Transformative Experience Theory

Our interactions with art objects epitomize what it means to undergo an experience, a term with a very special meaning for Dewey. The arts do more than provide us with fleeting moments of elation and delight. They expand our horizons. They contribute meaning and value to future experience. They modify our ways of perceiving the world, thus leaving us and the world itself irrevocably changed. (Jackson, John Dewey and the Lessons of Art, p. 33)

[The teacher’s] problem is that of inducing a vital and personal experiencing. Hence, what concerns him, as teacher, is the ways in which that subject may become a part of experience. (Dewey, The Child and the Curriculum, p. 201)

dewey

John Dewey

Transformative Experience Theory focuses on how in-school learning can enrich out-of-school experience by expanding perception, contributing meaning and value to future experience, and transforming our relationship with the world. It combines ideas from John Dewey’s theory of aesthetics and his philosophy of education.

For an overview of the theory and related work see:

Pugh, K. J. (2011). Transformative experience: An integrative construct in the spirit of Deweyan pragmatism. Educational Psychologist, 46, 107-121. doi:10.1080/00461520.2011.558817

Wong, D., Pugh, K. J., & The Dewey Ideas Group at Michigan State University. (2001). Learning science: A Deweyan perspective. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 38, 317-336. doi:10.1002/1098-2736(200103)38:33.0.CO;2-9

What Is a Transformative Experience?

Transformative experiences occur when students take ideas outside the classroom and use them to see and experience the world in exciting new ways.

Take the comments of this fourth-grade student after completing a unit on rocks:

I think about rocks differently than I did before. Now when I don’t have anything to do, I look at a rock and try to tell its story. I think about where it came from, where it formed, where it’s been, what its name is… I used to skip rocks down at the lake but now I can’t bear to throw away all those stories! (Girod & Wong, 2002, p. 211).

How great is that? Learning geology enriched and expanded this girl’s everyday experience and transformed her relationship with rocks.

Transformative experience has been more precisely defined in terms of three characteristics:

  • Motivate Use – application of learning even when you don’t have to (e.g., analyzing the story of a rock when hanging out at the lake)
  • Expansion of Perception – coming to see objects, events, or issues in the world through the lens of the content (e.g., seeing rocks as stories)
  • Experiential Value – finding value seeing and experiencing the world in new ways (e.g., becoming so interested in rocks you can’t bear to throw them away)

TE-figure

For case studies and profiles see:

Girod, M., & Wong, D. (2002). An aesthetic (Deweyan) perspective on science learning: Case studies of three fourth graders. Elementary School Journal, 102, 199-224. doi:10.1086/499700

Pugh, K. J. (2004). Newton’s laws beyond the classroom walls. Science Education, 88, 182-196. doi:10.1002/sce.10109

Pugh, K. J., Bergstrom, C. M., & Spencer, B. (in press). Profiles of transformative engagement: Identification, description, and relation to learning and instruction. Science Education.

Does It Matter if Students Undergo Transformative Experiences?

Duh, of course it matters! Who doesn’t want their students telling the stories of rocks? If a purpose of life is to have rich, meaningful experiences, shouldn’t education contribute to this purpose? Shouldn’t a goal of education be to provide rich experiences and increase students’ capacity for rich experiences in everyday life outside of school? Shouldn’t education be transformative? John Dewey, one of America’s most important philosophers and educators, certainly believed this (see Experience and Education).

In addition, transformative experiences are related to a number of other important educational outcomes including:

  • Enduring learning
  • Conceptual change
  • Transfer (i.e., application of learning in new contexts or on novel problems)
  • Academic and career aspirations

For research reports on this topic, see the following articles:

Girod, M., Twyman, T., & Wojcikiewicz, S. (2010). Teaching and learning science for transformative, aesthetic experience. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 21, 801-824. doi:10.1007/s10972-009-9175-2

Heddy, B. C., & Sinatra, G. M. (2013). Transforming misconceptions: Using transformative experience to promote positive affect and conceptual change in students learning about biological evolution. Science Education, 97, 723-744. doi:10.1002/sce.21072

Pugh, K. J. (2002). Teaching for transformative experiences in science: An investigation of the effectiveness of two instructional elements. Teachers College Record, 104, 1101-1137. doi:10.1111/1467-9620.00198

Pugh, K. J., Linnenbrink-Garcia, L., Koskey, K. L. K., Stewart, V. C., & Manzey, C. (2010). Motivation, learning, and transformative experience: A study of deep engagement in science. Science Education, 94, 1-28. doi:10.1002/sce20344

Why Is Learning Transformative for Some Students But Not Others?

This is a question in need of further research. Initial studies suggest students are more likely to undergo transformative experiences when they have an interest in the domain, identify with the domain, perceive a connection to their teacher, and adopt a learning goal orientation (i.e., focus on learning as opposed to social comparison). A willingness to “surrender” to the experience may also be important along with other factors.

For a research report and theoretical musings, see:

Pugh, K. J., Linnenbrink-Garcia, L., Koskey, K. L. K., Stewart, V. C., & Manzey, C. (2010). Motivation, learning, and transformative experience: A study of deep engagement in science. Science Education, 94, 1-28. doi:10.1002/sce20344

Wong, D. (2007). Beyond control and rationality: Dewey, aesthetics, motivation, and educative experiences. Teachers College Record, 109, 192-220. doi:http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 12740

How Do You Foster Transformative Experiences?

We’ve conducted a fair amount of research on this topic, primarily in the domain of science education, resulting in the Teaching for Transformative Experiences in Science model. Click here for more details.

TTES-model

For a summary of this model, click here. For more details and research reports, see the following articles:

Alongi, M. C., Heddy, B. C., & Sinatra, G. M. (2016). Real-world engagement with controversial issues in history and social studies: Teaching for transformative experiences and conceptual change. Journal of Social Science Education, 15, 26-41. doi:10.4119/UNIBI/jsse-v15-i2-1479

Cavanaugh, S. (2014). Science sublime: The philosophy of the sublime, Dewey’s aesthetics, and science education. Education & Culture, 30(1), 57-77. doi:10.1353/eac.2014.0001

Girod, M., Rau, C., & Schepige, A. (2003). Appreciating the beauty of science ideas: Teaching for aesthetic understanding. Science Education, 87, 574-587. doi:10.1002/sce.1054

Girod, M., Twyman, T., & Wojcikiewicz, S. (2010). Teaching and learning science for transformative, aesthetic experience. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 21, 801-824. doi:10.1007/s10972-009-9175-2

Heddy, B. C., & Sinatra, G. M. (2013). Transforming misconceptions: Using transformative experience to promote positive affect and conceptual change in students learning about biological evolution. Science Education, 97, 723-744. doi:10.1002/sce.21072

Heddy, B. C., & Sinatra, G. M. (2017). Transformative parents: Facilitating transformative experiences and interest with a parent involvement intervention. Science Education, Advance online publication, 1-22. doi:10.1002/sce.21292

Heddy, B. C., Sinatra, G. M., Seli, H., Taasoobshirazi, G., & Mukhopadhyay, A. (2016). Making learning meaningful: Facilitating interest development and transfer in at-risk college students. Educational Psychology. Advance Online Publication. doi:10.1080/01443410.2016.1150420

Pugh, K. J. (2002). Teaching for transformative experiences in science: An investigation of the effectiveness of two instructional elements. Teachers College Record, 104, 1101-1137. doi:10.1111/1467-9620.00198

Pugh, K. J., Bergstrom, C. R., Krob, K. E., & Heddy, B. C. (2017). Supporting deep engagement: The Teaching for Transformative Experience in Science (TTES) Model. Journal of Experimental Education, Advance online publication, 1-29. doi:10.1080/00220973.2016.1277333  http://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/nQCieN5dbDHUuZyK856H/full

Pugh, K. J., Bergstrom, C. M., & Spencer, B. (2017). Profiles of transformative engagement: Identification, description, and relation to learning and instruction. Science Education, Advance online publication, 1-30.

Pugh, K. J., & Girod, M. (2007). Science, art and experience: Constructing a science pedagogy from Dewey’s aesthetics. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 18, 9-27. doi:10.1007/s10972-006-9029-0

Pugh, K. J., Linnenbrink-Garcia, L., Koskey, K. L. K., Stewart, V. C., & Manzey, C. (2010). Teaching for transformative experiences and conceptual change: A case study and evaluation of a high school biology teacher’s experience. Cognition and Instruction, 28, 273-316. doi:10.1080/07370008.2010.490496

Pugh, K. J., Linnenbrink-Garcia, L., Phillips, M., & Perez. (2015). Supporting the development of transformative experience and interest. In K. A. Renninger, M. Nieswandt, & S. Hidi (Eds.), Interest in mathematics and science learning (pp. 369-383). Washington, DC: AERA.

Pugh, K. J., & Phillips, M. M. (2011). Helping students develop an appreciation for school content. Theory into Practice, 50, 285-292. doi:10.1080/00405841.2011.607383

How Do You Measure Transformative Experience?

 There is no one way to do this and we have used interviews, observations, and surveys. Regarding the latter, we have developed and validated the transformative experience questionnaire (TEQ). For a copy of the TEQ, click here: TEQ. For more information, see the following article:

Koskey, K., Stewart, V., Sondergeld, T., & Pugh, K. J. (2016). Applying the mixed methods instrument development and construct validity process: The case of the transformative experience questionnaire. Journal of Mixed Methods Research. Advance Online Publication. doi:10.1177/1558689816633310

We are also working on a teacher-friendly version of the TEQ. Here are the initial materials: TEQ for Teachers.

Applications in Informal Learning Contexts

Transformative experience is part of the Visitor Identification and Engagement with STEM (VINES) model. This model is used in informal learning contexts (e.g., museums, zoos) to support visitors’ transformative engagement and identity exploration. For information on the project, see https://fs.wp.odu.edu/jkgarner/special-projects/vines. See also:

Garner, J. K., Kaplan, A., & Pugh, K. J. (2016). Museums as contexts for transformative experiences and identity development. Journal of Museum Education, 41, 341-352. doi:10.1080/10598650.2016.1199343

Related Work and Articles

Behmand, M. (2015). Assessing big history outcomes: Or, how to make assessment inspiring. In R. B. Simon, M. Behmand, & T. Burke (Eds.), Teaching big history. Oakland, CA: University of California Press.

Bergin, D. A. (2008). Mr. Webb’s zoology class: How one teacher motivated and transformed high school students. In F. Parjares & T. Urdan (Eds.), The ones we remember: Scholars reflect on teachers who make a difference (pp. 77-86). Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.

Feinstein, N. (2011). Salvaging science literacy. Science Education, 95, 168-185. doi:10.1002/sce.20414

Jackson, P. W. (1998). John Dewey and the lessons of art. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Hadzigeorgiou, Y. P. (2012). Fostering a sense of wonder in science education. Research in Science Education, 42, 985-1005. doi:10.1007/s11165-011-9225-6

Hadzigeorgiou, Y., & Schulz, R. (2014). Romanticism and Romantic science: Their contribution to science education. Science & Education. doi:10.1007/s11191-014-9711-0

Heddy, B. C., & Pugh, K. J. (2015). Bigger is not always better: Should educators aim for big transformative learning events or small tranformative learning experiences? Journal of Transformative Learning, 3, 52-58.

Papastamatis, A., & Panitsides, E. A. (2014). Transformative learning: Advocating for a holistic approach. Review of European Studies, 6(4), 74-81. doi:doi:10.5539/res.v6n4p74

Renninger, K. A., & Su, S. (2012). Interest and its development. In R. M. Ryan (Ed.), The Oxford handbook of human motivation (pp. 167-187). New York: Oxford University Press.

Roth, W. M., & Jornet, A. (2014). Toward a theory of experience. Science Education, 98, 106-126. doi:10.1002/sce.21085