Transformative Learning in the Bigger Picture – What, Why, & the Student Transformative Learning Record (STLR)

If you have been at the University of Central Oklahoma (UCO) for more than about six months, you have heard the term Transformative Learning. If you have been around for quite some time, you have heard the term on re-run repeatedly. If you are like me, you may have been thinking, “So what, so what now, and why do we keep talking about it?”

In order to answer these questions, let’s stop and consider what Transformative Learning is about at its core. Let’s break it all the way down and then look at the bigger picture. Then, let’s talk about, “So what now?” or what is new about TL at UCO in the form of the Student Transformative Learning Record (STLR).

Based on the work of Jack Mezirow (2000), Transformative Learning is a holistic approach to student development and learning. Transformative Learning occurs when students have a positive shift, or a change in perspective, whether it be a shift in their psychological state and well-being, growth in their belief about their ability to learn, or social development and their ability to work with and relate to others, to name a few. Transformative Learning is both a philosophy and concept to create environments, prompts, and situations that challenge students in appropriate ways to cause them to think and change their perspectives about themselves, others, their environment, and their community beyond just getting grades. While change can be positive or negative, the goal is for positive changes that lead to students’ development into responsible, educated adults.

There are multiple teaching strategies, including Kuh’s (2008) High-Impact Practices, that challenge students to change perspectives — active learning, collaborative learning, service learning, immersive learning, student-centered learning, or student-driven learning to name a few. Engaging students to become more active in their own learning experience compared to passively sitting in class has been shown to create situations where long-lasting learning is more likely to occur. Whether it is creating an environment where students have to work together in real-life scenarios or contribute by going out into the community, the goal is to get the point across to students that learning is not just something that should happen in a class to pass a test and get a piece of paper. The goal is to get students to realize that their time in college and their learning is meant to prepare them for what they can and will do after they graduate. We cannot make students learn or control if they choose to engage and learn, but we can craft the environments where they learn while in college, how we prompt them to learn, and what we put in their path to encounter.

Why Transformative Learning — in the Big Picture

As faculty and staff we know a higher education degree is multi-faceted (Kahlenburg, 2011; Wise, 2013). It is about helping students be prepared to get a job — with both the credentials and skills it takes to win an interview, land a job, and be successful in that job. The goal of higher education is also about helping students transform into well-rounded, engaged citizens who do not just care only about themselves and those they hold dear or with whom they identify. We also want them to be people who care about the world and community they inhabit. We want them to take initiative as leaders who creatively solve problems. We want them to take care of themselves both mentally and physically, thereby saving healthcare costs for themselves and others. We want them to think critically and make well-educated decisions and take wise actions in their future, both for their own sake and for those around them (Berrett, 2015).

In other words, the goal is not just to create people who acquire money, power, and privilege because they are educated. The goal is to create people who think beyond themselves and make ethical decisions; who contribute and don’t believe it is about taking what is theirs or what they think they are owed; who can appreciate how and why they are able to live comfortably in a free society built by those to whom they owe a debt; and who understand it is their responsibility — if they want to continue to live in a great free society — to do their part to continue propelling themselves and society forward.

Transformative Learning is, simply put, about the process and journey through which a student becomes transformed via a holistic perspective into such a person as described above.

How do we help students clue in to the need to not just attend classes to pass a class and get their diploma? How do we help them realize that to be successful after they graduate, they (and we as a community) need them to have the qualities described above? The Student Transformative Learning Record (STLR) has been introduced this year to students to help with this issue.

STLR is multi-faceted and has multiple goals, but one of the big ones is to get students’ attention that they need both discipline knowledge and the beyond-disciplinary sensibilities we’re discussing. As mentioned above, we as faculty and staff know what they need out of their higher education experience, but STLR — with its marketing, icon colors, tenet-tagging activities in and out of the classroom, workshops, and projects — is about helping students realize they need and should want to incorporate the Central Six into their lives.

For students, STLR:

  1. encourages these types of activities and challenges students to grow in these areas;
  2. provides a mechanism to capture/document that this learning happened;
  3. measures to what extent students are demonstrating the Central Six (i.e., these other qualities of being a higher-educated person) in their lives; and,
  4. gives students an avenue in the form of an e-portfolio to showcase these skills for their own life-long learning and to display to potential employers, graduate schools, scholarship committees, and others.

For the University, STLR:

  1. improves retention by drawing students into deeper connections with why they are here and why they are interacting with faculty/staff;
  2. indicates that Transformative Learning and engaging with faculty and staff have positive effects;
  3. showcases the amazing things our faculty and staff already do with students that go beyond just the grades they give; and,
  4. proves to stakeholders our value in the community — that what we provide to students works, is critical, and is exceptional, thereby deserving continued and ideally increased, not decreased, support.

To learn more about STLR, how it works, or how to get involved at UCO, visit



Barrett, D (2015, January 26). The Day the purpose of college changed. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from:

Betz, D. (2015, May). Transformative learning and our student transformative learning record. Presentation at the International Association of University Presidents Semi-Annual Meeting and 50th Anniversary Conference. Oxford and Wroxton, UK.

Hart & Associates. (2013, April 10). It takes more than a major: Employer priorities for college learning and student success.” Washington, D. C.: Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U). Retrieved Jaunary 10, 2014, from

Hughes, C. (2012, August). Academic mission, core values, plan, and transformative learning. Presentation at the 2012 UCO Teaching and Learning Institute. Edmond, OK.

Kahlenburg, R.D. (2011, September 1). The Purposes of higher education. Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from:

Kuh, G. D. (2008). High-impact educational practices: What they are, who has access to them, and why they matter. Washington DC: AAC&U, 2008.

Mezirow, J. (2000). Learning as transformation. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Selingo, J. (2015) What’s the purpose of college: A Job or an education? The Washington Post. Retrieved from:

Wise, P. (2013, April 22). What is college for? Chronicle of Higher-Education. Retrieved from:

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