Saturday, March 8, 2008

Transformational Learning

Transformational learning occurs through the processes of formation and transformation. Formation is the ordinary educational and discipleship activities we use in churches. Formation consists of the catechumenate process that leads to baptism followed by the discipleship process after.

Transformation occurs through what Loder calls “the logic of transformation” and consists of five steps: (1) a conflict arises and persisted in spite of what the human spirit do to try to resolve it, (2) an interlude for scanning for solution involving both conscious and subconscious searching, (3) an insight arises and is felt powerfully, (4) there is a release of psychic energy built up during the search (an “aha” or moment), and (5) interpretation and a reality check of the insight. When the Holy Spirit is behind the transformation, Loder named the process “convictional knowing.” (Loder 1981, 217-220; 1989, 93-122) and transforming moments. Convictional knowing is when the self meets the Holy and is transformed[1]. Convictional knowing is the work of the Holy Spirit (Loder 1989,93-122).

First, Parker Palmer in a lecture, The Violence of our Knowledge, a “transformed understanding of knowing” involving four components:
(1) All learning is personal.
(2) All learning is communal because truth can only come out of conflict as we interact and conflict with one another in all aspects of our lives.
(3) All learning is reciprocal because while we are seeking truth, truth is also seeking us. Palmer describes it as a “reciprocal dance between the knower and the knowing.”
(4) All learning is transformation because knowing truth will transform us. (Palmer 1993)

Palmer’s transformed understanding of knowing is not transformational. The two disciples on the Emmaus road had the law and the prophets explained to them. They were told the truth but were not transformed. They did not recognise Jesus until he revealed himself to them (Luke 24:13-35). True transformational learning involves an encounter with God. Knowing truth is not enough, encountering Truth is. This will be in agreement with Kenneth Leech’s thinking when applied to theology that “all true theology is about transformation, about changing human beings and changing the world, in and through the encounter with the true God.” (Leech 2002)

Second, for transformation learning to take place, there must be appropriate intentional teaching or instruction. Educator Wenger argues that “learning cannot be designed” but accepts that learning takes place in appropriate environments that fosters learning (Wenger 1999,225). Therefore teaching or instruction must be given in a suitable learning environment, age appropriate, sensitive to life’s crises, stages of faith, clear to understand, and have its foundation in the bible. The Bible must be central in transformational learning. Walter Bruegemann insists that “the educational process, faithfully carried out, can be performed by those who submit to the canonical process.”(Brueggemann 1982 ,7 (italics author’s). By the canonical process, Bruegemann means that Bible interprets Bible in a hermeneutical move that breathe fresh life into biblical theological knowledge. Steve Kang coming from the same direction adds that this reading must be done from the perspective of the kingdom of God. He notes that “it is through such careful reading of the Bible, in the context of such a kingdom in the church, that spiritual formation of believers must take place.” (Kang 2002, 138). Both Brueggemann and Kang agree that it is only as we understand the interactions of the Christian story and our stories that we come to the true understanding of the text.

Finally, transformational learning is not only cognitive but encompasses the whole person. Transformational learning fulfils the goals of Christian spiritual formation which is the growth of Christ life in us, the formation of a people of God, and our partnership in the redemptive work of God (Loder 1981,93-122). This learning interconnects with the other dynamic process elements of spiritual formation as a holistic approach to learning.


Brueggemann, W. (1982). The Creative Word: Cannon as a Model for Biblical Education. Philadelphia, Fortress Press.

[1] James Loder postulates a human being has four dimensions: self, world, void and the Holy. Loder, J. E. (1989). The Transforming Moment. Colorado Springs, Helmers and Howard. p.68-92)

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