A CRITICAL REVIEW OF Patricia Cranton, Professional development as Transformative Learning: A new perspectives for Teachers of Adults

A CRITICAL REVIEW OF Patricia Cranton, Professional development as Transformative Learning: A new perspectives for Teachers of Adults
(San Francisco: Jossey-bass, 1996).
Binu B. Peniel 
UNITED THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY TROTWOOD, OHIO September 2013-17

INTRODUCTION

Most of our interest and knowledge about educational practice are practical, emancipatory in nature rather than technical. One of the reasons traditional developmental strategies are not as effective as they could be is that developers try to transmit knowledge about teaching rather than encourage reflection on practice. Cranton discuss about self directed learning as a foundation of transformative learning and critical reflection as a central process involved in transformative learning. And he describe educators’ growth and development as a process of becoming more autonomous, of reflecting critically on practice, and of revising perspectives on practice. An educator also works as a change agents in the individual life, work place and society at large through their own introvert or extrovert model. Here I would like to summaries the Patricia Cranton’s model of transformative learning followed by a critical evaluation and its application in the local and global research and learning context.

A READING SUMMARY OF THE BOOK

Cranton define who are the educators and describe educators’ growth and development as a process of becoming more autonomous and independent, of engaging in critical reflection, and of revising perspectives on practice. This growth and development can be transformative. This occurs when an individual has reflected on assumptions or expectations about what will occur, has found these assumptions to the faulty, and has revised them. Educators are people who work in the content areas with specific groups of learners and learners of our discipline and students of our clientele. Cranton also describe the educators developmental strategies happened in different context such as college, business and industry, health professions, community education, and informal settings such as community action, learning group and learning networks. Educators in the universities and colleges are experts in their content areas. Not necessarily they have any formal training in the teaching professions. In the business and industry context they are not addressed as teachers rather as trainers. Educators in the health professions primarily associate themselves with their profession rather than with education. The community educators are focusing more on continuing education with wide range of content from general interest courses to more technical or possible work related topics. The purpose has been described as being to help maintain, expand and improve individual knowledge skills and attitude. Educators in the informal settings includes community development, voluntary organizations, community action groups, self-help groups, discussion groups, evil rights movements, feminist groups and ecological movements.

The traditional developmental strategies for educators focused on the improvement of skills and the acquisition of new knowledge and techniques. In other words learning by doing but we can’t ignore the development of learning by experience. Cranton reminds us about P. Jarvis’s (Paradoxes of Learning: On becoming an individual in society) description of learning which is based on primary and secondary forms of experience. The primary forms of experience comes through manuals, guides, newsletters, how to books, workshops, retreats and training programs. Passion, hope, doubt, fear, hollow victory, and above all, the surprise and ambiguity will fit into the secondary form of education.

The concept of self-direction has remained evasive. Independent, freedom, autonomy, empowerment and self-direction are always been a goal of human development and thus for education. Educators are expected to be self-directed professionals. For them to be transformative, it is important that educators have control over their learning and access to the resources they need for learning. Cranton refers M.S. Knowles (1975) to define about self-directed learning. It is a process in which learners take the initiative with or without the help of others in diagnosing their needs, setting objectives, selecting resources, choosing learning strategies, and evaluating their progress. It could also be seen as a character of people (A self directed learner) and method of learning (uses self directed approach for a course). Cranton also give a descriptive explanation and illustrations about self-directed learning, personal autonomy, self-management, learner control and autodidaxy (who are responsible to themselves alone or noninstutational pursuit of learning opportunities in the natural societal settings). Self-directed learning is one of the major components in transformative learning.

Critical reflection is the central process in transformative learning. Human beings learn and change which eventually will lead to development. Emancipatory knowledge is gained by critical reflection. Reflection is active, persistent and careful consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the grounds that support it and the further conclusion to which it tends. Interactions with others are a vital component of transformative learning. Even though all critical reflections are not transformative it is for different people it could be unarticulated intuitions, a detailed review of an experience, a logical analysis, or an evaluation of feelings. One alternative interpretation of the concept of critical thinking is that of emancipatory learning. According to J. Mezirow (Transformative Dimensions of Adult Learning-1991) there are three types of reflection such as content, process and premise. Educators may accept their practice as it is tinkering with some aspects of their performance, the organization of the content or the activities they engage which is reflection in action. It is through critical reflection on their practice the educators see the expatiation for themselves, their learners and society at large. Critical reflection can change ones perspective on practice, or can conform current practices.

The fundamental concept of transformative learning theory is related with the development of the educator. The epistemic factors (what we know and how we come to know it and how we use the knowledge) are shaped by developmental stages, cognitive or learning style, sensory learning preferences, scope of awareness, criteria used for evaluation or judgment, global versus detail focus and our concrete or abstract thinking. Sociolinguistic perspective (our understanding of the language and its influences) and psychological perspective (understanding ourselves as individual) influences our meaning perspective as an adult educator. It is hard to compartmentalize from sociolinguistic, epistemic and psychological perspective as being an educator. A distorted assumption or premise is one that leads the learner to view reality in a way that arbitrarily limits what is included, impedes differentiations, lack of permeability or openness to other way of seeing or does not facilitate an integration of experience. Socio-cultural context is significant in shaping our perspective. Distorted epistemic, sociolinguistic and psychological perspective can influence our self-directed transformative learning process. Autonomy means self-rule and was originally used to describe self-ruled cities in Ancient Greece where as today it is used for freedom and independence. The central process of transformative learning is critical reflection, not detached reflections on past experiences, but reflective action and reflecting on why we are reflecting. Not all reflections are transformative. Some time we confirm or consolidate our belief and other time we learn something new. Both are valuable outcome of reflection.

Every educator can attest to the differences they observe among individuals in a learning group. Some prefers well organized activities, some want to hear the facts; some are drawn to the big picture. Educators also learn by different ways such as reading, by talking, by going to the conferences and by experimenting in the class room. Beyond the fundamental difference among the human beings, it has been postulated that people vary in learning style, teaching style, leadership style, personality characteristics, and social interaction preferences. Cranton used the psychological theory to understand the people’s differences like collective unconscious, introversion and extroversion, attitude, functions, judgment and differentiations. Inclination towards self-directed learning may be based on a variety of factors, including past experiences, cultural backgrounds, values and underlying assumptions about teachers roles. Four components of self-directed learning are personal autonomy, self-management, learner control and autodidaxy. Transformative learning can take place when a person allows critical reflection to change view. Based on Mezirow’s and Jung’s perspectives on learning and individual differences, Cranton suggest different types such as extroverted thinking, feeling, sensing, and intuitive and Introverted thinking, feeling, sensing, and intuitive types. At the same time it is important to note that no person is a pure type.

Educators are change agents who work with learners to foster their growth and development for social change. Self directed and reflective transformative learning will be likely to promote social change. When we deal with the goal of adult education is social reform we follow the debate about which comes first, social change or individual change. Adult education and the initial task is to identify social structures and practices which (mis) shape social learning processes and undermines capacities adults already possess to control their own education. Even though educators many not see social change as their role but education leads to changes in the knowledge people have, skills and competencies, way of communication and understanding, change in their sense of self and change in their social world.

Creating a new vision for professional growth Cranton suggest the model in which individual educators’ engage in critical reflection, self directed learning and transformative learning at the center model. Teaching context, the organization, and the culture have further influences on our development. In the first boundary innermost squares have interactions of critical reflection, self-directed learning and transformative learning is that of educators’ individual differences. The next boundary is educator’s teaching context which includes subject or disciple, characteristics of the learners, size of the groups, physical facilities and resources, working conditions and salary. The third square around the developmental process is the organization, institution, or community. When a transformative learning take place in the life of the educators there is influences on the layers such as context, organization and culture or organizational, institutional, or community change or transformation take place. The current perspectives of educator development can be categorized into technical perspective, humanistic perspective, social action perspective and postmodern perspective.
Finally Cranton explains how the transformative learning can provide some strategies that developers can use in working with educators. Individual consultation between educator and developer to be effective in fostering reflection and transformation, it needs to be long-term, critical and experimental. Action research has been revived as a means of professionals’ engaging in critical reflection on their practice and as a path to empowerment for educators. Working along with discussion groups, collaborative inquiry, working with organizations, policies and procedures, committees, professional associations and networks will allow us to evaluate and develop the transformative learning within a contextual frame work. Diversity brings power to our practice only when we understand our diversity.

A CRITICAL ANALYSIS, REFLECTION AND IMPLICATION

Being a Non-English native, Cranton was initially a difficult reader. But I am fascinated by the theoretical frame work presented by Cranton. This model of transformative learning is a powerful pathway to social and individual transformation. According to Cranton the following questions are not easy to answer. The hypothesis of Cranton’s work is based on the following unanswered questions. Who are adult educators? How do we prepare for our educator roles? What kinds of things we do to develop our practice? What kind of knowledge and learning do we see as relevant to our development? It is no surprise that adult educator’s development in the various contexts is viewed as the increase in technical knowledge of the subject area or of teaching itself. It is also interesting to know that there was no research finding available to identify the psychological model of the learners and its relevance to the present outcome of the traditional models. Even though Cranton tries to integrate the postmodern frame work to his work as transformative learning it is missing as a focal point in his research model.

According to my understanding Cranton is a 17 year old outdated book presents a relevant concept of adult professional development as a transformative learning. At the same time most of the recipients of doctoral program at UTS are the byproducts of the traditional learning methodologies. There is a tension in practice for the educators between the traditional model and post modern transformative learning. The context, social setting, over flow of information, advancement of knowledge, advancement of the technology and change of the crisis in a society challenge the traditional model and affirms the need for a new model which is according to Cranton is the transformative learning model. The geographical boundaries of the society also changed due to the technological and scientific advancement. So the social context of the individuals and professional development also changed significantly. The relevance of this model needs to be at the same time applicable to the local and global context. Transformation of community in a generation, the role of quality education is vital. It should not only be an academic knowledge but need to be a street knowledge. In other words the professional development needs to be relevant to the postmodern global village context. Today’s educational models are not producing people for the changing job market. Technical skills are not relevant because the technology is keep changing. The continuing education as a transformative learning model is very crucial in a postmodern context. Rigidity to any model can be harmful. Many of the pastors in the churches and educators in the schools don’t see their work as community transformation for social change. Even though that is what they are involved with on a daily basis. The health of the society is based on the health of the educational institute and health of the religious offices. If we have the sick community with lack of moral values, we see the reflection of it in the institution and in the religious centers.

Coming from an Indian context I am also curious to know a comparative relevance of Cranton models to the Gurukula education system of the ancient India. As a third world biblical theological student I am also interested to know the relevance of Cranton to the Jewish education system. How Cranton’s theoretical frame work and the advancement of online education system for the professional development also another interesting areas to look into. The affordability of the required literature and research finding are another major difference we have while we are not sharing the commonalities of interest in our educational practice. It will be also interesting to know the comparative analysis of Cranton’s model with traditional models and its applicability to the postmodern professional development. Over all Cranton’s work and model is very interesting and give the foundation for professional development of adult learning as Transformative. It gives a new perspective for Teachers of Adults and gives them a theoretical frame work for their practice.

Dr. Binu Peniel

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