Planning for Online Transformative Learning: Encouraging Self-Examination and Dialogue through Web 2.0 Tool Integration

Concurrent Session 9

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

This workshop presents the benefits and challenges of applying the theory of transformative learning (Mezirow, 1978) within the online environment and engages participants in the experience and development of online transformative activities. Participants will explore strategies for supporting transformative learning within the online classroom through the use of Web 2.0 tools and Learning Management Systems. 


Rebekah Hazlett is an Assistant Professor of Social Work in the Department of Teacher Education and Social Work at Middle Georgia State University. She has over 10 years of experience teaching at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Her research interests include social work education, women in prison, children of incarcerated parents, and issues of maternal and child health.

Extended Abstract

Transformative learning is applicable to many fields and emphasizes the fundamental and irreversible shifting of an individual’s understanding, values, feelings, and “meaning perspective” (Mezirow, 1978) that occurs through a process of deliberate self-examination and interaction between “different others”. In traditional college classrooms, transformative interactions between different groups occur in a variety of ways. Models for transformative learning include larger group methods such as study circles and sustained dialogue and classroom-based models such as intergroup dialogue and critical reflection. Common to all approaches is a process of change that occurs through the experience of disorientation or dissonance followed by critical self-examination and exploration through dialogue (Moyer & Sinclair, 2016). In the process of transformation, interactions between students or student groups of different backgrounds can create dissonance and resolve dissonance. Research in the area of transformative learning has shown that campus and classroom activities that engage a diverse student body in meaningful interactions based upon dissimilarities have a positive impact on student learning and growth (Gurin, 1999).

Numerous strengths and challenges exist for the application of transformative learning in the online environment. In the online environment, participants’ engagement varies by personality and learning style. Online class development must include a plan for supporting interaction and engagement. Planning for engagement that shifts core understanding and meaning making through dialogue can be challenged by online anonymity. While the online environment may inadvertently support student homogeneity the same environment might also draw out students less inclined to engage within a traditional classroom while silencing others. Hughes (2007) posits that online instructors may neglect to develop diversity within the online classroom; leading to increased inclusion and exclusion of class participants. While there are limitations to fully acknowledging participant diversity in online classes (Hughes, 2007), there should be meaningful planning towards the intentional inclusion of diversity and interaction.  Learning opportunities that support inclusion subsequently support transformative self-examination and assessment (Ryman, Burrell, Hardham, Richardson, & Ross, 2009).

Learning Outcomes:

  1. Participants will understand the basic tenets of transformative learning and the unique challenges and opportunities presented by the online environment.
  2. Participants will demonstrate the ability to develop transformative learning activities for their unique online classrooms.
  3. Participants will identify applicable Web 2.0 tools for facilitating transformative learning.

This workshop is intended to guide participants in the understanding and development of transformative learning activities that will benefit their online classrooms. Toward this goal, participants will engage in the following activities intended to apply the process of transformative learning:

1) Disorientation: Participants will act as participants in an example transformative learning exercise intended to demonstrate the initial phase of transformative learning as it might be experienced within the online environment.

2) Self-Examination and Assessment: Within small groups of “different others”, participants will identify and challenge their own reactions to transformative learning and develop possible benefits and challenges for the use of transformative learning exercises within their own classrooms.

3) Exploration and Planning: Building upon workshop content and small group work, participants will develop at least one transformative activity for their online classroom.  


Gurin, P. (1999). Selections from the compelling need for diversity in higher education, expert reports in defense of the University of Michigan: expert report of Patricia Gurin.   Equity and Excellence in Education, 32(2), 37–62.

Hughes, G. (2007). Diversity, identity and belonging in e-learning communities: some theories and paradoxes. Teaching in Higher Education, 12(5-6), 709-720.

Mezirow, J. (1978). Perspective transformation. Adult Education Quarterly, 28, 100-110.

Moyer, J., Sinclair, A. J. (2016). Stoking the dialogue on the domains of transformative learning theory: Insights from research with faith based organizations in Kenya. Adult Educational Quarterly, 66(1), 39-56.

Ryman, S., Burrell, L., Hardham, G., Richardson, B., & Ross, J. (2009). Creating and sustaining online learning communities: Designing for transformative learning. International Journal of Pedagogies and Learning, 5(3), 32-45.