Exploring transformative learning in vocational online and distance education





transformational learning, perspective transformation, online education, distance education, vocational education


reformulation of their experience, and new ways of acting in the world) is widely understood as an important outcome of adult education (Mezirow, 1990, 2018). Various studies have been performed over the last 30 or so years since Mezirow’s theory was first proposed, confirming its presence and importance in higher education. However, it is questioned as to whether transformative learning takes place in vocational distance and online education, particularly if not explicitly promoted.  

This paper investigates the extent of transformative learning taking place in adult learners studying at a distance, online. Drawing on King’s (2009) Learning Activities Survey (LAS), Open Polytechnic students (n=499) across 7 qualifications (6 discipline areas) responded to a survey asking about their experiences of perspective transformation. The instrument also sought insight as to how vocational providers of vocational online and distance education might promote transformative learning outcomes in learners.

Survey results show evidence of perspective transformation in students, to varying degrees mainly determined by the qualification being studied. The results also reveal which instructional design approaches and teaching activities might contribute to transformation.

Author Biographies

Mark Nichols, Open Polytechnic

Dr Mark Nichols is Executive Director Learning Design and Development at Open Polytechnic of New Zealand. Mark has an extensive background in open and distance learning. His LinkedIn profile is at https://www.linkedin.com/in/mbnichols/

Neeru Choudhary, Open Polytechnic

Dr Neeru Choudhary is a lecturer in business management at Open Polytechnic of New Zealand. She holds a Ph.D. and Masters in Business Management (OB/HRM) from India. Neeru has substantial teaching experience, having taught courses in the areas of business management, organisational behaviour, and HRM. Her research interests include teaching and learning, leadership, motivation, and employee satisfaction.

Doug Standring, Open Polytechnic

Doug Standring is Executive Director of Marketing and Communications at Open Polytechnic of New Zealand Ltd. He is one of Aotearoa New Zealand’s most experienced open, distance, and flexible learning (ODFL) professionals with expertise in ODFL strategy, management, product innovation, and business models. He holds a Master Arts (First Class) from Massey University and a Graduate Diploma in International Relations (Distinction) from the London School of Economics and Political Science.