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Transformative learning as pedagogy for the health professions: a scoping review



Transformative learning (TL) has been described as learning that challenges established perspectives, leading to new ways of being in the world. As a learning theory it has resonated with educators globally, including those in the health professions. Described as a complex metatheory, TL has evolved over time, eliciting divergent interpretations of the construct. This scoping review provides a comprehensive synthesis of how TL is currently represented in the health professions education literature, including how it influences curricular activities, to inform its future application in the field.


Arksey and O'Malley's six-step framework was adopted to review the period from 2006 to May 2018. A total of 10 bibliographic databases were searched, generating 1532 potential studies. After several rounds of review, first of abstracts and then of full texts, 99 studies were mapped by two independent reviewers onto the internally developed data extraction sheet. Descriptive information about included studies was aggregated. Discursive data were subjected to content analysis.


A mix of conceptual and empirical research papers, which used a range of qualitative methodologies, were included. Studies from the USA, the UK and Australia were most prevalent. Insights relating to how opportunities for TL were created, how it manifests and influences behaviour, as well as how it is experienced, demonstrated much congruency. Conceptions of TL were seen to be clustered around the work of key theorists.


The training of health professionals often takes place in unfamiliar settings where students are encouraged to be active participants in providing care. This increases the opportunity for exposure to learning experiences that are potentially transformative, allowing for a pedagogy of uncertainty that acknowledges the complexity of the world we live in and questions what we believe we know about it. TL provides educators in the health professions with a theoretical lens through which they can view such student learning.

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