception of certain components of the unconscious, then one must be in a position to appreciate and consciously direct those processes that were assumed or held unconsciously. The learner needs to be aware of the importance of the spirit, the mind and the body in learning.
Another assumption is the ability to listen and empathize with others. Critical reflection of one’s worldview cannot take place when one already has a firm conviction about the other alternative. An open mind is absolutely essential in this theory. Being judgmental or prejudicial will only hamper the transformative process.
Therefore, the character of acceptance cannot be undermined in this theory. Furthermore, good listeners are able to gather more knowledge that may contribute towards adoption of newer and better perspectives. This theory assumes that one must be aware of, and be willing to seek different viewpoints.
For one to use Mezirow’s theory effectively, one must be willing to establish common ground. This might necessitates a paradigm shift from today’s competitive world. Participants must not engage in transformation with the purpose of ‘winning over other people to their side’ or vice versa.
One must possess a certain level of maturity in order to apply this theory. Dealing with mental reconditioning of one’s prevailing beliefs requires a certain level of preparedness that can only be prevalent in individuals who are mature.
In this theory, it has been assumed that one becomes better when one takes ownership of one’s personal or social roles. Society would be improved if all the people in it can move beyond themselves, and dwell on understanding others. This assumption is based on the fact that most people live life without thoroughly questioning how they came to possess the viewpoints that they have.
Few people rarely examine the knowledge and views that were passed onto them through their religions, cultures or naturally through their personalities. As a result, minimal responsibility is taken over one’s role. The need to be self authors is seen as an important determinant of the effectiveness of this theory.
Three key individuals who have influenced Mezirow’s theory
Burner played an important role in this theory because he expounded on what meaning making involves. He believed that facilitating and understanding various types of understandings was one of the methods involved in the process. One must then relate the utterances, behaviors and events that have occurred to the actions taken.
Meaning can also be construed based on the standards, obligations and deviations involved. Propositions on the rules applicable in decontextualizing ought to be done. Lastly, as one makes an interpretation, the expectations of others must be fully known.
Kitchener also affected Mezirow’s theory because he looked at cognitive processing. He suggested that in cognitive processing, one must first read, memorize and then comprehend. Monitoring of one’s progress should follow as one tries out simple tasks. The epistemic cognition is more advanced than the latter because it entails monitoring the problem solving process when the actual problems have been poorly structured. The transformation theory is mostly concerned with this epistemic cognition.
Weis worked on the intuitive process. In his formulation, he explained that acquiring knowledge unconsciously was more rapid and sophisticated than through the use of conscious acquisition. It informed Mezirow’s theory on critically reflecting over viewpoints that people acquired unconsciously.
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Glossary of 10 most significant concepts, terms and definitions
- Transformation: The process of reformulating structures that have been used in making meaning of one’s life experiences. Upon completion of the transformation process, one is likely to have a more reliable and valuable way of knowing.
- Meaning schemes: These are small aspects of the learner’s world view that shape his or her beliefs, values and experiences. When accumulated over time, these meaning schemes eventually create one’s overall meaning perspective.
- Meaning perspective: The lenses that determine how a person interprets experiences in life. They are generated from meaning schemes which occur during one’s youth or childhood. The meaning perspective is the component that must be transformed after an experience has occurred to necessitate change. This implies that meaning perspectives keep altering in correspondence to life’s experiences.
- Disorienting dilemma/ Life changing events: Personal crises or other life experiences that elicit powerful emotional reactions from humans. They necessitate transformation and may include: going bankrupt, separating from family or friends, and getting involved in an accident.
- Frame of reference: The structures that determine how one understands one’s world, and how it works. The frame of reference is the one that dictates the way in which one sees others. It may also be understood as those structures of expectations and assumptions that filter any sense impressions.
- Critical reflection: The process of questioning and examining one’s worldview. It entails thinking about the arguments held in favor of one perspective and looking at the arguments held in another perspective. Thereafter, one must make a decision concerning the new information that has been received.
- Rational discourse: The process of using dialogue to create personal understanding of beliefs and issues through a balanced assessment of the reasons behind a particular belief or understanding. This process entails looking at evidence from a particular point view, and looking at other alternative viewpoints and their evidence as well. This is seen as a catalyst of transformation.
- Reframing: The process of critically thinking about one’s assumptions of others as encountered in a certain experience or problem.
- Context: That justification for the feelings that people possess, the values they hold, and the beliefs they have. These things that people know are firmly rooted in their cultural, historical and the biographical frameworks.
- Meaning making: The process of establishing intersubjectivty, connecting behavior and events with action, construing contexts, making propositions and being aware of one’s hidden assumptions.
Substance of Mezirow’s theory
The transformation theory refers to the process of consciously recognizing differences between an old viewpoint and new viewpoint, and then choosing to taken on the new perspective because it has a better value. Transformation only takes place when one has reflected upon an issue that one had taken for granted in the past. This reflection eventually causes one to alter one’s perspective.
Learners often stumble upon or meet situations which do not fit with their prevailing perspectives of meaning. At that point, it may not be useful to add knowledge to the prevailing perspective. The new situation often destabilizes the equilibrium and causes discomfort.
In order to restore equilibrium, one ought to engage critically with the assumptions that are inherent in his or her beliefs, attitudes, priorities and roles. Such a process is not always easy as many learners feel threatened by it. In fact, the uneasiness and stress that emanate from this process tend to catalyze the process of seeking to change one’s meaning perspectives. After critical engagement, one must then seek others’ perspectives.
Doing so would allow one to establish the experiences and histories that affect and shape that very individual. As one continues to increase one’s awareness of one’s perspectives and other alternatives, one can then be in a position to alter one’s perspective. A learner is expected to make a choice regarding that decision.
One can take it on, and then implement the actions needed to hold that perspective. After that decision has been made, the learner ought to look for support from others who hold the same perspective. In short, it can be said that there are three major realms in the transformation theory: the psychological, the convictional and the behavioral.
The psychological realm entails understanding oneself; the convictional realm involves changing one’s belief system while the behavioral involves altering one’s lifestyle. After going through these three dimensions, the learner’s subsequent experiences will be altered dramatically. Furthermore, whatever will be learnt will be quite extensive and thorough.
These situations that may prompt a reexamination of one’s views normally occur sporadically. Most of them they are caused by major transitions that have occurred in a person’s life such as: divorce, loss of a job, death of a loved one and movement from one country to another.
In other situations, a learner may be prompted to transform one’s perspective after smaller predicaments have accumulated over time; Mezirow called these meaning schemes. It should be noted that such a process is very analytical and rational because critical reflection is a cognitive function.
Discrepancies and similarities between Morgan’s experience and the transformation theory
A number of features in Morgan’s experience are quite similar to components of the transformation theory. First, Morgan encountered a disorienting dilemma; she was abducted by people from a different culture and forced to live with them. This necessitated some reflections about her worldview. Similarly, Mezirow explains that a life changing dilemma often prompts someone to reexamine his or her perspective.
A second element in Morgan’s experience with the Aborigines was the level of discomfort that she felt when she interacted with the natives. She found it hard to understand their cultural preferences such as why they burnt her clothes, why they ate ants, crocodiles etc and why they lived so simply. In the transformation theory, a person is prompted to engage in critical reflection as a result of the discomfort created by the life changing event.
Third, Morgan engaged deeply with her own worldview. She realized that her society placed too much emphasis on money and business. In other words, they did business in order to stay in business, yet the concept was created to benefit people by enhancing creative talent and offering better goods.
She thought about the way economies were run in developed nations, and realized that it did not make sense to enslave oneself for a car as many of her peers did. Mezirow asserts that before a transformation can take place, one must critically reflect about one’s view point.
Fourth, Morgan also had to consider an alternative perspective, and it was that of the Aborigines. She found that the people in the village all had purposes; especially the sewing master who was seated across her in a circle. The natives were committed towards improving their personalities; there was no theft and manipulation there.
These were all elements that she wanted to embrace. The transformation theory also recognizes the process of understanding another person’s perspective. Fifth, Morgan made a decision to embrace that perspective. She wrote a book about it, and borrowed some ideas from the community.
Despite these similarities, there are still certain differences that emanate between the transformation theory and Morgan’s theory. Mezirow asserts that when one has made the decision to consider another alternative, one should spend time with people who hold that alternative viewpoint so as to learn from them.
Morgan did not spend much of her time with the Aborigines after the critical reflection. Furthermore, she never really embraced their way of life as she went back to her former life.
In Morgan’s experience, the Aborigines did not critically reflect upon their viewpoints and appeared to be comfortable with their lifestyles. They seemed not to be interested in improving themselves. The transformation theory, states that a life-changing event is likely to lead one to question his or her worldview.
The presence of a white woman in the village was definitely a life-changing event for the villagers as much as it was for Morgan. They should also have thought about their ideas and experiences critically. Since the author did not talk about this aspect, then it can be said that the native culture under consideration was not ready to engage in critical discourse.
This contravenes Mezirow’s theory because it points out that certain groups or cultures may not be suitable for critical reflection as their values are incompatible with the latter. The story has also shown that certain cultural standards can impede transformational processes.
Morgan’s experience was an emotional one. She was quite moved when she realized that the sewing master had a purpose in life, and was so wise. This author’s emotional cues were just as important as the rational components that she employed in reassessing her world views.
Mezirow’s theory does not focus on emotional aspects during critical reflection. Consequently, there are discrepancies between Morgan’s experience and the theory of transformation.
Limitations in the conception of transformation theory
Mezirow assumed that all learners’ subject matters were appropriate for use of the transformation theory. However, it can be shown that sometimes transformative learning is better suited to certain subjects than others.
For example, when inquiring about the origins of the human species, the need or importance of suffering, the power of the mind, and the destiny of human existence, this theory would be quite appropriate. Conversely, when the intention of a particular subject is to retain facts, then this theory may not be as suitable.
The theory of transformation may sometimes be taught to other individuals. However, the concerned teacher will need to make the assumption that the theory is appropriate for them. This presents an ethical dilemma because no single individual has the right to decide for another how to learn.
Furthermore, the theory itself emphasizes the importance of self reflection. Teaching this theory takes away the initial role of self reflection from the learner to the teacher. An additional problem in the teacher-learner context is selecting which one among the learner’s beliefs should be taken through transformative learning. The teacher may not be the best judge of this decision, so this undermines the very purpose of going through transformation.
The theory assumes that people can easily confront their values and beliefs, yet this may not always be true. If the transformative process involves people with different power dynamics such as a boss and an employee or a teacher and a student, then the perceived subordinate will be reluctant to challenge conventional ideals and beliefs. If the self reflection is to take place in an environment where one person is perceived as a mentor, then the mentee will be unwilling to question certain things. This would undermine the effectiveness of the theory.
Sometimes the process of self reflection may bring out repressed memories from the subconscious mind into the conscious mind. As a result, the concerned person may be affected negatively by those emotions. He or she may develop stress because of them. Certain experiences are buried in the subconscious because the body needs to protect itself from them; critical reflection may not always be a good thing.
When searching for other alternatives, a learner will need to communicate and engage significantly with a person who is quite different from him or her.
As a result, the learner may not be aware of certain communication codes or patterns held by the other party. Body language or communication patterns can be misconstrued. They may cause the concerned individual to appear dishonest, and this may prevent the learner from getting all the information he or she needs in order to make that transformation.
This theory assumes that people are ready to change themselves, yet this may not always be true. Some people are just not receptive towards personal change. It may be as a result of a number of reasons such as age, cultural or ethnic orientation and experiences involved.
There is plenty of emphasis on rational thought, yet transformative processes may sometimes involve the emotional components well. In fact, a number of critics who have worked on this theory believe that the emotions or the intuitive component of change should be given just as much importance as the cognitive and the objective aspect.