The purpose of this paper is to understand the experiences of students undertaking higher education in a further education setting in the UK. Since the 1960s, there has been a policy commitment in the UK to widen participation in education to social groups previously under-represented (Thompson, 2000; Burke, 2012). The consequence is a discourse in which it is argued that higher education has been “dumbed down” to include non-traditional students frequently ill-prepared for academic challenges (Haggis, 2006). This research explored an alternative discourse, proposing that education should be a catalyst for significant social, emotional and intellectual growth, culminating in a transformative experience (Mezirow, 1978a, 1991; Cranton, 2006).
In total, 12 non-traditional graduates from a full-time BA programme at a Scottish College of Further and Higher Education were interviewed to determine if graduates experienced significant social, emotional and intellectual growth as a result of participation; what teaching and learning settings make this possible; can it be proposed that graduates can be transformed by the experience of higher education in further education?
The findings of the research indicate that the participants all experienced some significant shift in attributes such as confidence, independence and willingness to try new things. How they experience, conceptualise and participate in their social worlds has become more discriminating. The authors conclude by proposing that higher education in further education (HE in FE) can have the potential to provide transformative experiences for non-traditional students.
The implications of this study lie as much in the nature of the transformative learning experience as in the structures in which education is provided. Additionally, it is proposed that transformative teaching and learning theory may be as significant now as it ever was in understanding the changes which learners experience in higher education study. Limitations of the study include the small number of interviewees who were interviewed more than once in some depth, and the particular setting of one further education college. As in all such research generalisation might be difficult.
Practically, the research suggests that the authors can learn from how students like the ones featured in the transformation stories experience learning in HE in FE. Despite being seen as “non-traditional” students who return to education with weak learning histories and fragile learner identities, the research has shown that if a nurturing, student-centred approach is adopted by teaching staff, a significant shift in how students see themselves and their place in the world can be achieved. This has significant implications for teaching practice. The findings could be an inspiration and guiding principle for other HE in FE tutors and help them find commonalities in their own work.
The authors argue that education should not be regarded only as an economic-driven activity insofar as most HE in FE programmes are vocational and are geared towards preparation for the workplace. The authors’ key proposition is that education can be a life changing experience that might be considered a transformation. The social implication is that participating in HE in FE could be a catalyst for the development of confident and engaged citizens, ready to make a real contribution to the social world beyond and out-with only the workplace. Within a Freirean framework, this might be transformative education’s most significant contribution to society.
Transformative learning theory research has mostly been undertaken in informal learning contexts and higher education institutions. There has also been research undertaken on diverse contexts not immediately related to education. In terms of empirical research, however, transformation learning theory in HE in FE is yet unexplored. Yet, it is an ideal learning site to promote transformation because of the relatively small, intimate milieu, typical of colleges. The originality lies in the paucity of other research focused on transformation in an FE context. The value lies in its showing that particular teaching approaches can transform students in this context.
Rocks, E. and Lavender, P. (2018), "Exploring transformative journeys through a higher education programme in a further education college", Education + Training, Vol. 60 No. 6, pp. 584-595. https://doi.org/10.1108/ET-02-2018-0047Download as .RIS
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