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Immersion in Development Studies as a Source of Transformative Learning: A Narrative Analysis of the Transformative Learning Experiences of the Students of Kimmage Development Studies Centre

Transformative learning may occur when an individual critically reflects upon beliefs that limit or distort their perception of reality and chooses to explore alternative understandings that
consequently change their way of seeing and acting in the world. The academic discipline of Development Studies aims to educate and train future agents of change within society. Both
transformative learning and Development Studies highlight the need to examine embedded ideologies and both have the potential to enhance the critical reflexivity and personal awareness of learners.

This research hypothesises that transformative learning experiences have the potential to ignite life-long processes of reflection and learning, thus inducing clearer and more critical insights into actions, ideas, beliefs, values and motivations. I believe that this is important for potential development practitioners as they are given greater opportunities to cultivate and deepen their critical awareness of self and of others; a process that may greatly enable their personal and professional development. This research was inspired by my own experiences during my Masters in Development Studies at Kimmage DSC. Having experienced transformative learning myself, I wished to understand more about the learning journeys of other students.

This research aimed to explore through narrative analysis whether a transitory immersion in a Development Studies programme at Kimmage DSC had transformative effects on the personal and professional lives of the respondents thereafter. It explored the retrospective understandings of their experiences at Kimmage DSC and examined any theoretical, pedagogical and psychosocial factors that respondents related as having contributed significantly to their learning journeys.

My findings indicate that the search for a more meaningful way of life led many to study at Kimmage DSC. Oftimes, their first impressions of the centre and its pedagogical approach constrasted sharply with their previous educational experiences and expectations, leading them to experience a period of dissonance as they sought to adjust and actively participate in the learning process. They faced many challenges throughout their year as they encountered personal insecurities, new subject matter, the participatory nature of group-based projects and ideological conflict. The cultural diversity and supportive relations between peers and with facilitators were found to be very significant, as was an enhanced capacity to engage in critical reflection. Several reported how their experiences at the centre had contibuted to their personal development; building confidence, self-esteem and assertiveness. As the academic year concluded, the transition away from the immersive environment of Kimmage DSC was found to be particularly challenging. However, there was a sense of being part of a supportive community and that aspect remained as they bid farewell to the centre and began to put their learning into practice. All surveyed felt that their time studying at the centre had made a significant impact in their lives. Changes reported included an increased sense of empowerment and personal awareness, shifts in relations with others, changing political perspectives, enhanced critical and gender awareness.

I have concluded from my research that Kimmage DSC provided the space, stimulation and support for students to undergo a process of deeper learning that often had transformative effects in the lives of those interviewed. Each respondent spoke of an internal voyage where long-held ideas and beliefs began to be challenged as they examined their filters of perception and social conditioning, shared past experiences and explored new ideas. Several spoke of their own process of upheaval and adaptation as they sought to regain a sense of clarity and meaning about their ideas of reality, their position in this world and their role in development practice. Where transformative learning experiences did occur, these were primarily initiated, directed and guided by the students themselves in conjunction with their own development and in relation to aspects of their own awareness that had been nurtured and cultivated by their past experiences. Each student had a unique and distinctive learning journey throughout their time at Kimmage DSC and many professed that in the time since passed, that journey has yet continued on throughout many areas of their lives.

The fundamental question that underlying this study is whether people can hope to transform the world around them without first being transformed themselves. I have concluded that transformation is a self-directed and life-long project of personal development; we are constantly changing and transforming ourselves. If we hope to activate and engage in processes of transformation in the world around us we must first have the courage, conviction and fortitude to engage in those processes within ourselves. We must first be the change [we] wish to  see in the world (Gandhi).


Mari Clare Bruen (2013)


Permanent link to this article: http://kimmagedsc.ie/dissertation/development-transformative-learning/