The four stages of the transformational learning cycle

Written by mary johnson-gerard, ph.d.
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The four stages of the transformational learning cycle
Transformational learning is a process to help people solve problems and make positive life changes. (Jupiterimages/BananaStock/Getty Images)

Transformative learning is a concept dating back to the late 1970s. Conceived by Jack Merzirow as transformative theory, the concept has morphed into what is now referred to as transformational learning. Yet it has the underpinnings of the original theory. The original theory posited that people go through three phases or stages in making life changes: critical reflection, reflective discourse and action. Transformational learning is similar except the labels of the phases or stages have been revised to include: identifying or confronting a problem, finding a solution, attacking the problem and integrating the new solution into other life situations.

Identifying the Problem

Confronting the problem or identifying a problem is the first step toward solving it. An example of this is alcoholism: Until an individual recognises he has a problem he cannot control there is little hope the problem will be resolved. This seems to be a logical first step if significant life change is to occur. Once a person is able to admit he has a problem, the human psyche is freed from denying and rationalising and is now able to assert its force toward analysing the problem rationally.

Confronting the Problem

This step of transformational change is a logical process as it takes a person through the possible reasons why the problem exists, what has worked and not worked in the past to decrease or alleviate the problem or similar problems and how have others in a similar situation addressed the issue and changed their lives. This step of the process may require research and learning about the problem and potentially effective solutions.

Finding a Solution

Finding the solution is the next step. Armed with self-awareness, information on reasons and causes of the problem, what has worked and hasn't worked in the past and what research and experts say are effective strategies, an individual weighs all of this information and makes a decision about what approach or approaches can solve the problem or get control of it. Setting measurable objectives and identifying strategies based on this reflective process helps the person know where he is going, how he will get there and how long the transformation will take.

Integration of knowledge

Once an individual goes through the first step of this process and honestly admits, "I have a problem," he is on the path to transformation. When he has formed and implemented his plan for resolution and accomplished the life shift that solves the problem, he has new insights, assumptions and skills to use or integrate into other life situations. This integration of knowledge is a second bonus for doing the hard work toward transformation. The bonus is the ability to confront life problems more effectively when they crop up again; and they will. The reality of living is that life is a continuous process of change.

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