Mapping the Trajectories of the Heart and Mind: How Transformative Learning Occurs through Emotion
In Arabic, a language that is embedded with a matrix of interrelated meanings and nuances, the word 'ilm (knowledge) and 'amal (action) share the same letters and are derived from the same linguistic root. This is by no means coincidental since it is a commonplace that words of the same root ingeniously carry correlated implications and associations. In a similar vein, any commendable educational journey should be one in which gained knowledge is transformed into a practicable reality, through which the road of action-based learning leads to a destination of change.
Accordingly, the FIRST learning experience is characteristically one in which the process of learning has been impeccably designed so as to bring about a transformative action in the real world. This process of praxis, through which the word becomes translated to the world is significantly profound that the learner is autonomously geared towards practicing not what has been preached but what has been experienced.
Critical Reflection and Dialogue as a Transformation Tool
Essentially, "transformative learning involves critical reflection of assumptions that may occur either in group interaction or independently. Testing the validity of a transformed frame of reference in communicative learning requires critical-dialectical discourse" (Mezirow, 2003, p. 61).
As recent literature established the pivotal and consequential role of personal reflection and its paramount significance in transformative and critical learning, it is noteworthy that the awe-inspiring impact of FIRST's learning journey is largely attributed to the characteristic sense of trust and ownership that the learner feels and practices. The process of active and reflective reviewing in FIRST fully optimises and enhances the learner's sense of agency. Indeed, during the well-designed program, the learner is gradually engaged in constructive dialogue in which he/she is encouraged to reflect on their past experiences and the relations between what has been learned and what could be practiced. Hence, there are different levels of critical dialogue that are taking place in the program; the inner reflective dialogue of the learner is simultaneously coupled with the critical and collaborative dialogue that is created through positive group dynamics.
It is arguably this contemplative nature of the activities that acts as a catalyst to the paradigmatic shift that unanimously occurs in most of the learners' mindsets, as substantiated by the testimonials and reflections they documented at the end of the journey. Interestingly, this kind of transformative effect is not an exception to the case, but rather a recurrent phenomenon in all the FIRST programs conducted so far, notwithstanding the diversity of the targeted group or the discrepancies in variables such as gender, culture and geographical location.
Furthermore, another aspect of FIRST's transformative learning experience is largely transpired through its adherence to the groundbreaking findings of brain-based learning and neuroscience, findings. Indeed, research confirms that long-term memory retention could be maintained by particular learning strategies such as visual cues, repetition, mind-mapping and so forth; strategies that are alas still detached from practical teaching methodologies in today's classrooms and formal educational programs. However, the unparalleled strength of the instructional design in the FIRST program interweaves these strategies in a powerful design that effectively enhances long-term memory retention to the extent that, as a participant learner inclined towards forgetfulness, one experienced, weeks and months after the learning encounter, how deeply embedded the gained learning has become. Impressively, the repeated word cues, slogans and themes learnt throughout the program have noticeably become entrenched and impressed upon the learner's memory, conceptualizations and vocabulary.
Kindling the Heart and Igniting the Mind
Conversely, the transformative experience and the impactful depth of the FIRST Framework and learning journey could also be attributed to the profound awareness of attending to the positive learning dynamics and the wellbeing of the learners and the engagement of both the head and the heart via a number of idiosyncrasies that efficaciously set the experience apart from its other counterparts; 1) role of reflection, 2) engagement of the whole individual, 3) alignment with neuroscience and brain-based findings, 4) continued practice and follow-up.
For transformative learning to occur, it is a prerequisite that the whole learner is wholeheartedly engaged; hence, the role of emotions come to interplay with the cognitive and intuitive perceptions conceptualized during the learning process. In fact, Dirkx suggests it is "about inviting "the whole person" into the classroom environment, we mean the person in fullness of being: as an affective, intuitive, thinking, physical, spiritual self" (2006, p. 46). Indeed, "research further substantiates the importance of a holistic approach to transformative learning in addition to the often-emphasized use of rational discourse and critical reflection. A holistic approach recognizes the role of feelings, other ways of knowing (e.g., intuition, somatic), and the role of relationships with others in the process of transformative learning" (Taylor, 2017, p.24).
During the different phases of the FIRST learning journey, one has personally experienced as a learner how the mentor, coaches-facilitators not only purposefully create a positive ambience laden with affirmative and warm emotions but also pay special attention in privately attending to the learner as a human being and his/her wellbeing. The creation of this profound human bond and rapport, in a remarkably limited number of training days, yields various ramifications such as; enhancing focus and engagement, augmenting motivation as well as boosting memory retention by linking learning to positive and memorable emotions that are seldom forgotten.
By using other research-based learning methodologies and strategies exemplified by the deliberate attempt to consistently provide constructive feedback, individualization and attending to the personal worlds of the learners, deep emotion-based learning occurs. It is an established fact that human beings remember things more clearly and easily when they are emotionally stimulated (Canli et al. 2000), for the memory of the heart is, indeed, far more strenuous than that of the mind. Subsequently, it is only by engaging the whole learner that deep active learning could occur, and in such a realm, the FIRST learning journey is the first of its kind.
Canli T, Zhao Z, Brewer J, et al.(2000. Event-related activation in the human amygdala associates with later memory for individual emotional experience[J]. Journal of Neuroscience, 20(19): RC99-RC99.
Dirkx, J. (2000). Transformative learning and the journey of individuation (ERIC Digests No. 223; ED 448305). Columbus, OH: ERIC Cleraing house on Adult, Career, & Vocational Education.
Mezirow, J. (2003). Transformative Learning as Discourse. Journal of Transformative Education Sage Publications. DOI: 10.1177/1541344603252172
Taylor, E. W. (2017). Transformative learning theory. In Transformative learning meets bildung (pp. 17-29). Brill Sense.