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2018 Transformative Learning Conference

March 8–9, 2018

Oklahoma City, OK


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Adults as Distance Learners: Transformative Learning in Adult Education

Friday, March 9, 2018 at 4:05 PM–4:35 PM CST
Young Ballroom B

Adults in e-learning environments have grown rapidly over last several years. Transformative learning in adult education has numerous elements to consider. Many considerations must be taken into account when designing, developing, and implementing e-learning. Transformative learning occurs in many environments, one of these environments is the online environment. Adult learners have unique experiences and diverse educational backgrounds. By understanding specific characteristics of the adult learners, one may better integrate elements of transformative learning into the learning process. This presentation will examine transformative learning in adult education. In addition, this presentation will discuss sites for transformative learning.


Mezirow (1991) identified that "Transformative learning involves an enhanced level of awareness of the context of one's beliefs and feelings." One site of transformative learning in adult learning is that of the online environment. Bierema and Merriam(2015) identified that transformative learning starts with the individual, but also includes other sites such as online, the workplace, and the community. Adults in e-learning environments have grown rapidly over last several years. Many considerations must be taken into account when designing, developing, and implementing e-learning. Adult learners have unique experiences and diverse educational backgrounds. Adult learners have unique learning characteristics that have been elaborated upon by many authors such Knowles (1980, 1984, 1998), Maehl (2000), and Merriam and Caffarella (1999). By understanding the specific characteristics of adult learners, one may be able to enhance their understanding of transformative learning and provide an environment beneficial for transformational learning.

Bierema and Merriam identified that the individual is the first “site” of transformative learning. Knowles (1980, 1984, 1998) suggest that learning is typically derived from real-world experiences, and these real-world experiences can relate to that learning situation and provide for a better grasp of the information. These assumptions can assist an individual in engaging in transformative learning through experiential and self-directed learning. He initially identified four underlining properties of adult learners. First, he identified the learner as self-directed and independent in the pursuit of information. Second, the real-life experience of the learner must be acknowledged and built upon. Third, the readiness to learn is driven from the learners’ occupational and social roles. Finally, the learner is driven by the possibility for immediate application of the knowledge or skill. Harbour, Daveline, Wells, Schurman, & Hahn (1990) identified that adult learners have six specific characteristics: 

Again, transformational learning can be engaged through these characteristics.

Bierema and Merriam (2015) identified that, although there is a scarcity of research studies examining transformative learning and online learning, it can be concluded that pedagogical elements and technology can be merged to begin the development of transformative learning. Distance learning in adult education is essential in the changing the world in which we live. Understanding and integrating transformative learning poses new challenges not only to the students but also the instructor. Knowledge about how these instructors and students adapt to transformative learning environment is crucial within the learning context. Therefore, it is essential to possess an understanding of the challenges of transformative learning theories and especially theories about adults as distance learning.


Bierema, L. L. & Merriam, S. B. (2014). Adult learning: linking theory and practice. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Durjx, J. M., & Smith, R. O. (2009). Facilitating transformative learning: Engaging emotions in an online context. In J. Mezirow, E. W. Taylor, & Associates. Transformative learning in practice. San Franciso, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Duffy, T. M., Lowyck, J., & Jonassen, D. (1993). Designing environments for constructive learning. Heidelberg: Springer-Verlag.

Harbour, J., Daveline, K., Wells., Schurman D., & Hahn, H. (1990). Distributed training for the reserve component: Instructor handbook for computer conferencing. Boise, ID: Idaho National Engineering Laboratory and Boise State University.

Hardy, D. W., & Boaz, M. H. (1997) Learner development: beyond the technology. In T. E. Cyrs (Ed.), Teaching and learning at a distance: what it takes to effectively design, deliver and evaluate programs. (pp. 41-48). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Heide, A. & Stilborne, L. (1996).  The teacher’s complete and easy guide to the internet. Toronto, Canada: Trifolium Books.

Dasworm, C.E., & Bowles, T. A. (2012). Fostering transformative learning in higher education settings. In E. W. Taylor & P. Cranton (Eds), The handbook of transformative learning (pp. 388-407). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Knowles, M. S. (1980). The modern practice of adult education, Chicago, IL: Follett.

Knowles, M. S. (1984). Andragogy in action. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Knowles, M. S. (1998). The modern practices of adult education (rev. ed). Chicago, IL: Associated Press.

Maehl, W. H. (2000). Lifelong learning at its best: innovative practices in adult credit programs. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Merriam, S. B. & Caffarella, R. S. (1999). Learning in adulthood. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Moore, M., & Kearsley, G. (1996). Distance Education: A systems view. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Smith, C. L. (1998). Attitudes of African American college students toward computers. (Doctoral dissertation). University of Georgia.

US Office of Technology Assessment. (1989). Linking for learning: A new course for education. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Format of Presentation

30-Minute Roundtable Session

Conference Thread(s)

Communicating Transformative Learning

Primary Presenter

Kenny Ott, Valdosta State University

Secondary Presenters