World Trust

Transformative Learning theory

Posted by World Trust Team on February 12, 2018

Our most recent film, Healing Justice, is grounded in transformative learning theory (like all of World Trust’s films and curricula).

This learning model was developed by Jack Mezirow, who described transformative learning as “learning that transforms problematic frames of reference to make them more inclusive, discriminating, reflective, open, and emotionally able to change.”

What does transformational learning look like in practice?

One short video breaks it down nicely.

The video explains that people grow up with a set of “meaning perspectives,” or ways they see the world. As new information is introduced, people filter that information through those perspectives. Those beliefs, if left unchallenged, will reinforce cultural norms – whether those norms are accurate or not.

When people are raised in a culture of racism and other forms of oppression, it is easier to digest information that confirms the beliefs and norms of that culture. If a society gives the prejudicial message that black and brown men are inherently more violent, it justifies punishment and incarceration as a way to “keep communities safe.” Likewise, if the belief that men of color are more violent goes unchallenged, the punitive system remains intact even when it is shown not to improve community safety.


As you see in the clip, Mezirow proposed that, to transform one’s thinking and disrupt this pattern of filtering information through our existing lenses, one must experience a “disorienting dilemma” – something that does not fit into an existing belief system.

Transformative learning starts with experiences: ours, and/or with the witnessing of others’. Learners then explore questions independently - such as, what are the feelings and thoughts that come up during and after the "disorienting dilemma" or witnessed experience - and then come into discussion about it.

The final stage in the transformative learning process is action: does the person act on the information they’ve just processed in the same way as before or do they do something different?

Our Healing Justice film and the accompanying downloadable conversation guide offer a starting point for the critical thinking and discussions needed for transformational learning. Regardless of whether you are just becoming familiar with the challenges of the current punitive legal system or you have been questioning it for years, every person can deepen their learning with Healing Justice.



Topics: Talk about Race, #WorldTrust, Healing, nautilus, trauma, Healing Justice, racial justice