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Volume 2 Issue 2 - 3Q's

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So You May Know
Wisdom & Insight
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Study & Research



VolunTourism & Transformational Learning

Our “3-Q’s” for this month were answered by Patricia Cranton, PhD., Adjunct Professor at Teachers College, Columbia University. Here is what she had to say in answer to our questions:

1. What are the foundational elements and key premises of transformational learning that you feel apply to the voluntourism experience - the combination of voluntary service and travel/tourism?

Transformative learning is a deep shift in perspective that follows an experience or event which leads a person to question his or her values, assumptions, and beliefs. According to some theorists, the process is a rational one of critical reflection and critical self-reflection; according to others, it can be a more intuitive, imaginative, or emotional process. Dialogue with others is considered to be a key element of transformative learning, as we engage with others to understand our frames of reference or perspectives on ourselves and the world around us.

The voluntourism experience would be likely to create a setting in which participants would encounter points of view that are discrepant with their own. It is such an encounter than can precipitate transformative learning. However, different people respond to events in different ways and at different times, so we could never assume that voluntourism would necessarily lead to transformation.

2) When considering the application of transformational learning in the context of a voluntourism experience, what pre- and post-experience information can be provided to a voluntourist to prepare them for the transformational process - that will not seem invasive and allows for the natural process to occur?

The VolunTourist Webcast On This Subject

Transformative Learning & VolunTourism - October 9, 2007


In 2001, CABI Publishing released a book entitled: Volunteer Tourism - Experiences that Make a Difference. The author, Dr. Stephen Wearing from the School of Leisure, Sport and Tourism at the University of Technology, Sydney, dedicated much of the book to discussing the impact of volunteer tourism on participants. How did it change their views of themselves and others? What role did the communities and residents play in catalyzing these shifts? This webcast discusses some of the interviews posted in his book and the relevance to other VolunTourism itineraries.

[Listen To The Cast] (Click Here To Download)


Transformative learning can be fostered by deliberate exposure to alternative points of view. If a goal of voluntourism is to set up the conditions for transformative learning, participants could be engaged in activities and experiences prior to being a voluntourist that would help them examine alternatives to their current way of thinking about themselves and the world around them. Some strategies include the use of film and art, critical debates (in which people argue for a point of view that is not their own), role playing and simulations (which require people to try on a different point of view), keeping a journal, and so on.

Post-voluntourism experiences should be focused on support for the changes that a participant has undergone and assistance with seeing how the new perspectives will influence the person’s life.

3) What process do you recommend to evaluate the transformation that occurs for voluntourists as well as destination residents that may be impacted by voluntourism?

Transformative learning can only be evaluated by self-report, in my opinion. There are theorists and writers who describe indicators of transformative learning and attempt to assess it from observation, but I believe emancipatory learning (which is what transformation is) can only be known by the person who has experienced it. A simple set of questions about how a person changed the way he or she saw things can be used to guide people into evaluating their own transformation process.

I suspect that evaluating the impact of voluntourism on the destination residents would also be best done qualitatively; that is, by asking people a series of open-ended questions designed to help them describe what happened. For destination residents, focus group dis-cussions may also be helpful.


Tuesdays 10am ET/7am PT

Patricia Cranton, PhD.

Patricia Cranton received her B.Ed. degree (1971) and M.Sc. degree (1973) from the University of Calgary, and her Ph.D. degree (1976) from the University of Toronto. Patricia's primary research interests have been in the areas of teaching and learning in higher education, transformative and self-directed learning, and most recently, authenticity and individuation. She was selected as an Ontario Distinguished Scholar in 1991 in recognition of her research and writing on teaching and learning in higher education. She received the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Association's Teaching Award in 1993 and the Lieutenant Govenor's Laurel Award in 1994 for an outstanding contribution to university teaching.

From 1976 to 1986, Patricia Cranton was at McGill University in the Centre for Teaching and Learning and the Department of Educational Psychology and Counselling. From 1986 to 1996, she was at Brock University in the Faculty of Education. She founded Brock University's Instructional Development Office and directed it from 1991 to 1996. Patricia was Visiting Professor of Adult Education at the University of New Brunswick from 2000 to 2002 and at St. Francis Xavier University from 2002 to 2005.

Also during that time, and currently, she is Adjunct Professor at Teachers College, Columbia University, where she teaches courses on transformative learning both online and in a workshop format. Patricia is presently Visiting Professor of Adult Education at Penn State Harrisburg.

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