Dr. Chad Hoggan: The Varieties of Transformative Experience
By Hantian Zhang
Class of 2025
On December 3rd, 2021, Dr. Chad Hoggan was invited as the speaker to Third Space Lab’s “Guest Speakers Series” to speak about “The Varieties of Transformative Experience.” As an Associate Professor of Adult & Lifelong Education at North Carolina State University and the Co-editor of the Journal of Transformative Education, Dr. Hoggan does research on significant learning experiences in adulthood.
This presentation traces the history of transformative learning theory within the discipline of adult education and provides a new metatheory of transformation based on the vast scholarship that has arisen around transformative learning. Dr. Hoggan provided definitions and criteria to distinguish transformative learning from other types of learning. Transformative learning involves a typology of transformational outcomes, key components of the transformation process, conceptual tools by which to analyze different types of transformation, and implications for practice. This research has addressed a diverse group of people such as college students, breast cancer survivors, military veterans, and migrants.
Starting with a personal major transformation, Dr. Hoggan explained that his real passion came from the idea that transformation includes a lot of different things instead of one single focus. In different situations where people might be going through major challenges, he was curious about the steps in this process such as navigation, support, difficulty and outcome.
A lot of his work was developed in concert with the National Security Agency, who has a lab at the North Carolina State University. In this presentation, he talked about a wide variety of ways that people could change. In the literature of transformative learning theory, the term “transformative learning” evolved out of Jack Mezirow’s work, which started with a couple of publications in the late 1970s, but really kicked off in 1991. In Mezirow’s early work, there are transformative dimensions of learning, in which one form is an add-on of original thoughts while another form of learning fundamentally changes the ways of thinking.
Dr. Hoggan introduced a series of approaches to transformative learning from different scholars. The first is Mezirow’s theory of perspective transformation, which is not only refers to revising a point of view, but transforming a habit of mind. He also advocated for people to engage in dialogue with others with opposing ideas and trying to understand each other’s point of views, which may lead to more complex understandings.
Contrary to the way Jack Mezirow talked about transformation, John Dirkx wrote that transformation is more of an internal process of developing a relationship with one’s ego, consciousness and his/her inner self. Instead of critical self-reflection or dialogues with others, this is about paying attention to emotions, fantasies and unconscious messages. Lastly, Dr. Hoggan brings up Dr. Robert Kegan, who regards transformative learning as changes in our forms of knowing, specifically at the subject and the object.
Dr. Hoggan advocated treating transformative learning as the “Analytic Metatheory.” He and his team classified articles on transformative learning from three major North American journals that have published on this theory. The results can be sorted into six broad categories–self, worldview, epistemology, ontology, behavior, capacity, within which are several subcategories.
Self – A lot of scholars define the difference between transformative learning and other kinds of learning as a change in the sense of self while Dr. Hoggan, more specifically, means a change in terms of the self in relation to the world. When it comes to self-knowledge or personal narrative, using stories to make sense of life experience and personality can be transformational.
Worldview – A lot of transformations form changes in worldview, which could be described as a change in assumptions about the world or the change in the interpretation of experiences. People can choose what they pay attention to at some level and in a way alter the process of making sense of those experiences, which changes the reality in the moment or long term.
Epistemology – In education literature, it is used in a moment-to-moment basis to describe the relationship with knowledge and the criteria of belief. Jack Mezirow uses it in a more discerning way – he believes epistemology requires an adult’s way of thinking and should involve critical thinking instead of simply accepting information. Dr. Hoggan included that other ways of knowing like intuition, imagination and empathy, should be considered in addition to rational thoughts.
Ontology – This term refers to ways of being in the world such as the effective experience of life. For instance, people suffering from depression get better via therapy, which is considered as an ontological change. When people are struggling with not being perfect, they tend to develop greater self-acceptance and self-compassion such as believing they are doing the best, and often ended up developing an attribute.
Behavior – Dr. Hoggan considers behavior as necessary but not sufficient for transformation. He was skeptical that people either engage in a new type of behavior or just do what they are used to. He did appreciate that in order to get new behaviors to live differently in life, sometimes it’s better to learn the behavior first. Sometimes learning new skills like critical thinking is a prerequisite to transformation.
Capacity – Certain level of cognitive development that determines transformation is not limited to learning a specific skill but requires doing it right. In the literature, a changing capacity is linked to spirituality or a change in consciousness.
The six broad categories with subcategories provides ways to make changes in recognition and behavior. Dr. Hoggan further indicated that transformative learning is more accurately portrayed as a metatheory, which is a collection of theories rather than a single theory. The idea of transfer transformation includes significant changes due to depth, breadth and stability. The depth is a small or big change and how somebody makes sense of the world. A change that affects one context of my life shows this broad feature and stability is shown at the time of a change.
In the Q&A part, Dr. Hoggan answered a series of questions regarding education. Someone argued students’ learning objectives for anything prescriptive was not beneficial to the global mindset. He indicated that students were expected to be better thinkers, see beyond their immediate surroundings, and think more broadly. Transformative learning can be a process of oriented approach instead of only prescriptive things. He recommended developing capacities with different techniques of thinking and being open-minded to differences. Combined with Mezirow’s theory, he also illustrated worldviews that are more discriminating could explain a greater variety of things.
After a brief introduction of upcoming TSL events, this event successfully ended with writing feedback of key takeaways. It was an inspiring presentation on transformative learning theory within the discipline of adult education and a metatheory of transformation and certainly opens new windows for the audience.