Showcase Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia 2015

Seeing things differently: First, second and third year experiences of persistence within a transformative learning environment (#62)

Jenny J. Coburn 1
  1. Australian College of Applied Psychology, Melbourne, VIC, Australia

Abstract Content (up to 300 words recommended)

Globally, higher education providers are being challenged to widen their scope with regards to the diversity of the students they attract and graduate, and the way in which ‘knowledge’ is conceptualised and taught. Whilst Bourdieusien thought argued that it was the student’s task to adapt to the singular world of university (Bourdieu, 1973), in an expanded higher education system there is no one student experience, nor one type of higher education provider. Hence research into diverse educational experiences is needed. This paper explores transformative learning and the student experience within a non-university higher education environment. Non-university higher education providers have been largely mute when it comes to documenting their learning cultures, prompting Bennett, Nair and Shah (2012) to label this sector the ‘silent provider’ of tertiary education (p. 423). Similarly, transformative learning is less researched than traditional forms of learning and teaching. Yet, in the face of an uncertain and rapidly changing future, higher education graduates need to possess the ability to think flexibly, imaginatively and with resilience. Transformative learning is viewed as one way of producing graduates capable of ‘seeing things differently’ (Sterling, 2010). Yet, this type of learning is inherently demanding. How can transformative learning environments strike a balance between challenge and support so students have an optimal chance of persisting with their studies to graduation? Using a cross-sectional, mixed methods designed study, 56 students enrolled in the first, second or third year of their undergraduate degree reflected on their experiences of transformative learning. This paper explores how transformational teaching works with knowledge in a ‘relational’ way, and how the supportive element of the teacher – student relationship was conceptualised differently by students who were at differing points in their degree.

Addressing the theme/s of the Conference (up to 200 words recommended)

 This paper addresses two of the conference themes: navigating uncertainty and complexity and educating graduates to be responsive and adaptable professionals. The paper reports on research conducted in 2014 exploring how students at different points in their course experience a transformative learning environment, and how they successfully negotiated the inherent challenges that exist in this type of learning. It is widely recognised that transformative learning is challenging both emotionally and intellectually. As students grapple with a 'disorienting dilemma' (Mezirow, 1981), they become more aware of their world view, and gain the flexibility to see with other world views (Sterling, 2010). This shift of perspective not only engages the student's cognitive and behavioural resources, but also their emotional and relational resources. The promised benefits of this type of learning, over time, is a deeper level of 'knowing' and responsiveness, that potentially enables graduates to think creatively and be reflexive - to 'see things differently' (Sterling, 2010).  The paper will report on the qualitative and quantitative elements of the research to form a picture of the types of supports students who are immersed in this intensive learning environment need as they move through their course - hopefully to graduation.

  1. Bennett, L., Nair, C. S., & Shah, M. (2012) The emergence of private higher education in Australia: the silent provider. European Journal of Higher Education 2(4) 424 – 435. doi: 10.1080/21568235.2012.730377
  2. Bourdieu, P. (1973). Cultural reproduction and social reproduction. In R. Brown (Ed.), Knowledge, education and cultural change: Papers in the sociology of education (pp. 71-112) London, England: Tavistock
  3. Mezirow, J. (1981). A critical theory of adult learning and education Adult Education Quarterly, 32(3), 3 – 24
  4. Sterling, S. (2010). Transformative learning and sustainability: sketching the conceptual ground Learning and Teaching in Higher Education (5) 17-33.
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