3.4 Transformative pedagogy

by Sven Åke Bjørke, University of Agder, Norway, June 2016 (revised version)

The world is changing – fast. The only constant is change. Traditional education is fairly static, with a teacher transferring knowledge from the one who knows to those who do not. To some extent this may be fine and necessary. But this approach does not prepare for handling change. Rather it prepares for passively accepting change without asking too many questions.

Critical thinking combines well with creative collaboration

Critical thinking combines well with creative collaboration

Transformative pedagogy involves engaged learning. It is democratic. It utilises ideas from Pablo Freire, such as dialogic education rather than “banking education“. A relevant education is not limited to a classroom, but seeks to contextualize the issues by the surrounding areas and people as parts of the learning environment. A problem-posing approach to education involves listening, dialogue, action and reflection. Transformative education demands active and engaged students, asking critical questions, and  search for additional information at other sources as well as those given in a curriculum. The students are trained in information literacy: searching and critically assessing the information obtained. The assessed information should then be placed in a context and used for example to solve a problem.

The students must collaborate and negotiate meaning with peers and in intergroup relations. This is usually an efficient way to avoid superficial learning and to develop deeper understanding. Cramming just for a test is as a rule avoided. Constructivist and socioconstructivist pedagogy (Dewey, Vygotsky, Sæljø, Lave and Wenger, Bruner, Biggs, etc) are common approaches to education. Collaborative learning is crucial for gaining experience in team work and key 21st century skills. See easy e-book: Together we can.

In transformative education, an important concept is the “Communities of practice” (Wenger, 1998) and “Knowledge building communities. With the introduction of ICT and online education, there is a considerable potential for increase and a transformation from a simple classroom to  complex virtual classrooms with participants collaborating irrespective of time and place. The socio-constructivist pedagogy is obviously crucial, and any of the following approaches may add to the online learning environment

  • pedagogy of work (pupils learn by making useful products or providing useful services);
  • co-operative learning (based on co-operation in a productive process (Note the discussion cooperative vs collaborative learning. See e-book: Together we can!);
  • enquiry-based learning (a trial and error method involving group work);
  • the “Natural Method” (based on an inductive, global approach);
  • centres of interest (based on children’s learning interests and curiosity).

Source: Transformative education

Socio-constructivism, flipping the classroom, backward design and intended learning outcomes

When applying a socio-cultural approach to e-learning, it is common to implement this by “flipping the classroom” and using a “backward design” in developing relevant study guides. Rather than formulating vague goals and describe in detail the pages to read and what lectures the teachers will provide, the emphasis is on the Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs).

The learning outcomes are what the students will know, understand and be able to do on course completion, described in measurable terms. Backward design describes the learning activities the students have to do in order to achieve the ILOs – a kind of recipe on “what did we do to get here”? Students’ learning activities are central, while what the teachers deliver is more marginal. Flipping the classroom entails that learning activities at the lower levels of understanding can be done by the individual. Such activities can be reading an article, listen to a (taped) lecture and search for extra information. More complex learning activities, like analyses, dialogues, displaying understanding through formulating with own words, negotiate meaning, applying the constructed knowledge, metacognition, reflection and assessing are done in interaction and collaboration with peers and tutors.

Transformative pedagogy complements the concepts of flipping the classroom and backward design. Transformative pedagogy is deeply democratic and intends to emancipate and empower the learners relative to the teachers and authorities. Transformative pedagogy involves a problem-posing approach to education.  “Knowledge is not deposited from one (the teacher) to another (the student) but is instead formulated through dialogue between the two” (Freire, 1970, p. 76). Listening critically to each other, dialogue with negotiation of meaning, action and reflection are typical factors. Knowledge cannot be transmitted nor imposed. Knowledge must be constructed in individual and group-based collaborative learning activities. In short, in transformative pedagogy, learners are at the centre of learning designs, with an emphasis on the empowerment of individuals to affect change through a deeper understanding of the issues at hand. Compassion and symmetrical power relations among teachers and learners are important aspects. Transformative pedagogy emphasizes participation, and it encourages learners to develop emphatic mind-sets with a basic point of view that local change is an aspect of a global challenge, and vice versa.


Transformative pedagogy prepares people for change.

The coming paradigm shift: going from mindless exploitation and  depletion of the world’s ecosystems to sustainable development

Transformation now
Our economic system depends on GROWTH. However,  the Earth’s  ecological systems breaks down from more economic  growth.

We need a transition from the present consumer society to a sustainable society. To ease the transition, we must collectively learn to cooperate, to treat each other and the earth with dignity and respect. In short, we need a paradigm shift.

Stages in a paradigm shift 
We have had a good period of economic growth and millions of people have been improving their living conditions. However, the basic conditions for this improvement are not stable, as can be seen in the present financial crises.

Many of us gradually become aware of an accumulation of unsolved problems like climate change, peak oil, enormous capital accumulation in “wrong” places,  depletion of ecosystems, pollution, lack of freshwater, depletion of natural resources, more storms, floods and droughts etc. As an increasing number of people become aware of the problems, there will also be a number of increasingly vocal and aggressive paradigm defenders. They will propose more and more extreme and absurd measures to prevent change, and they will aggressively deny reality.

At certain points there will be increasingly severe crises. There will be acute problems and non-linear, dramatic shifts. Extreme and unpopular measures will be taken. There will be a rapid depletion of the resource base, and important actors within the old paradigm will understand the picture, and leave the old ways of solving problems. At this stage there will be a competition for finding radical solutions – a paradigm competition. This stage requires creativity and an ability to think “outside the box”. A new paradigm will be established after a more or less painful transition. The sooner we start working on the transition, the better.


Read more:

Transformative pedagogy

 Video lectures


Paradigm shifts in education


Bring the girls onboard


End the testing regime – no longer testing for the sake of testing


Critical thinking


Education for sustainable development


Next: Self-instructional or collaborative courses?

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