Learning Experiences and Development: Transformative and Experiential Learning   Leave a comment



The only person who is educated is the one who has learned how to learn and change ~ Carl Rogers

            This paper will compare and contrast two learning experiences that involved some kind of instruction that I have experienced as an adult. The two learning experiences are closely related as both are involved in participating in the medical field as a non-medical person.

            I had spent most of my life as a primary caretaker for my ill mother. I was her only child and relative. I was young when she was diagnosed with diabetes and then six years later with rare ovarian cancer. She was told she had six months to live. She proved the doctors wrong. The remainder of her life had been spent in physical trauma, in a car accident that crushed both legs (told she would never walk again and she proved them wrong), quad bi-pass etc. She was a strong woman in both in mind, body, and soul.

            As a child her needles scared me. When she would administer a shot to herself I would become frightened and run out of the room screaming, “No needles, no needles.” As she grew older her eyesight began to fail. She was in a rehabilitation facility to learn how to walk again after a six month split between two different hospitals. Her muscles were atrophied making it difficult to walk. I stepped in to be her primary caretaker when she was released.

            It was time to step up to the plate and learn how to test her sugar levels and administer insulin shots. I was scared and feared causing pain as I performed the injections and testing of blood, but it was a life or death situation. Was I forced to learn? No. Did I need to learn? Yes. Not only out love for my mother, but as an adult learner and the desire to make the world, my mother’s and mine, a better place to live in. My mother always said, “It’s you and me against the world.”

            Two days before she was to be released, the rehabilitation center became my learning environment and Nurse Linda was my instructor after I asked for assistance in teaching me. Tough (1971/1979, 1978, 1982) named my self-directed actions as adults learning projects:

            …to indicate that they crafted their own plans to learn – for example, something of necessity (fixing a broken toilet) or value (discovering genealogical roots) – and explored both material and human resources in the process” (Kasworm, Rose and Ross-Gordon,  2010, p. 40).

I had spent a total of an hour and a half with her over a two day period seated on a cushioned bench. Her pushcart was filled with medical supplies and medications and three oranges on top of a tissue box. Her pace was slow as she used laymen terms in explaining how blood sugars are tested and why. I listened and observed how to load the mini needles for lancing and how to utilize test stripes for blood sugar monitoring. She let me prick her finger tip to test and then came mime. Then she picked up an orange, talked about how similar it was to human skin and I used it as my testing resource. My mother needed two different types of insulin. I held both bottles in my hands trying to create connections with each of them in order to store it into my memory.

            Then came the needle, what I feared became my barrier in which I needed to overcome in order to be successful in administering medication through a needle. I held the needle and watched her draw from the insulin bottles into the needle then tap it for air bubbles. When my turn came to fill the needle my hand began shaking uncontrollably. Through trial and error I accomplished my goal after a few attempts I filled the needle. My confidence was growing as I attempted and then succeeded in injecting the orange. Through trial and error Linda guided me and shared her knowledge of how to be effective in my new goal. Traces of incidental learning appeared as Kasworm, Rose and Ross-Gordon ( 2010) mentioned, “That is, depending on their life experiences, existing knowledge, and motivations, learners have varying degrees of self-directedness and can develop it further, motivated by self or others direction” (p. 17). I engaged in meaning making of the experience and formed new beliefs and values while reflecting on making sense of what it all meant to attain new knowledge. Mezirow’s theory (1990) incorporated make meaning, “To make meaning means to make sense of an experience; in the process of reflecting critically on experience, people are engaged in making meaning” (Taylor, Marienau & Fiddler, 2000, p. 29).

            It was an experiential expansion of knowledge as Boud, Cohen, and Waler (1993) commented, “…looked at the individual learner, emphasizing reflection and the context in which the learning occurred (Kasworm, Rose and Ross-Gordon, 2010, p. 39); and transformative learning as Mezirow (1991) stated, “This process results in individuals being permanently changed. We can never return to the way we were (Kasworm, Rose and Ross-Gordon, 2010, p. 41).

            My second learning situations that involved some kind of instruction that I have experienced as an adult began with my ex-husband, Charles who was a female to male transgender and needed a weekly shot of testosterone. I became the chosen one because of my experience with my mother. I built upon my knowledge as these shots were done in the butt area whereas giving insulin shots could be done in the arms, legs or stomach.

            I would like to go back six months prior to him getting top and bottom surgeries followed by T shots. He was still a she (Charlie Marie) and we both wanted children. We researched adopting a baby from Guatemala, but $30,000 was out of our reach. I had a blood disorder and was told at 20 years old, I could not have children. Charlie was younger than me and had the parts to make us parents. We researched for two weeks for a donor and a doctor for an artificial insemination procedure. We found both.

            I learned from the doctor about couples like us who have families now because of the process. I learned about the procedure and not the turkey baster version. I learned about frozen sperm and how many can be alive in a small vile. Technical terms would fly around the room as the physician gave great details leaving little room for questions. We were told that she may not get pregnant the first, second or third time after the insemination was completed. He was right.

Three procedures and no baby.

            We were now going down the path of fertility treatments, meaning shots. We were distraught about the earlier results, but refused to give up. My learning went from experiential to transformative as Mezirow (1978), remarked, “…transformative learning occurs when one experiences a disorienting dilemma” (Kasworm, Rose and Ross-Gordon, 2010, p. 41). There was a new place to give a shot, two inches below the belly button, prenatal vitamins to research and a new way to plan meals. The Dr. explained that I would be using thicker needle and showed me the proper way to do an injection. A month later, Charlie Marie had what was called, a chemical pregnancy and the beginning of the baby self-aborting.

            It was threw these two environments that I learned how to sustain a life, my mothers and how to change life for the better (my ex-husband and T shots) because of knowledgeable medical professionals that instructed me. Both depicted experiential learning through, current experience, new experience, and learning from experience. (Kasworm, Rose and Ross-Gordon, 2010, para. p. 39-40). However, prior experience had been viewed in the latter environment. The transformative concept related to my action learning and reflection as Hallows & Murphy (n.d.) mentioned, “The transformative learning theory addresses the teaching challenge of completely revising students’ previous knowledge. The theory describes the conditions and processes necessary for students to make a significant knowledge transformation and paradigm shift” (p.3). Informal learning is depicted in both as self-direction plays a key role in obtaining knowledge.

            In conclusion, I have chosen these two situations in particular because it was my learning that helped to benefit others and help them to obtain their goals. Each learning environment story revealed parts of my learning and development as Daloz (1986) reported, “Education is a transformational journey that should promote development (Merriam, Caffarella, & Baumgartner, 2007, p.138). I learn by building on past knowledge to create new interpretations of my experiences for future reference.


Hallows, K. & Murphy, J. (n.d.) Experiential and Transformative Learning: New York Financial

Institutions Visits. Retrieved from


Kasworm, C., Rose, A. and Ross-Gordon, J.M. (2010). Handbook of Adult and Continuing

Education. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, Inc.

Taylor, K., Marienau, C., & Fiddler, M. (2000). Developing Adult Learners: Strategies for

Teachers and Trainers. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Quote: Retrieved from, http://blog.elementk.com/element_k_blog/2010/12/twenty-favorite-


Images: utah.gov/CTE/cteintro/Career-Development/Experiential-Learning/ExperientialLearning1.aspx



Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=1ZeAdN4FB5A


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