The question remains: how can higher education settings support young adults in their transition towards self-direction? By generating learning contexts that challenge students’ socialized minds in such a way that they might be reexamined (Kegan, 1994). In this quest, a key issue is supporting students as they cross the “great divide” from thinking about learning in terms of reproductive application toward thinking about learning in terms of knowledge (re)construction (Van Rossum & Hamer, 2010). From a conception of learning as knowledge (re)construction, students are required to think by themselves, make connections to achieve understanding, and use criteria and evidences to support their opinions. In the promotion of such competences, teaching methodologies based on constructivist principles that require students taken increased action and responsibility within collaborative, experiential, and problem-based learning scenarios are essential.
Is this change easy? Not really, as learning contexts that aim to promote students’ epistemological transition toward self-direction are very often taken by students accustomed to content-based learning settings as unsettling and threatening, eliciting emotions such as confusion, frustration, or uncertainty (see for example Formenti & Dirkx, 2014). The experience of this kind of unpleasant emotions, however, can be taken as drivers for meaningful learning. Specifically, they might help students to notice that their previous assumptions about what they are required to do as learners are no longer successful and motivate them in such a way that they critically revise them (Mälkki, 2010). This relates to the constructivist idea that those situations that enter into conflict with our known ways of making meaning are a potential trigger for the development of more complex ones that enable us to adapt to our environment (Piaget, 1975/1985).
To support students in their familiarization with new ways of performing as well as to address positively the likely initial emotional destabilization, teachers need to provide students with a holding environment that entails a balanced system of challenges and supports, generating a context of trust and striving for the creation of authentic relationships with their students (Brady, 2014; Cranton, 2002). This highlights the social nature of any kind of learning process and hopefully reminds us that teaching could be conceived as a fine-tuning art aimed at supporting students’ holistic development.
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Formenti, L., & Dirkx, J. (2014). A dialogical reframing. Journal of Transformative Education, 12(2), 123–133. doi: 10.1177/1541344614554508
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Kegan, R. (1994). In over our heads: the mental demands of modern life. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Kegan, R., & Lahey, L. L. (2009). Immunity to change: How to overcome it and unlock potential in yourself and your organization. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Press.
Mälkki, K. (2010). Building on Mezirow’s theory of transformative learning: Theorizing the challenges to reflection. Journal of Transformative Education , 8(1), 42–62. doi: 10.1177/1541344611403315
Piaget, J. (1985). The equilibrium of cognitive structures : The central problem of intellectual development. Chicago: University of Chicago Press (original work published in 1975).
Van Rossum, E.J., & Hamer, R. (2010). The meaning of learning and knowing. Rotterdam: Sense Publisher.