Interrogating Transformative Processes in Learning and Education

Aims and themes of the network

The aim of the network is to create space for enhancing international dialogue and research on transformative processes in learning and education. There is anxiety about the widespread use of the term ‘transformative’ and the danger of it being emptied of meaning. There is continuing debate about the nature and significance of concepts of transformative learning that includes the extent to which change processes are to be conceptualized as more than epistemic shifts, however profound, but are also deeply embodied, and or culturally embedded, as well as emotional, relational and even psychic in nature. There is dialogue too about the social as against the psychological dimensions of transformative learning, with concern, perhaps, about the tendency to overly individualize/psychologise important transformative and change processes. There may be more of a European emphasis here, if not exclusively so, in which historic traditions of radical popular education, for instance, were rooted in ideas of collective struggle and social transformation. In this new Network, we bring together diverse researchers/scholars from different countries to dialogue and explore transformative processes and transformative learning, in theory and practice, philosophically, psychosocially, pedagogically and through the lens of different forms of research, theoretical lenses and disciplinary/interdisciplinary frames.
Our conferences take place every other year normally at the end of the summer term. We place great emphasis on encouraging a diverse range of participants, (students and experienced academics and professionals, and those working in a range of settings); and to using diverse formats such as presentations, workshops and experiential sessions. Participants, it should be noted, come from all over the world, and space is given for dialogue and more informal encounters too.

History of the network

While transformative learning theory is probably the most recognized theory of adult learning currently, for quite a long time, it has not had much impact in European countries. This has changed as of 2011, when the 9th conference of the predominantly North American transformative learning network happened to be the first one to be hosted in Europe – in Athens (Alhadeff-Jones & Kokkos, 2011). This change of location created access for a large number of European adult educators to engage in the exchange around transformative learning. The conference’s great success created a buzz around a transcontinental conversation about transformative learning. The following conference, hosted in the US again (in San Francisco), only had very few European participants. This group of people gathered together, and the question arose how the buzz that was created around transformative learning back in 2011 could be brought back to life, and questions came up on how research and dialogue around transformative learning could be brought to Europe, and how an exchange between European scholars could be supported. This can be seen as the starting point for the ongoing movement around transformative learning in Europe. Before the conference in San Francisco ended, the idea of starting something institutionalized around transformative learning in Europe was born.
We soon figured ESREA as an appropriate framework for our idea and decided to write an application to form a network. A first event where we had a launch meeting for the new network was at the Freiburg conference on “Transformative learning meets Bildung” in 2013. This conference brought together scholars from all over Europe, the US, Canada and Africa together in order to establish a discourse between continental theories of Bildung and transformative learning theory (Laros, Fuhr & Taylor, 2017). This conference created further buzz around transformative learning in Europe, in theory and practice.
In the same summer, a transatlantic symposium around “Re-framing Transformative Learning: A North American/ European Dialogue” was held at the triennial conference of ESREA in Berlin, which resulted in a special issue of the Journal of Transformative Education (Formenti & Dirkx, 2014).
Furthermore, our network on “Interrogating transformative processes in learning and education: an international dialogue” was soon firmly established within the ESREA family.
Conferences organized by the network: 2014, Athens: “What’s the point of transformative learning”; 2016, Athens: “The role, nature and difficulties of dialogue in transformative learning”; 2018, Milano: “Contemporary dilemmas and learning for transformation”.

Publications

Journal’s special issues guest edited by the network
Adult Education Special Issue, vol. 1, Spring 2016.

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