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Transformative learning in college students: A mixed methods study

James Roderick Fullerton, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Learning Reconsidered (Keeling, 2004) and Learning Reconsidered 2 (Keeling, 2006) called upon institutions of higher education to measure learning outcomes, and to facilitate transformative learning in college students. Learning Reconsidered 2 defined transformative learning with Mezirow's description of the constructivist process of “learning to think like an adult” (Mezirow & Associates, 2000, p. 3). This research study attempts to heed the call by measuring and distinguishing between informative (received) learning outcomes and transformative (constructed) learning outcomes, and uses mixed methods to compare self-reported changes in both of these learning domains. The participants in this study were a group of college students engaged in a semester-long leadership development program at a mid-sized western regional university. A variety of techniques were applied to help facilitate their leadership development, including critically reflective learning strategies (which can be catalysts for transformative learning). Quantitative self-assessments were the Developmental Advising Inventory (a commercially available instrument which measures personal development in nine dimensions) and a Leadership Knowledge Survey (which lists 18 dimensions of leadership that were addressed during the semester-long program). As a constructivist phenomenon, transformative learning requires qualitative methods of measurement, which were based on self-reflective responses to interview questions by each subject at the end of the semester. Participant responses about their lived experiences were organized into structural themes. The relevant data were placed into an evidence checklist that was developed for this study, which identifies conditional thresholds that are necessary for transformative learning to occur (based on Mezirow & Associates, 2000). Drawing from interview data analysis, participants were ultimately categorized according to their indicated stage of transformative learning. The findings revealed that age was a strong correlating factor for transformative learning to occur, and that informative and transformative learning can and do occur independently of each other. The study also concluded that transformative learning is not a guaranteed outcome, but only a potential opportunity for “learning to think like an adult.”^

Subject Area

Education, Educational Psychology|Education, Higher

Recommended Citation

Fullerton, James Roderick, "Transformative learning in college students: A mixed methods study" (2010). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3398454.