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Education as a Transformative Process

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The study demonstrated how discourse-analytic approaches reveal the significance‘ of verbal and non-verbal data in research, In using a qualitative research approach the researchers were able to place themselves within a critical stance of the data using a micro-analytical approach, This allowed the researchers to consider how broader social processes work through language. The study explored ‘Education as a Transformative Process’. The study aligns itself with previous studies and supports the works of Jack Mezirow (1978), ‘Transformative Learning Theory’, and Jack Mezirow’s (1997, 2006) ‘Transformative Experience Theory’. The study further supports Stacks (1992), ‘Turn-Taking Model’. The study demonstrates that education produces a transformative process for learners in the DCU Open Education Unit. Where learners engaged in self-directed learning and had a choice in the subjects, they chose they in turn, replicated their learning and produced a self-directed change in their social views, their world view and behaviours. Evidence within this study demonstrates that that new information learned was then reproduced and embedded in their real world.


Jack Mezirow (1978) discussed the notion that the transformative learning theory of adult education uses quandaries to challenge learners’ thinking. Learners should, as a matter of course, be encouraged to use critical rational and questioning, to contemplate if their fundamental norms and beliefs about the world are accurate. Transformative learning Mezirow defined the process as one that leads to a change in one’s set of criteria for defining judgments and is rooted within the social constructivist tradition, the theory encompasses a critical reflective pattern and serves as an essential part of the transformation process as individuals maintain certain beliefs and thoughts on how the world is and how they make sense of it. By engaging in a transformative style of learning, individuals should discover that their beliefs and structures of the world may not be viewed in a single construct.

As a result, they examine the internal thought structure to find new meanings for the world. Three characteristics define the construct (1) motivated use of and application of learning and self‐directed learning, (2) expansion of perception in seeing issues through the lens of the content, and (3) experiential value or valuing learned content for how it improves everyday understanding.

Transformative experience theory, according to Jack Mezirow (2003 p.201), “The child and the curriculum”, states that a teacher’s problem is one of encouraging a vibrant personal experience for the learner. Dewey states that what should concern a teacher is how the subject becomes part of the future experience of the individual. Transformative experience theory concentrates on how in-school learning can enhance the out-of-school understanding by increasing an individual’s insight; this will add meaning and value to the learner’s future experience; it should allow for a transformation in their relationship with the world. The theory combines ideas from John Dewey’s theory of aesthetics and his philosophy of education (Leddy 2006). Later (Daloz, 1990), stated that higher education has the potential to propagate understanding, awareness, and transformation by the cultivation of a learner’s proactive thinking, and this should include multiple viewpoints, the process should encourage dialogue and build an individual’s knowledge.

According to (Perry, 2000) transformative learning produces more significant and far-reaching drastic changes in the learners as individuals. In a study by Pugh (2011) entitled ‘Transformative Experience: An Integrative Construct in the Spirit of Deweyan Pragmatism’ researchers, Girod and Wong (2002) presented case studies of two students learning how to tell rock stories. The study involved them learning about rocks and their history and examining size and patterns of erosion. One young girl developed a deep interest in the area and later in the paper stated that she developed a book about rocks not out of need in school but rather out of interest, she stated that “I think about rocks differently than I did before now when I do not have anything to do, I look at a rock and try to tell its story. “I think about where it came from, where it formed, where it has been, what its name is” – Girod and Wong (2002 p. 211). Distinct evidence of transformative experience emerged, proposing that the construct of transformative experience provides an accurate representation of what it means for learning to enrich and expand the everyday experience.

This study seeks to examine and to identify and describe through a phenomenological approach, which, according to (Creswell 2013), centres on the collective experience within a group. The goal of taking this approach is to arrive at a description of the nature of the phenomenon; its roots lie within Philosophy, Psychology, and Education. The purpose is to examine the lived experience of individuals within a grouping that is third level students attending DCU Open Education Unit.

The study will also explore the levels and combinations of the three characteristics of the transformative experience described by Mezirow (1978) to assess the critical patterns of thought. Through qualitative methods, the study aims to relay the learner’s journeys of transformative engagement in education. Based upon the three characteristics that define the construct of transformative learning and the principals of phenomenology the study seeks to answer if students engaged in DCU Open Education Unit have:

  • Applied a significant degree of choice and control over what, when, and why they chose this field of study?
  • Expanded their perception outside of the learned content?
  • Applied their current learning to their everyday lives?


The study will present findings of research conducted to explore education as a transformative process. The study will relay accounts of the educational experiences from a learner’s perspective and determine if the learner has engaged in education as a transformative process. The research was conducted in conjunction with third level students attending the Open Education Unit at DCU University. Interview plans were developed using the theoretical bases drawn from the ‘Transformative Experience Theory’ and ‘the Transformative Learning Theory’. Participation in the study was voluntary. The researcher secured consent to partake. Using a qualitative approach and through critical discourse analysis, the researcher was able to examine not only codes and themes that emerged but identified linguistic features that were associated with the process allowing a critical analysis of the experience.

Online semi-structured interview methods were employed. One online interview was conducted; this was further supplemented by two other interviews carried out by other researchers within the same programme. Semi-structured questions were asked of the interviewees, and responses were recorded and later transcribed. Using Nvivo software (QDA 2018), transcripts were analysed using thematic analysis. On analysis of each interview, a coding framework was devised.

This report is structured within the central themes observed through the interview process. Sub-themes were then developed to examine in more detail the context of responses. Discourse analysis allowed the researcher to study the text within a language and allowed the researcher to view the phenomenon from a different stance. Researchers used a highly inductive approach meaning that data may generate new theories from within. Themes emerging from the data were gathered and not imposed or predetermined by the researcher. This study will examine the link between the data and underlying theory relating to the issues.


This study seeks to establish if students in a third level college engaged in a transformative learning process. This report is structured around the central themes and linguistics observed through the interview process. Part one will examine the thematic findings, and part two will examine the linguistic features of the interview data.

Part 1. Thematic Codes

According to Mezirow (1997, 2006), one of the fundamental underlying principles in transformative learning is that the experience leads to a change in one’s set of criteria for defining judgments. Throughout this research interview participants referred to their ability to have learned not to make a judgment as one participant stated that, “I suppose in and within our sociology and psychology modules, where we’re learning a lot more about the world, and I’m not as quick to judge people but to go well, and you know there’s something, there’s a reason behind this behaviour and there’s a reason for it. I just saw reasons for behaviours and thought there’s something behind this, and yeah. And not just be quick to judge”.

In examining interview transcripts’ previous education, although negatively impacted some participants, they found they engaged self-directed learning. This was a direct result in some cases of previous education negatives like that of previous schooling and university learning.

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“Previously in education, I would sit in a lecture hall with a thousand people, I had to be there I had to sign-in on sheets, and it just felt like a waste of time, because lecturers were reading out notes that I had in front of me”.

One participant stated when asked the question, think back on your primary and secondary school days, and you’re learning there, and the way education was delivered there did that encourage you to take up further education, or did it prevent you?: “ It prevented me it was very much, do it our way or don’t do it at all, yep very different to open education”.

When asked if they have applied their new knowledge in the real-world context. Interviewees were clear in how they had, with some respondents highlighting that: “I’d say the cognitive psychology and counselling module like ya know, whatever you are worrying about is not necessarily what you’re worrying about, and it’s probably something else that’s associated with it. It’s putting all these connections together to kind of I suppose to get the leg up on your own thinking, and it has made me a more focused person. It definitely made me a clearer thinker”.

The previous approaches used in education for the participants allowed students to determine how future education would proceed for them, as all interviewees cited this as the catalyst to pursuing an education that was flexible, part-time, and held previous student reviews of the support they received while attending the institute of choice.

Interviewees all agreed that their experience as an adult learner had enhanced their lives and changed their thinking, allowing students to put into practice in the real world the knowledge and experience they had gained from a supportive, flexible institute where self-direction and self-commitment were to the fore. All learners made personal sacrifices but relayed that those sacrifices were worth it. All interviewees relayed that the decision they made to return to education was as stated by one interviewee.

“I think there’s one thing that I’d like to say and that it’s the best thing that I ever did was going back to this course”.

This study part one covering thematic analysis supports the theory laid out by Mezirow, which stated that by engaging in a transformative style of learning, individuals should discover that their beliefs and structures of the world may not be viewed in a single construct. It is evident within the responses of interviewees in this study.

Part 2. Linguistics

Linguistics is the systematic study of language; it examines the rules, systems, and principals of language. There are two main scopes to linguistics one Micro linguistics and two macro linguistics. The major contributor in linguistic research is Noam Chomsky (1965), who wrote that the aim of Linguistics should be about understanding underlying linguistic competence or the rules that govern the manufacture of grammatical sentences. Wooffitt (2005) maintained that whenever we yield an account of something or refer to a place, a thing, event or current affairs in the world, we chose from a variety of possible words and phrases. Sacks (1992) pioneered the approach when his study explored telephone calls to a Suicide Prevention Centre. He noticed that staff were required to gather names, but callers would use a range of tactics to avoid revealing it. Sacks recalled that in the conversation, you could predict that people would not give their name (Sacks, 1992 Vol. I: 3). Sacks began investigating utterances as social actions that people reverted to on a bid to get things done or to avoid getting things done in the course of a conversation with others, Sacks (1992 Vol. I: 3 ). for this study, linguistic features were examined to determine if the linguistic style bore importance or held vital information pertinent to the study. Conversational analysis is a micro-analytic approach, which is one of four approaches to discourse analysis, CA. However, this takes a sharp exit from Chomsky‘s view that linguistic performance has close to no relevance to the linguist. However, proponents of CA would state that this is the reverse and believe that talk-in-interaction provides extraordinarily rich evidence of the fundamental rules of how language works.

During this study, when the respondent was asked: “just to go back on something you said earlier you spoke about having gone to do previous degrees, what is different about this course that those two courses could not offer you?” The participant respondent saying: “Mmmmm, flexibility”. “Mmmmm open education in DCU”. “Mmmmm previously in education I would sit in a lecture hall with a thousand people”.

In reviewing the transcript, the use of ‘Mmmmmm’ indicated that the participant was engaged in a thought process of recall of decision-making processes. This allowed time for the participant to determine what words or speech would follow. The words can be referred to as fillers, according to Clark & Fox Tree (2002). The oldest proposal is that fillers are used for holding the floor according to (MacClay & Osgood, 1959, p. 41) demonstrating that the respondent wanted to hold the space to continue this was borne out by the fact that these were elicited at the beginning middle and end of the response this indicates to the interviewer that their response was not completed.

Within the transcripts, pauses were also observed. This indicated a turn change potential in the conversation, and the participant might have waited for the interviewer to permit to continue. This is a model called the turn-taking model suggested by Sacks et al. (1974). “I think for me I was…. [pause]”. The participant then continued with the answer.


This study set out to examine the concept that education is a transformative process. The study remained aligned with the theory outlined throughout this paper. The study was also able to articulate that transformation happens in verbal and nonverbal ways. This study chose a qualitative method using thematic analysis and critical discourse analysis to develop an insight into the data collected through interviews. The method enabled the researcher to develop a deeper appreciation for the group or situation they were researching. The study used interview transcripts and divided them into two chapters – thematic analysis and linguistics. By using thematic and discourse analysis to distil data, the researcher identified patterns of codes and linguistic features that allowed them to conduct more granular research and analysis. The study supports the theory by Mezirow, which states that one of the fundamental underlying principles in transformative learning is that the experience leads to a change in one’s set of criteria for defining judgments, and this was demonstrated by the responses gathered throughout the study. The study also supports (Perry, 2000) transformative learning produces more significant and far-reaching drastic changes in the learners as individuals as recorded from respondents who felt that their experiences had changed their perception and ability to self-direct. Through linguistics, the pattern of non-verbal communication delivered further enhancement of the study. Clarkes & Fox Tree (2002) demonstrated that fillers were used by participants when they engaged in non-verbal communication to demonstrate that they were engaging in filling when they intended to proceed and increasing the verbal responses this concurs with Sacks (1992) study where he demonstrated that people could use these utterances to avoid s social actions in the course of a conversation with others. The utterance allows the participant time to process recall and hold the space for further conversation.

The use of pauses within the interviews was observed as indications that a turn change potential was happening in the conversation. This allowed the participants to wait for the interviewer to permit them to continue. This study supported the turn-taking model, as suggested by Sacks (1974). Identified limitations within the study are that analysis done on smaller sample sizes increase error margin; this should be taken into account when examining the analysis within the study. Further areas of research identified further research could examine the pause taking in the turn-taking model as the differences between pause times may or could happen as a result of emotional attachment to the question and the required response. The responses that may be elicited may impact the length of time within the pause determining an emotional connection.

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Education as a Transformative Process. (2022, August 25). Edubirdie. Retrieved September 22, 2023, from
“Education as a Transformative Process.” Edubirdie, 25 Aug. 2022,
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Education as a Transformative Process [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Aug 25 [cited 2023 Sept 22]. Available from:
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