10 quick lessons from educational thinkers

Praxis, the combination of theory, reflection and practice is precious – as in ‘valuable’ – but it’s not something to be precious or pretentious about. Educational theory is of real use when we reflect on it and apply it in practice. The list below features 10 quick lessons drawn from some of the people featured so far in this blog’s ‘Educational Thinkers’ Hall of Fame’.

Number 10 is specifically about the WEA but has wider application in adult education.

  1. Socrates – Active learning through questioning and discovery leads to deeper understanding of a subject.
  2. Mary Wollstonecraft – Prejudice leads to ill-informed and unfair assumptions about people’s academic potential.
  3. John Dewey – Previous experiences of life and education shape individual students’ personal responses to learning activities.
  4. Benjamin Bloom – Learning can take place at many levels ranging from ‘rote’ learning to active creativity.
  5. Paolo Freire – Education shouldn’t be based on a ‘banking’ system that attempts to deposit knowledge in students’ minds.
  6. Robert Gagne – ‘Teachers have three primary functions: to be a designer, manager and evaluator of learning.’
  7. Jack Mezirow – Transformative education has the potential to set people free from their limitations.
  8. Carol Dweck – The language we use as educators can reinforce the development of ‘fixed mindsets’ or ‘growth mindsets’
  9. John Hattie – Teacher credibility is important in promoting ‘visible learning’ through feedback about students’ progress.
  10. R H Tawney – The purpose of the association [the WEA] is to provide for men and women who want to take their bearings on the world, opportunities of co-operative study, in congenial company, with a leader who knows enough of his (or her) business to be not only a leader but a fellow student.

This blog complements others that I follow, including Pete Caldwell’s at wp.me/p1ynaa-a1 and several others. I’ll list a few in the next blog.

What snippets would you have chosen from any of these or other thinkers to inform practice in adult education?

Educational Thinkers’ Hall of Fame – Jack Mezirow and Transformation Theory

The idea of transformative learning came up in discussions today with partner organisations. This reminded me of Prof. Jack Mezirow, who is widely acknowledged as founding the ‘transformative learning’ concept and a worthy member of this blog’s ‘Educational Thinkers’ Hall of Fame’.

Prof Jack Merizow

Prof Jack Merizow

Mezirow first applied the label ‘transformation’ in a 1978 study of U.S.women returning to post-secondary study or the workplace after an extended time out of education. He built his professional reputation on developing an evolving Transformation Theory that tries to define the features and processes of learning and their implications for adult educators. His work has led to a transformative learning movement in adult education. Other great educational thinkers including Thomas Kuhn, Paulo Freire and Jürgen Habermas all influenced Mezirow’s work.

One of his main areas of work on transformative learning has been the division of knowledge into three distinct types:

• Instrumental
• Communicative
• Emancipatory

Educators consider that gaining instrumental and communicative knowledge are the most common types of technical and practical learning.

Instrumental learning is the simple attainment of skills and knowledge. Communicative knowledge depends on students understanding the meaning of what is being communicated. Emancipatory knowledge is much deeper and is based on the idea that everyone has the potential to break free from the limitations of their own situation to transform their own life.

It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it…

In the WEA we see the distinctions between teaching subjects, where the outcome is increased knowledge, and teaching students so that they learn how to learn, where the outcomes are multi-faceted, longer-lasting and can be life-changing. The types of learning don’t exclude each other and students can benefit from emancipatory and transformative learning while they are studying specific subjects.

Mezirow suggests transformations come about due to one of four ways:

• Elaborating existing frames of reference
• Learning new frames of reference
• Transforming points of view
• Transforming habits of the mind

Born in 1927 and now retired, Professor Mezirow has been a consultant in adult literacy and community development for UNDP, UNESCO, U.S. AID, USIA, Asia Foundation and World Education in many countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

There’s a brief and balanced post on Mezirow at http://www.learningandteaching.info/learning/critical1.htm with more detail and there’s a lot of information online about Mazirow’s ‘phases of transformative learning’.

The term ‘instructor‘ seems to be at odds with the concept, but the bullet-pointed appendices on the webpage at http://bit.ly/cPOirR are interesting. They summarise the characteristics and roles of instructors, students, course content and learning envornments which facilitate transformational learning, together with professional challenges and ethical considerations for instructors facilitating transformational learning.

Any thoughts or more information on Mezirow’s work or transformational learning?

Who’s next for the Hall of Fame? Any suggestions, or even guest blogs?