On Transformational Learning

A very short post to comment a quote from Robert Kegan in Contemporary Theories of Learning, Editor Knud Illeris, Routeledge, 2008 :

Adult educators with an interest in transformational learning may need a better understanding of their students’ current epistemologies so as not to create learning designs that unwittingly presuppose the very capacity in the students their designs might seek to promote.

It may surprise you, but this quote came to me as a big insight. For several years now, I have been trying to introduce self-managed learning practices in organizations. I have always noticed a huge difficulty for people to engage in such an approach because it is so different from all what they may have experimented as learning methods before.

So what does this mean practically. What we “seek to promote” in self-managed team learning is a way of learning that is at the same time very personal and reflective (individual learning contracts, for example), but also based on social interaction (learning sets, for example). Both of these attitudes are different from “current epistemologies” :

  1. At school, but also in organizations, people are not asked to go too deep into self inquiry. What prevail – even in high level education or corporate training – are tools, methods and recipes.
  2. Most of the time, people think about learning as if it was a solitary activity (if not a solitary pleasure…). Evaluation systems and their link to compensation systems in corporation do rarely make space for team learning and team preformance.

Thus, if we want to promote self-managed team learning, we need to start with (and pay attention to) activities and practice that satisfy these habits or mental models (“epistemologies”) such as  formal explanation of immediately useful tools and rewards for individual efforts.

Maybe this sounds very obvious to you… For me, it has implied many years and a few rather difficult experiences to understand. But as Johannes Partanen, the founder of Team Academy says : Learning is always slower than what we believe.

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5 Responses to On Transformational Learning

  1. Very Interesting post Indeed Laurent,

    Very surely somethig that I have been unsufficiently aware of, much more than you!!!

    Here and Now, My basic question is: Chat makes that a person starts learning about the way he learns and thinks? Can this be “encouraged”?

    Michael Thompson’s .idea is that people start self-reflecting by facing “susrprises” (the difference between expected outcomes and reality).
    Carol Dweck also might have elements to bring in here, with her discovery of fixed and learning mindsets, and transitioning between one to the other”?
    I believe Kegan’s “Immunity to Change” is also a very powerfull tool.
    We both are very aware of all that.

    I believe what we are both strugglibng with is really the first first, basic question above.

    I’m currently exploring “In Over Our Heads: The Mental Demands of Modern Life”, a book Kegan wrote in 1994. It contains the theoretical foundations of his “Immunity to Change” book.
    It is very interesting indeed, and gives me a lot of insights..

    Maybe my conclusion could be:
    If learning cannot be encouraged, life might well bring surprises for those who remain stuck wiith fixed mindsets. Awaiting that, uless we find more effective,ways to transform fixed mindsets into learning ones, perhaps we should only busy ourselves helping those with learning mindsets

    “You can bring a horse to the water, but you cannot make him drink”

    I don’t quite like my conclusion, but i have no better one today. We’ll surely have to look for a better one. : “Always Learning, Never Getting it Right”

    We will be discussing that f2f on Wednesday I suppose!..

    Cheers Laurent,


    • Thank you for your comment, Charles.
      Yes, surprises is where everything begins. Dewey also comments on that.
      Do you think / mean that we can design such surprises ? Or only be there ready to welcome them and build on them “as they happen” ?

  2. Pingback: Towards a New World Order? Jumping To A New Level Of Meaning-Making Made Possible through Extended Lifetimes. Examples from Engineering and Business. | Charles van der Haegen's Blog

  3. Maury White says:

    Kegan and Lahey also write, in How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work, that what can be most helpful for transformational learning are “new little language communities”. Is this what you are referring to?

    • Hello Maury. I haven’t read that book and would be very interested to learn about these “new little language communities”. I found this link on the web and found it quite interesting (kind of concepts and practices close to W. Ehrardt as it seems ?) – So, to answer your question, I did not have that in mind. I was more referring to development stages theory (as it is explained for instance in their book : Immunity to change). Thank you very much for your comment. Laurent

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