Pathways to Transformation

Supporting Adult Learners' Personal Transformations Through Transformative Learning Theory


  • Wendy Fowle Oxford Brookes University


Adult learners returning to formal learning after many years out of education often do so with anxieties and apprehensions, having had poor previous experiences of education in the past (Askham, 2008; Goodchild, 2017). Pedagogical designs within pre-entry programmes aim to overcome these anxieties, often resulting in personal transformations through renewed confidence within the educational environment. Within this context Mezirow’s (1991) transformative learning theory is potentially challenged as adult learners are eased gently into the formal learning environment through pedagogic designs which focus on individual communications with a tutor, who supports and guides the student in terms of developing academic confidence and study skills. In this situation, it is likely that the tutor is perceived as the expert, supporting their student to develop the skills necessary to embark on a formal undergraduate qualification. Full application of Mezirow’s transformative learning theory is one step beyond this pathway to transformation but nonetheless, contributes to the personal transformation that enables the student to thrive in the formal educational as they progress. Interviews with 23 adult learners engaged on the first year of an undergraduate qualification, having studied a pre-entry module, were undertaken. The interviews explored the impact of previous experiences of education with participants, and how the particular pedagogic designs within the educational institutional supported or exacerbated their personal transformation. Findings suggest that experiences are individual and unique, requiring flexibility and consistency in pedagogic design throughout the student journey. Educational institutions should recognise that transformation is elastic and certain conditions and situations which may align with Mezirow’s transformative learning theory, have the potential to both erode or enhance the personal transformations that have developed over time.






Research Articles