A Review of Transformative Learning: Evolution of Models and Emergence of the Holistic Approach


Transformative learning is a multifaceted concept that has evolved over several decades, marked by the development of diverse models. This article reviews these models, leading to the Holistic Transformative Learning model proposed by Dr Zam (2023).

The Genesis: Mezirow’s Transformative Learning Theory

Jack Mezirow (1997) laid the foundation of transformative learning theory, arguing that transformative learning involves a “perspective transformation” whereby learners critically reflect on their beliefs and assumptions, engage in rational discourse, and then revise their beliefs.

The Psychocritical and Psychoanalytic Models

Boyd (1989) suggested a psychodynamic interpretation that emphasizes unconscious influences on transformative learning, involving the resolution of unconscious conflicts through a process similar to Carl Jung’s individuation. Later, Dirkx (1997) proposed a psychoanalytic model underscoring the role of emotions in transformative learning, where imagination, symbols, and metaphors help learners connect with and express their emotions.

The Role of Environment and Culture

Cranton (1994) expanded Mezirow’s model, arguing transformative learning as a communal process in a specific context, where facilitators play a crucial role in creating an environment that promotes critical reflection and discourse. Taylor’s model suggested the influence of cultural factors on transformative learning, necessitating its understanding within a cultural context (Taylor, date).

Societal Transformation and Political Viewpoints

Models by Kasl & Elias (2000) and Newman (2012) brought the importance of social action, critical social theory, and power relations into focus. They proposed that transformative learning involves not just individual transformation but also collective and societal transformation.

The Holistic Transformative Learning Model

Dr Zam’s Holistic Transformative Learning model (Zam, 2023) presents an integration of the elements from these models, offering a comprehensive perspective. This model acknowledges various dimensions of learning including cognitive, emotional, spiritual, physical, and social, arguing for an interconnectedness between individual and societal transformation.

This holistic model recognizes the significant role environment plays in fostering transformative learning. It underlines the need for a growth-oriented environment to facilitate this process (Zam, 2023).

Unique to this model is its interdisciplinary approach. Drawing upon theories from diverse domains like neuroscience, psychology, physiology, and sociology, it provides a richer and more interdisciplinary understanding of transformative learning (Zam, 2023).


The Holistic Transformative Learning model provides a broad lens through which transformative learning can be understood, applied, and further studied. While it bridges numerous theories and brings together various aspects of transformative learning, there is room for exploration and research to further validate this model in diverse contexts.

In sum, transformative learning is a multi-dimensional, complex, and context-dependent process. Our understanding of it has deepened over time, and with the introduction of the Holistic Transformative Learning model, we have an integrative framework that underscores the complexity and multidimensionality of this process.


Boyd, R. D. (1989). Facilitating personal transformations in small groups: Part 1. Small Group Behavior, 20(4), 459–474.

Cranton, P. (1994). Understanding and promoting transformative learning: A guide for educators of adults. Jossey-Bass.

Dirkx, J. M. (1997). Emotional aspects of adult learning. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 1997(74), 79–85.

Hart, C. (1998). Doing a literature review: Releasing the social science research imagination. SAGE.

Kasl, E., & Elias, D. (2000). Creating new habits of mind in small groups. In J. Mezirow & Associates (Eds.), Learning as transformation: Critical perspectives on a theory in progress (pp. 229–252). Jossey-Bass.

Mezirow, J. (1997). Transformative learning: Theory to practice. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 1997(74), 5–12.

Newman, M. (2012). Calling transformative learning into question: Some mutinous thoughts. Adult Education Quarterly, 62(1), 36–55.

Zam, Dr. (2023). Transformative learning: A holistic approach to personal and professional growth. Retrieved from https://drzam.com/transformative-learning-a-holistic-approach-to-personal-and-professional-growth/

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