Barriers to transformative learning in undergraduate research: Helping student researchers to embrace the hurdles.



tranformative learning, culture, undergraduate research, bottleneck, threshold concept, mentor


Data shows that undergraduate research is a high impact practice utilized as an essential part of many college campuses (Sternquist et al., 2018).  Much of this influence on student success is beginning to be attributed to transformative learning within the last decade. Transformative learning involves the student in more than just learning about problems. It causes the individual to undergo significant phases of reassessment and growth that challenges old assumptions and takes the student towards higher-level thinking process and new directions (Mezirow, 1978). However, it is not an automatic transformation that occurs when a student first engages in an innovative research project. Many students falter when first exposed to the need to move up Bloom’s taxonomy from simply memorizing facts or concepts to applying them in the research setting.  Therefore, undergraduate research mentors are challenged to not only teach the discipline- based techniques and modes of inquiry, but also help students increase metacognition to aid in the transformative process. With this dual responsibility, several pitfalls in the process can be found including: 1) Time constraints on faculty and student engagement in the research process, 2) Ill-prepared students lacking in foundational knowledge who struggle to complete basic tasks, let alone move to cognitive expertise of the subject matter and the process occurring, and 3) An increase in students’ desire to participate in research solely as a pre-requisite for graduate programs. These three aspects are discussed in terms of why they exist for the student population and how mentors can help the students embrace these hurdles in an effort to gain greater understanding of why the research is beneficial to their development as an undergraduate student and a lifelong learner. This includes recognizing and identifying learning bottlenecks (Middendorf & Shopkow, 2018), overcoming student resistance, and developing a welcoming research culture that recognizes students come from a variety of frames of reference (Taylor, 2008). Mentors must help students to acknowledge how the frame of reference is unique for everyone on a team even in disciplines which are traditionally believed as completely objective. Practical guidance based in research from a variety of fields is provided for mentors to increase transformative learning growth of student researchers.


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