Transformative learning : an exploratory analysis of theory and practice in a study and thinking skills programme

Kilpin, Elsa Margaretha (2001-12)

Thesis (MEd)--University of Stellenbosch, 2001.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: Many students that embark on higher education do not have study and thinking skills that are sufficiently well developed in order for them to become autonomous, selfdirected learners. This is partly due to the fact that the historically authoritarian and rigid approaches to teaching in some schools have discouraged independent thought. Other contributory factors such as negative beliefs, attitudes and dispositions, and distorted concepts of the self and of learning, also prevent effective learning from taking place. The focus of this research is a study and thinking skills programme. This programme is part of a four week bridging course for freshmen at the University of Stellenbosch. It is based on a comprehensive rationale derived from cognitive education theory, comprising a number of well known theorists such as Piaget, Vygotsky, Feuerstein and Lozanov. This is further supplemented by instruments from authors in the field of thinking skills (de Bono, Buzan). The purpose of this research was to identify elements of the programme which might be responsible for aspects of transformative learning, as defined by Mezirow in his Transformative Learning Theory. These aspects initially became apparent from students' responses in post-programme evaluations. The responses represented an unexpected outcome, as Mezirow's theory was not represented in the programme's rationale. Eight criteria were developed from Mezirow's theory, operationalised as questions, and then utilized to assess transformative learning in the context of the programme. In a conceptual analysis, four categories of the programme (the rationale, the objectives, the course material and implementation procedures) were compared and contrasted with criteria from Transformative Learning Theory. From this analysis it was apparent that several criteria of Transformative Learning Theory were present in the programme: it facilitated learning in both instrumental and communicative domains; it provided opportunities to explore meaning structures and to investigate distorted meaning perspectives; and it instigated disorientating or conflicting experiences with regard to these. Some criteria were absent from the programme in that it failed to promote rational discourse according Mezirow's definition, it did not adequately promote reflection on premises, and it did not intentionally address the transformation of meaning perspectives. These three omissions may be traced to the lack of an "adult learning" focus in the programme's theoretical structure. Despite this, a number of parallels were identified which may explain the representation of Mezirow's criteria in the programme, and hence the students' responses. Conclusions are drawn regarding a theoretically justified view of transformative learning in the context of the Study and Thinking Skills (S&TS) programme, and practical implications for educators are explained. Finally, recommendations are made for enhancing trans formative learning within the Study and Thinking Skills (S&TS) programme, and for the design of similar programmes. Recommendations are also proposed for further research in this area which, in the contemporary South African educational context, clearly deserves more attention in adult education and related settings.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Talle studente wat tot hoer onderwys toetree se studie en denkvaardighede is me voldoende ontwikkeld om as outonome, selfgerigte leerders sukses te kan behaal nie. Dit is deels toe te skryf aan die outoritere en rigiede benaderings tot onderwys in sommige skole, wat selfstandige denke ontmoedig. Daar is egter ook ander belemmerende faktore soos studente se negatiewe houdings en verkeerde opvattings van leer en van hulself wat verhinder dat effektiewe leer plaasvind. Die fokus van hierdie navorsing is 'n Studie- en Denkvaardigheidprogram (S&TS). Hierdie program vorm deel van 'n vier week lange oorbruggingsprogram vir eerstejaarstudente aan die Universiteit van Stellenbosch. Die program is gebaseer op 'n omvattende rasionaal vanuit die kognitiewe opvoedkunde perspektief wat die werk van 'n aantal bekende teoretici (Piaget, Vygotsky, Feuerstein en Lozanov) insluit en word aangevul met oefeninge deur outeurs in die veld van denkvaardighede (De Bono en Buzan). Die doel van die navorsmg was om elemente van die program te identifiseer wat verantwoordelik kon wees vir aanduidings van transformatiewe leer, soos gedefinieer deur Mezirow in sy Transformatiewe Leerteorie. Hierdie aanduidings spruit uit studente se response tydens evalueringsessies na afloop van die program. Transformatiewe leeruitkomste was onverwags, omdat Mezirow se teorie nie verteenwoordig was in die rasionaal waarvolgens die program ontwerp is nie. Agt kriteria wat uit Mezirow se teorie ontwikkel kon word, is geoperasionaliseer en in vraagvorm gebruik om die inhoud van die program te analiseer. Die kriteria is as verteenwoordigend van transformatiewe leer in die konteks van 'n studie en denkvaardigheidsprogram beskou. In die analise van die inhoud is vier kategoriee van die program (die rasionaal, die doelstellings, die kursusmateriaal en die implementerings-prosedures) vergelyk en gekontrasteer met die kriteria vanuit die Transformatiewe Leerteorie. Uit hierdie analise het geblyk dat die program aan sekere kriteria voldoen, naamlik dat dit leer in be ide die kommunikatiewe en intrumentele domeine fasiliteer; geleenthede skep om betekenisstrukture te verken en versteurde betekenisperspektiewe te ondersoek; en dat dit disorienterende of konflikterende ervarings veroorsaak met betrekking tot bestaande betekenisstrukture en -perspektiewe. Sommige kriteria was glad nie verteenwoordig in die program nie. Die program het nie daarin geslaag om rasionele diskoers, volgens Mezirow se definisie daarvan, te ontlok nie.; dit het nie voldoende reflektering met betrekking tot onderliggende aannames aangemoedig nie en dit het nie doelbewus die transformasie van betekenisprespektiewe bevorder nie. Hierdie drie weglatings uit die program mag verband hou met die feit dat die teoretiese onderbou van die program nie op volwassene leer fokus nie. Ten spyte hiervan is daar egter steeds 'n aantal ooreenkomste tussen die kognitiewe ontwikkelingsteoriee en Mezirow se transformatiewe leerteorie geidentifiseer wat die verteenwoordiging van Mezirow se teorie in die program en dus die studente se response moontlik kan verklaar. Gevolgtrekkings met betrekking tot 'n teoreties geregverdigde beskouing van transformatiewe leer in die konteks van die Studie- en Denkvaardigheidprogram en die praktiese implikasies hiervan vir opvoeders, word beskryf. Ten slotte word aanbevelings gemaak om transformatiewe leer in die program te bevorder en vir die ontwerp van soortgelyke progamme.

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