Introduction |   Vision  |   Core Beliefs  |   Rationale  |   Summary  |   Merging Philosophies   |  Behavioural vs Progressive/Humanistic   |  Conclusion  |  References  



As a facilitator of adult education and development, I operate from a set of personal beliefs and values; a philosophy. It is important to understand my philosophy as it will permeate every aspect of not only my role as an educator, but also as a manager, since "our beliefs, values, feelings and assumptions create the lens through which we see the world and form the basis for our actions" (Cranton, 2016, Loc 587). This lens acts as a filter and is used to compare new information with past experience and informs thoughts and feelings, ultimately affecting not only practice but attitudes. It will affect how I interact with people and inform strategies. Knowing and understanding our personal philosophies can enhance congruence between beliefs/values and actions (Zinn, 2007). This section on Philosophy explores my beliefs on being a facilitator of adult education and development and compares those beliefs to educational philosophies. The epilogue will tie the philosophy into my managerial roles.

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Learners will be engaged in meaningful education in a way that not only challenges intellect but causes a critical reflection that resonates within the learners beliefs, attitudes, point of view and in some cases generalized predispositions. This is accomplished through a respectful facilitator/learner co-learning environment and results in personal growth and a new desire for lifelong learning.

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Core Beliefs

  1. I believe that in adult learning and development, learning as a co-investigation is the foundation for transition from novice to expert.
  2. I believe that constructing meaning is what adult learning and development is all about.
  3. I believe that in adult learning and development, the creation of new meaning alters the learners belief system, making the full application of new learning possible.
  4. I believe that for adult learning and development that is transformational in nature, a psychological change must occur (i.e. a change to the self).
  5. I believe that in adult learning and development, critical reflection is the key to subconscious willingness to change; changes in the self; and psychological change.

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I believe that in adult learning and development, learning as a co-investigation is the foundation for transition from novice to expert. Merriam, Caffarella, Baumgartner (2007) discuss problem-posing education where central to the learning is a co-investigator relationship between the instructor and student in their common reality. Knowles (1980) identifies that there should exist a “spirit of mutuality between teachers and students as joint inquirers”(p 47). As a co-investigator, a joint inquirer, I have as much to gain from facilitating as the learner has. As a facilitator for any particular topic, the past experience and knowledge on that particular topic make’s the facilitator the expert vs the novice learner and it is the facilitators role to connect the learner’s past knowledge with their current experience to assist them in transitioning from novice to expert (Merriam, Caffarella, Baumgartner, 2007. Our joint inquiry filtered through two (or more) different narratives, those of the facilitator and those of the learner(s), “serves to broaden the perspectives of all participants” (p. 211). Our knowledge interpreted through a learner’s narrative could not only change the learner’s perspective, their interpretation of their past knowledge and current experience, but also those of the facilitator.


I believe that constructing meaning is what adult learning and development is all about. Mezirow’s (2000) theory outlines learning and meaning structures. He defines learning as “the process of using prior interpretation… of the meaning of one's experience in order to guide future action” (p. 5). This meaning structure or meaning perspective is a “frame of reference” or a filter. “It provides the context for making meaning…. how a sensory experience is to be constructed” (p. 16). According to Knowles (1980) “an adult accumulates a growing reservoir of experience, which is a rich resource for learning” (p. 44). The interpretation of life experience becomes the predetermined filter or frame of reference, and through that filter, we ascribe new meaning to past experience. But what triggers the need for a new or re-interpretation?

The realities we have created for ourselves are constantly being challenged. There are many other truths (individual/personal perceptions of reality) that are different from our own. Contradictions and paradoxes of life are inevitable, consisting of multiple interpretations depending on the individuals viewpoint created by past experiences, resulting in a continuous state of construction and reconstruction of our own personal realities. It is these contradictions that cause the need for a new way of thinking, to move from a single truth to a multiple truth situation, to advance our way of thinking (Merriam, Caffarella, Baumgartner 2007). Conflicts in realities can’t be resolved so either transformation must occur; a new interpretation and therefore construction of a new meaning, or the conflict remains and learning/change doesn’t occur. The challenge engages the learner in new ways of thinking developing new meaning, resulting in new ways of interacting with the world, or alternatively further locks them into their existing worldview and behaviour.


I believe that in adult learning and development, the creation of new meaning alters the learners belief system, making the full application of new learning possible. Mezirow (2000) suggests meaning making is creating new or revised interpretations of the meaning of our experiences. It is through new interpretations of experience where learning occurs (Mezirow, 1990). Meaning making is crucial in learning. Challenges to current beliefs trigger the new interpretations of meaning and can lead to the addition to, or a change in beliefs, a transformation in the person evident in thinking and behaviour.

Additionally, Illeris (2002) links this transformative experience to learning in three dimensions: cognition, emotion, and society, and relates it to the very identity of the learner. He explains that “depending on the cognitive-emotional and social interaction, it is possible that the learning could be distorted, or perhaps no learning at all will take place…”(p. 20). This suggests that since the three dimensions - cognition, emotion, and society - are related to the learners identity and are dependent on the learner’s interaction within those dimensions, that the learner’s beliefs and the effects on those beliefs are at the core of Illeris’s discussion.

Merriam, Caffarella, Baumgartner (2007) also state “Narratives… enable [us] to make sense of our experience, which is what adult learning is about” (p. 215). If a particular experience, or interpretation of an experience, doesn’t fit with our life-story or belief, we “might seek restorying” (p. 214), which might result in a changing of our belief(s) so it “coheres within itself” (p. 214). New meaning is created to reduce or eliminate internal conflict between old and new interpretations.

In all of these examples, there are new interpretations of experiences. New interpretations are new learning, but depending on each situation, each will dictate whether or not there is an addition to, or change in beliefs. For example: Do the new interpretations agree with the old? How do they interact cognitively, emotionally and socially with the learner? Do they fit within the narrative of the learner? What is required is a new interpretation of current and past experiences, resulting in meaning making and the full application of that learning; adding to or revising beliefs. Without the influences of cognitive-emotional and social interaction and without new meaning making, full application of the learning will not occur. Without new interpretation (new meaning), belief systems will not be affected in any way. No new meaning = no addition to/change in belief = no application of learning.


I believe that for adult learning and development to occur through transformative learning, psychological change must occur (i.e. a change to the self). There are several approaches to transformational learning. Boyd’s (1991) psychoanalytical approach defines transformation as “a fundamental change in one's personality" (p. 459), whereas Mezirow (2000) takes a psychocritical approach: “It involves cognitive, affective and conative dimensions” (p. 16). This approach considers the person's thoughts and the feelings attached to those thoughts, and actions resulting from those thoughts and feelings; making sense of experience. Mezirow (1991) also states that the process of perspective transformation is “the central process of adult development” (p. 155). This is supported by Merriam, Caffarella & Baumgartner (2007), “by learning who they are …. they can choose to be another way”(p. 148); and by Knowles (2000), “a process that is used by adults for their self-development" (p. 25).

Benne (1976), in discussing Kurt Lewin’s process of re-education, notes that perceptions, cognitive view, valences, and values comprise an individuals set of beliefs, essentially the individual or self, which in turn affect behavior and interaction with the environment, society and culture. It is a much more complex task than merely an extrinsic addition of knowledge to influence a change in self. It requires altering of perception; modification of valences and values, thus modifying beliefs. 

It is important to note that adult development resulting from transformative learning only accounts for a part of the whole. Cognitive development resulting from maturational and environmental domains need to be considered (Merriam, Caffarella & Baumgartner 2007). Synonyms for development are evolution, growth, and maturation, all of which imply a change; a change to self. Merriam, Caffarella & Baumgartner (2007) discuss developmental theories of multiple authors but similarities derived are that they all agree that adults develop higher order of thinking partially in relation to aging (maturational) but more so due to environmental factors. The relationship between environmental and transformative development is in the context where new learning has occurred. They add that social context accounts for more than age for particular development gradients in cognition. Age and environmental dimensions of adult development not only effect changes to the self but also contribute directly towards the ability for adults to experience transformative learning and experience the resulting psychological change.


I believe that in adult learning and development, critical reflection is the key to subconscious willingness to change; changes in the self; and psychological change. Brookfield’s (1987) five phases of critical reflection begins with the experience of perplexity and continues with appraisal or self-examination of the perplexity, exploration, examining new or different ways to explain the experience, and developing alternative perspectives. Mezirow (1990) suggests this premise reflection can lead to transformative learning and involves examination of assumptions, beliefs, and values. Individual development is both inherent in and an outcome of the process. It is this critical reflection that stimulates the willingness to change or even the change itself as without critical reflection; without the in-depth, self-assessing, pondering and comparing of new to existing beliefs; notwithstanding conditioning and/or indoctrination, in the context of adult education and development, change to self is not possible.

Cognitive development is described as “how thinking patterns change over time” (Merriam, Caffarella & Baumgartner 2007, p. 325). Wisdom is described as the “province of adulthood” (p. 352) and “often regarded as the hallmark of mature adult thinking” (p. 351). Amongst other characteristics, wisdom requires reflection to “move away from absolute truth” (p. 358). Although cognitive development and the resulting increase in wisdom is a more lengthy process than the transformative learning Mezirow discusses, but similar to this type of learning, the psychological changes are a result of reflection. Merriam, Caffarella & Baumgartner (2007) ask “what about adults who do not reflect critically? Can transformations occur through other mechanisms?” (p 435). To answer I would suggest that transformational learning may not occur, the adult may not become more wiser, “maturational and environmental” (p. 325) development will still occur, but without changes to beliefs, little to no psychological change to self will occur.

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Learning occurs when meaning is attached to it (to provide engaging and new meaningful education). It causes critical reflection that is key to a willingness to change (in a way that not only challenges intellect but causes a critical reflection). Learning is applied through changes in beliefs (that resonate within the learners belief, attitudes; point of view) that guide future action. Changes to self may arise from those changes in beliefs (and in some cases generalized predispositions). Every opportunity to teach is an opportunity to learn (this is accomplished through a respectful facilitator/learner co-learning environment) with the end result being an adult who has learned, grown and developed (and results in personal growth).

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Merging Philosophies

Zinn (2007) describes five different philosophies of adult education: behavioural, liberal. progressive, humanistic and radical. Each one is based on a different set of concepts, values and methods. The philosophies could be considered to be on a continuum where some may have some similarities to each other, complement each other, or are contradictory. When completing Zinn's scoring instrument, I scored higher on a progressive philosophy with humanistic (complementary to progressive) being a close second. My beliefs listed above agree with these results with a complicating factor of the behavioural philosophy being a moderate third and will be discussed below. Although I scored higher in two categories, there wasn't one that scored substantially higher. All scores were moderately scored and relatively close in comparison.  Zinn (2007) suggests that equal scores amongst philosophies is not probable, recommending reflection on beliefs and values looking for contradictions.

When I reviewed the characteristics of the progressive and humanistic philosophies, it became evident why my scores were close. It would seem that those traits that would be contradictory I disagreed with, but I found traits from the other philosophy would be a better match. For example: progressive philosophy's purpose is "To support responsible participation in society; to give learners practical knowledge and problem solving skill," and the humanistic philosophy is "To enhance personal growth and development; to facilitate individual self-actualization" (Zinn, 2007, p. 26). The traits I coalesce to are: "to give learners practical knowledge and problem solving skill" and "To enhance personal growth and development" (p. 26) which are a good fit to my beliefs discussed above. I have amalgamated my complete list of traits and have outlined them in the table below (p. 26).

Purpose To give learners practical knowledge and problem solving skill; "To enhance personal growth and development
Learners Learner needs, interests, and experience are valued and become part of learning process; Learner takes an active role in learning; Learner is [somewhat] self-directed
Teacher role Guide (coach; organizes learning process; provides real-life learning applications; guides collaborative learning) and facilitator (mentor, helper, partner in teaching-learning exchange; supports learning process) as each situation dictates
Concepts & Key Words Problem-solving, practical learning, experienced-based, learner-centered, needs assessment, transfer of learning, active inquiry, collaboration, andragogy, individuality, self-directedness, teaching-learning openness, personal meaning, transformational learning
Methods Projects, simulations, group investigation, cooperative learning, portfolios, pass/no pass grading, experiential learning, discovery learning, open discussion, individual projects, collaborative learning, independent study, self assessment.
Programs Academic credit for prior learning, personal growth and development programs

 Two characteristics I closely align with are experiential learning designed for transfer of learning into the real world (progressive) and transformational learning, learning designed for personal growth (humanistic).

Emerging Philosophy

As I continue in my life-long learning venture, my philosophies have been evolving and growing.  Through my current Ed.D work, I have begun developing a philosophy of psychoeducation which can be viewed here.

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The Behavioural versus Progressive/Humanistic Paradigm

The paramedicine industry is one that is highly regulated by Provincial Legislation, Regulations and Standards. It is therefore understandable that a behavioural educational philosophy is prevalent within the industry and infiltrates my practice, scoring a moderate 3rd on my Zinn (2007) philosophy inventory.

The purpose of the behavioural educational philosophy is "To promote competence, skill development and behavioural change; to ensure compliance with standards and societal expectations" (Zinn, 2007, p. 26). As a paramedic, the focus is skills, competence, and compliance with Standards. The crossover from the progressive philosophy is "supporting practical knowledge and problem solving skills" (p. 26). Similarily, the other traits of the progressive and humanistic philosophies influence how the behavioural philosophy is used, balancing the negative connotations of the behavioural philosophy's teacher control through employing teaching strategies arising from the other philosophies such as guiding and facilitating.

Below, I specify the components of the behavioural philosophy used in my practice and the traits from the other philosophies that influence that practice (Zinn, 2007, p. 26)

  Behavioural Philosophy Complimentary Progressive and Humanistic Philosophies
Learners step by step practice active learning taking experience into consideration, involved in planning learning projects
Teacher Role sets expectations; predicts and directs learning outcomes Guide, coach, facilitate, mentor
Concepts and key words Standards based, mastery of learning, competence, behavioural objectives, performance, feedback and reinforcement, accountability Problem-solving, practical learning, experienced-based, learner-centered, transfer of learning, active inquiry, collaboration, self-directedness
Methods Competency-based, lock-step curriculum, technical/skill training, demo and practice, standardized and criterion-referenced testing Simulations, group investigation, cooperative learning, pass/no pass grading, discovery learning, open discussion, collaborative learning.

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The best example of evidence of my philosophies in practice is an activity I began using early on in my teaching career, when teaching cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), before I had even heard of educational philosophies. I discovered that by grouping three people together in a practical CPR lesson, where one person provided the CPR, the second watched and assisted and the third monitored and followed  the text (each one offering guidance and suggestions), the learners were able to achieve success and demonstrate skills and understanding faster and with more accuracy. I had taken what was traditionally a behavioural skill activity and turned it into a collaborative, peer mentored, learner centred, activity that only needed some guidance and coaching on my part. For me, this was a transformational moment in my career, a blending of philosophies. To further see how my espoused theories are put into practice in my role as an educator, please visit the Facilitating tab. Not only will you find samples of facilitator tools, you will find further details on how my theories in action can be realized in individual or organizational resiliency and transformation.


Benne, K. (1976). The process of re-education: An assessment of Kurt Lewin’s views. Group & Organization Studies, 1(1) 26-42.

Boyd,R. (1991). Personal transformations in small groups: A Jungian perspective. New York, NY: Routledge.

Brookfield, S. (1987). Developing critical thinkers. Challenging adults to explore alternative ways of thinking and acting. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Cranton, P. (2006). Understanding and promoting transformative learning. A guide to theory and practice (3rd ed.) [Kindle version]. Sterling, Virginia: Stylus.

Illeris, K. (2002). Three dimensions of learning. Roskilde, Denmark: Roskilde University Press/Leicester, UK: NIACE.

Knowles, M. (1980). The modern practice of adult education: From pedagogy to andragogy (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Cambridge Books.

Merriam, S., Caffarallea, R. & Baumgartner, L. (2007). Learning in adulthood. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass

Mezirow, J. (1990). How critical reflection triggers transformative learning. In J. Mezirow & Associates (Eds.), Fostering Critical Reflection in Adulthood: A guide to emancipatory learning (pp. 1-20). San Francisco CZ: Jossey-Bass.

Mezirow, J. (1991). Transformative dimensions of adult learning. San Francisco CA: Jossey-Bass

Mezirow, J. (2000). Learning to think like an adult: Core concepts of transformation theory. In J. Mezirow & Associates, Learning as transformation: Critical perspectives on a theory in progress (pp. 3-33). San Francisco CA: Jossey-Bass.

Zinn, L. (1983). Philosophy of adult education. Quincy, IL: Lifelong Learning Options

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