Academic journal article Family Relations

Education for Self-Support: Evaluating Outcomes Using Transformative Learning Theory

Academic journal article Family Relations

Education for Self-Support: Evaluating Outcomes Using Transformative Learning Theory

Article excerpt

Education for Self-Support: Evaluating Outcomes Using Transformative Learning Theory*

This paper describes the use of transformative learning theory to evaluate a family-empowerment project focusing on life skills. The project was designed in response to welfare reform in Montana. Open-ended interviews were conducted with 34 participants. Results revealed evidence of transformative learning outcomes such as an empowered sense of self and new connectedness with others. Respondents also spoke of factors built into the program designed to foster transformative learning. Implications are presented.

With the passage of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, America's welfare system was transformed from one providing open-ended entitlements to one providing time-limited assistance in exchange for work. Prior to federal initiatives, several states established their own approaches to welfare reform to help public-assistance families become self-supporting. One of these states was Montana, where families on public assistance were required to obtain employment in exchange for cash grants (1994 Senate Bill 209). Families were also required to participate in life skills-focused educational programs designed to help them manage family resources to move toward a more self-supporting lifestyle.

The purpose of this article is twofold. The first purpose is to recount the application of transformative learning theory to the educational programs. The second purpose is to describe an evaluation that measured whether transformative learning outcomes occurred through the educational efforts. This article should be useful to those designing, implementing, and evaluating life-skills education programs for families on public assistance or for families facing barriers to self-support. We begin with a discussion of transformative learning theory and then a brief description of the life-skills program Educating Families to Achieve Independence in Montana (EDUFAIM). We then present an overview of study methods and results and conclude with implications of the findings.

Transformative Learning

The ultimate goal of transformative learning is to assist learners in assessing their current perspectives and approaches to life and, through education, to provide an opportunity to change these perspectives and approaches (Mezirow, 1991). Transformative learning theory is based on the assumption that a learner's current perspective and consequent approach to life derive from his or her experiences, thoughts, values, knowledge, and skills (Taylor, 1997). Transformative learning processes occur when learners critically reassess their current perspective and examine whether their present approach to doing things is right for them. This critical self-reflection helps them look at things in fundamentally new and different ways, examine actions they can take to change their lives in essential ways, and take action based on new assumptions when making important decisions.

Educational programs that result in transformative learning create significant life changes in participants, a "conversion" to a way of doing things that is better for them. As Clark (1993) states, transformative learning "produces [more] far-reaching changes in the learner than does learning in general, and ... these changes have a significant impact on the learner's subsequent experiences. In short, transformative learning shapes people; they're different afterward, in ways both they and others can recognize" (p. 47). For example, a program participant reflected on how she felt upon entering an EDUFAIM nutrition class, stating, "I didn't care about my health." This was a limiting perspective, and it affected how she cared for herself and her child. After taking the class, the client adopted a new perspective ("I think about getting healthy and staying healthy") and had gained the knowledge and skills necessary to adopt behaviors that supported the new perspective. …

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