Article Five

Knowledge, Understanding and Wisdom: A Model for a Transformative Learning Community

Article One established the urgent need for education to contribute to more integrated ways of being in the world. A design that prioritises this overarching purpose of education requires an understanding and consideration of multiple fields of study outside of education. This includes but is not limited to disciplines such as developmental psychology, consciousness studies, anthropology and phenomenology. The significance and integration of these fields of thought will be further explored in Article Nine. As a foundation, this article will describe a basic approach to learning designed to facilitate transformation rather than simply the accumulation of knowledge, skills or capacities. 

Transformative learning has been described in terms of a process of perspective changes that contribute to a change in values, beliefs and the larger structures of worldview and consciousness. Theorists such as Jack Mezirow (2000) pioneered the field of transformative learning within the framework of adult education. More recently, the value of incorporating these transformative approaches in late adolescence has been established. 

The process of transformation can be understood in roughly three stages. First, there is an encounter that causes a conflict with a current belief or perspective. This encounter could come in the form of an experience, information or idea. Second, there is an internal and social wrestling with the conflict. This results in either rejecting the new information as invalid or incorporating it into a more inclusive perspective or worldview. Third, there are actions that experiment with and consolidate this in new ways of being in the world.

I describe this transformative process in terms of knowledge, understanding and wisdom. Each progressively transcends but includes the former and loops back in a spiral of transformation.

Knowledgepertains to the development of skills to accurately perceive the world and discern the value and trustworthiness of information. Within a transformative learning environment, distinct ways of knowing, rather than creating conflict, can contribute to greater knowledge. The unique perspectives of diverse individuals can therefore lead to more integrated perceptions and novel insights.

Understandinginvolves organising new information, adjusting perspectives and gaining new insights about reality. In a safe environment of critical discourse, the insights from a shared way of perceiving the world can lead to the development of a more inclusive worldview. Exploring the desires and experiences of non-humans can further this expansion. Systems thinking, as described in article four, is an example of a cognitive tool useful in this process. 

Wisdomis developed when a new socially constructed insight or expanded worldview leads to a change in behaviour or decision-making. These actions contribute to a more inclusive ethical framework and a transformation of self-in-the-world. New ways of being in the world impact perceptions and thus continue the cycle of transformation.

For this reason, I propose that collaborative design projects that integrate the development of knowledge, understanding and wisdom are able to contribute significantly to both personal and social transformation. Transformative learning however, is primarily a social phenomenon and not an individual act. Therefore, the importance of the learning community culture cannot be overstated.

A Transformative Learning Community

A learning community includes not only the teachers and students, but the web of systems, power structures, environments, materials, practices and cultures present. To the degree that a learning community is invested in the dominant paradigm, it will be limited in its capacity to have critical integrity and generate authentically new ways of being. A transformative learning community needs to be aware and critical of the societal systems in which it operates. Even the act of placing awareness and attention on these numerous factors contributes to the development of a transformative culture.

A transformative learning culture supports authenticity, experimentation and ideation while not unconsciously enforcing cultural assumptions. This even includes highly embedded structures such as capitalism, consumerism and democracy. As countless educationalists have asserted, these learning experiences are most effective in safe and supportive, yet challenging and authentic contexts. Therefore, transformative learning communities must creatively bridge the gap between the traditional cloistered school and real engagement the wider community. Crucially, adults in the learning community must themselves be committed to a life of continued growth and transformation.

In conclusion, a transformative education design does not neglect knowledge and the rigorous development of thinking and technical skills, but integrates these within creative and collaborative projects towards deeper understanding, wisdom and ethics. Grounded in authentic community, learners begin to address problems from an expanding sense of a connected self rather than a prescribed process or ego-compulsion. Ultimately, it takes a diverse, humble, creative and other-oriented learning community to continually remake sense of the world and live wisely in it.