An application of Transformational Learning in relation to the First Year Experience (FYE) at University

Year: 2018

Author: Lummis, Geoffrey, Ferguson, Catherine, Lock, Greame, Freeman, Clare

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

The retention of university students has been an important issue for over 40 years. Tinto (1975) pioneered the develop of a conceptual framework that considered the reasons why students left university shortly after commencing. Historically, deficit models such as Tinto’s were applied to the issue, although recently other proactive frameworks have been promoted. A successful university student requires a particular mindset and knowledge, which for most individuals is a new life and learning. Transformational Learning Theory (TLT) (Mezirow, 1991) provides a positive framework that appears not to have been applied to FYE contexts.
The current research aimed to understand how TLT would assist in the explanation of the process of successful transition to university study. The research is important for its application of a well-known and positively framed theory into a context for which there have been few answers, despite extensive efforts by higher education institutions (HEIs), over a long period of time.
This research employed a mixed methods approach that included a quantitative instrument, which included questions from four components of the FYE study (James et al., 2010). Seventy two pre-service teachers completed the online instrument during the first three weeks of their first semester at university. Eleven participants from this pool were interviewed providing qualitative data. The questions asked were mapped to nine of the 10 phases of TLT.
The quantitative data provided indications of different phases of TLT. The interview responses indicated that for some participants, there was quick movement through the phases of TLT; however, the main finding was the effects of the disorienting dilemma, the first phase in TLT. All participants spent at least some time in this phase, but some quickly realised that they needed to move forward and across three case studies, there is evidence of such movement. The TLT does not provide a specific time frame for movement through its phases, and it is clear that in some contexts, such movement will be affected by a number of different aspects. Some participants indicated reaching aspects of later phases.
The notion that TLT can inform FYE requires that further research be conducted over a longer period of time. The time taken to move from disorienting dilemma to at least phase five in TLT would provide useful information for HEIs to better address this perplexing and long standing issue.