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In Learning as Transformation, by Jack Mezirow & Associates, Jack quotes Harvard Psychologist, Robert Kegan, ?transforming our epistemologies, liberating ourselves from that in which we are embedded, making what was a subject into object so that we ?can have it' rather than to ?be had' by it – this is the most powerful way I know to conceptualize the growth of the mind? (Mezirow & Associates, 2000, p. 25).

              In his preface to In Over Our Heads, The Mental Demands of Modern Life , Kegan makes an analogy to our contemporary world as our ?classroom? and the expectations of our culture, the ?curriculum.?   He mentions, ?It remains for us to look at the curriculum of modern life in relation to the capacities of the adult mind? (Kegan, 1994, p. 5).   Kegan goes on to discuss how the multiple and often competing demands of our various life's roles as adults – parent, partner, professional and member of organizations – compose the ?curriculum? of our lives.   Unfortunately, these often conflicting and competing demands can cause adults great stress and disillusionment.

Kegan developed a ?theory of the psychological evolution of meaning-systems, or way of knowing, or a theory of the development of consciousness – and uses it as an analytic tool to examine contemporary culture.   It will enable us to consider the fit, or lack of fit, between the demands of our cultural curriculum makes on our consciousness on the one hand, and our mental capacities as ?students' in this ongoing school on the other? (Kegan, 1994, p.6,7).  

Kegan admits to his theory being one of constructive-developmental psychology and readily addresses concerns from Post Modernism about appropriateness for multi-cultures, ethnicities, gender, gender orientation and age.   He suggests that his theory may influence some of the streams of Post Modernism, and sees his theory as being amenable to the concerns of many; since it provides a framework for understanding all adults who are living in our culture.

              Kegan notes that researchers and practitioners rarely stray from their narrow fields, so as a result, students don't benefit from cross functionality and cross curriculum that could integrate so many ways of knowing and understanding, providing a larger canvas from which to view the interconnectedness of so much of our life.

He developed his approach to consciousness and learning based on interdisciplinary studies.  

 The following chart is derived from Kegan's chart on pages 94 and 95 in In Over Our Heads ,   (1994), Harvard University Press, Cambridge 

Four orders of categorical consciousness, created by Kegan, are:







Single Point










Data, Cause and Effect


Durable Category



Simple Reciprocity (tit for tat)

Social Perceptions



Needs, Preferences







Inference, Generalization

Hypothesis, Proposition



Point of View

Cross Categorical






Role Consciousness

Mutual Reciprocity

Enduring Dispositions

Needs, Preferences





Formulation, Authorization

Relations between Abstractions







Relationship Regulating Forms

Multiple Role Consciousness


Self-regulation, Self-Formation

Identity, Autonomy, Individuation

Mutual Interpersonalism

Inner States




Kegan identifies the following critical for Transformative Learning: (Mezirow & Associates, 2000, Learning As Transformation, Jossey Bass, page 48)

•  Transformational kinds of learning need to be more clearly distinguished from informational kinds of learning, and each needs to be recognized as valuable in any learning activity, discipline or field.

•  The form that is undergoing trans formation needs to be better understood; if there is no form, there is no transformation.

•  At the heart of a form is a way of knowing (what Mezirow calls a ?frame of reference?); thus genuinely transformational learning is always to some extent an epistemological change rather than merely a change in behavioral repertoire or an increase in the quantity or fund of knowledge.

•  Even as the concept of transformational learning needs to be narrowed by focusing more explicitly on the epistemological, it needs to be broadened to include the whole lifespan; transformational learning is not the province of adulthood or adult education alone.

•  Adult educators with an interest in transformational learning may need a better understanding of their students' current epistemology so as not to create learning designs that unwittingly presuppose the very capabilities in the students their designs might seek to promote.

•  Adult educators may better discern the nature of learners' particular needs for transformational learning by better understanding not only their students' present epistemologies but the epistemological complexity of the present learning challenges they face in their lives.

Kegan distinguishes between Transformative Learning and Informational Learning Informative Learning increases our knowledge, skills and depth of knowledge?this kind of knowledge Mezirow, (borrowing from Habermass), calls ?Instrumental Learning, ?or learning to control one's environment or others, a kind of technical or subjective knowledge. Habermass also discusses his concept of what he calls, ?Communicative Learning,? or ?learning what others mean when they communicate with you.   This often involves feeling, intentions, values and moral issues? (Mezirow & Associates, (2000), p. 8,9).   To reach ?Communicative Learning? we must assess what lies beyond the words, or behind them, we must become critically reflective of the assumptions that the person is communicating to us.  

        One of Kegan's contributions to Transformative Learning Theory is his observation that reflective thought, changes in one's font of knowledge, sense of self, and motivation can independently occur within   one's current frame of reference, and if these changes occur only within the context of one's current reference, then, according to Kegan, Transformative Learning has not occurred.  

        Kegan recognizes Mezirow's term for a change in one's ?frame of reference? and notes that this needs to occur as an epistemological change, since epistemology is about, ?how we know what we know.?   A change in a frame of reference requires two processes to occur, the first, the way in which we make meaning, or meaning-forming is the activity through ?which we shape a coherent meaning out of the raw material of our outer and inner experiencing? the second, is a way of what we might call reforming our meaning-forming. This is a metaprocess that affects the very terms of our meaning-constructing.   We do not only form meaning, and we do not only change our meanings; we change the very form which we are making our meanings. We change our epistemologies.  

        These two processes inherent in epistemology are actually at the heart of two lines of socio-scientific thought that should be in much closer conversations with each other: the educational line of thought is transformational learning; the psychological line of thought is constructive developmentalism? (Kegan, from Mezirow & Associates, 2000, p.52-53).  

        Kegan suggests that educators who want to help facilitate the journey of learners towards transformative learning can do so my utilizing constructive developmental theory to gain a better sense of the dynamic architecture of ?forms that transform? and ?reforming our forms of knowing.?   Through this process, what we know as ?subject? becomes ?object? through a gradual process.  

        As a literary example to help understand what Kegan means by his theory, he provides both in his book, In Over Our Heads , and in his chapter in Learning Through Transformation (Mezirow & Associates, 2000), excerpts from Ibsen's play, A Doll's House.   Nora, the main character, leaves her husband after some ?disorienting dilemmas? occur in her life.   She realizes that she had gone from being her father's ?doll-child? to her husband's ?doll-child.?   The disorienting dilemmas of having a loan with someone whom   her husband wants to fire,   and threatens to expose Nora for forging her dead father's signature on the loan, and the unexpected visit from one of her girlhood friends, who is now single, and her husband's accusatory stance in her confession of her forgery, all   combine to bring Nora to a point where she now find's herself questioning critically all of the authorities whom she had always somewhat unquestioned – her society, family, church and others. Nora sets out on a journey of ?Self- Authorship? where she wants to learn who Nora really is.

For additional information on Robert Kegan, Ph.D., check the following links:

HGSE Faculty Profiles: Faculty Profile

Robert Kegan's Developmental Perspective

Contact Robert Kegan:
Robert Kegan, Ph.D.