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University of Wyoming

Learning Theories
Based on Changes in Consciousness

This session will help you begin to gain an understanding of what adult educators mean by learning theories that are based on changes in consciousness including the leading theorists and proponents of these ideas.

These concepts and ideas are sometimes called radical adult education or education for social change.

Renee Griffith and Stephen Mountjoy have prepared materials to help us learn about these theories, concepts, ideas and their proponents.

Many adult learning theories try to explain learning as a result of:

  • Adult characteristics
  • Past experience
  • Social roles or
  • Personal responsibilities

A Definition

"Changes in consciousness" theories refer to the idea that learning for adults is a process of identifying one's presuppositions, values and beliefs, critically reflecting on them and then transforming them into a new view of life and action.

Distinctives of the Theory:

  • Stronger cognitive focus
  • Personal construction of experience
  • Personal and inner meaning
  • Critical reflection on past experience is key
  • All of which results in "perspective transformation" leading to personal change

Assumptions of Learners:

  • Self direction is a characteristic or goal of adult learning
  • Breadth and depth of life changes & experiences are catalysts to learning
  • Critical reflection or self-conscious evaluation of past knowledge leads to new perspective, and
  • personal or social Praxis expresses the new learning that has occurred.



Learning was so dangerous:

For how could one tell in advance,
While still ignorant,
Whether a thing could ever be unlearned
Or forgotten,
Or if once known and named,
It would invalidate
By its significance
The whole of one's former life,
All of those years wiped out,
Convicted of one blow,
Darkened by a sudden light.

-- Margaret Drabble