This site will look much better in a browser that supports web standards, but it is accessible to any browser or Internet device.

Skip Navigation skip menu and banner
University of Wyoming

A Move to Tranformation Theory
by Kathleen Kirsch

Habermas starts with the affirmation that human beings are material and historical beings who have the potential to learn about nature, others and the self (Welton, 1993a). This idea of learning seems to flow into the development of Transformational Learning Theory by Mezirow. He is credited with the introduction of Jurgan Habermas and his work to the field of adult education. In his writings for almost two decades, Mezirow has been arguing that the cardinal purpose of the educator of adults is to foster critical reflection(Welton, 1993a). This critical reflection can take place within three domains thought the individual, group and collective reflection. Mezirow feels that there is a solid foundation built by Habermas regarding the three distinct learning domains of technical, practical and emancipatory knowledge.

In an article of response to critics of transformational learning, Mezirow (1989) writes, I have been trying to understand how adults learn as a foundation for conceptualizing adult education... I have tried to analyze how meaning perspectives are validated, distinguishing between learning that is instrumental and dialogic... the ideal conditions for such discourse provide criteria for judging educational process and social arrangements which impede or facilitate free full participation (170).

Mezirow (1989) continues to describe the ideal conditions for critical discourse from which one can judge the superiority of a meaning perspective, an orienting frame of reference or personal paradigm. He concludes that the constraints which one faces whey trying to utilize the ideal critical discourse are often political or economic institutionalized ideologies, arrangements, practices and systems which result in oppression, coercion, alienation, abrogation of human civil rights, injustice and unequal opportunity for security, health, education and employment. When social institutions and practices impede full participation of every adult learner in constructing the meaning of his or her experience through critical discourse, they are thwarting the most basic human need and should be modified to make the more responsive to this need (171). Is critical theory a force for human emancipation? Why or why not.