Merriam S.B., Ntseane G.. 2008. Transformational learning: How culture shapes the process. Adult Education Quarterly. 58(3)


To examine the effect of culture on processes of transformative learning

Geographic Focus: 


Key Findings: 

The article highlights the tendency for Mezirow’s approach to transformative learning to be Western, rational and cognitive. A different perspective on transformative learning is presented which highlights the influence of culture on the learning process. Three culturally specific factors are identified which influence the way in which individuals construct meaning of their transformative experience. These factors include spirituality and metaphysical frameworks, associations within the community, and gender roles. Rather than being separate influences, the cultural factors tend to be interrelated. The article notes that the “insider”/”outsider” relationship between the principal researchers in this cultural study allowed information to emerge which may have otherwise remained hidden due to cultural assumptions.


The cultural context of learning has profound importance for adaptive and transformative processes. In this article, the authors note that individuality, autonomy, and rationality are accepted cultural values in Western analysis of transformative learning processes. However, this is not always the case in other cultures, where spiritual and collective orientations are a significant influence on meaning-making. This highlights that transformative learning is a deeply layered process, in which assumed values can be embedded at levels that are not always apparent. For this reason, where adaptive learning is required to be transformative of embedded values, reflective processes require that multiple perspectives are appropriately and effectively heard and incorporated.