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The purpose of transformative education is to empower learners to see the social world differently, through an ever more ethical lens, so that they will challenge and change the status quo as agents of change.

Learning in the transformative paradigm involves understanding the world in a different way, changing the way we experience it and the way we act in our day-to-day lives. It has an individual and a collective dimension, and includes both individual and social transformation. Learning involves experiencing a deep, structural shift in basic premises of thought, feelings, and actions. It is a shift of consciousness that dramatically and permanently alters our way of being in the world. This shift includes our understanding of ourselves, our self-locations, and our relationships with other humans and the natural world. It also involves our understanding of power relations in interlocking structures of class, race and gender, our body awareness, our visions of alternative approaches to living, and our sense of possibilities for social justice, and personal happiness.

The ultimate purpose of education is to foster critical reflection and informed action. Critical reflection refers to thoughtful consideration of everyday experiences and social situations, with focused attention on issues of power, privilege, and social structure. Critical reflection leads to an imperative to think and act toward a positive change of the status quo.

Key Principles

  • Purpose of education is to foster critical reflection and informed action
  • Learning involves a shift in how one sees and approaches the world and their actions upon it
  • Emphasis is on equity and social justice
  • Learner-teacher distinction is minimized
  • Learners are agents of change

Key Theorists

Paulo Freire, 1921-1997

Freire was a Brazilian philosopher most known for his philosophy and his practice of critical pedagogy. Freire’s goal was to eradicate illiteracy among people from previously colonized countries and continents. His ideas, life, and work served to ameliorate the living conditions of oppressed people.

Critical pedagogy critiques the dominant banking model of education where the teacher is the expert and the learner is the passive recipient of deposits of knowledge. He argued that the banking model reproduces existing knowledge, and maintains the status quo of social hierarchies and existing power relations. Critical pedagogy positions learners as participants in knowledge creation, and thus education as transformative. Learners are empowered to see the social world differently and through an ethical lens, so that they will challenge and change the status quo as agents of change.

bell hooks, 1952-2021

bell hooks was an American teacher, a theorist, an activist, and a cultural critic. She was concerned with achieving freedom through education and transcending racial, sexual, and class boundaries in the classroom. Hooks proposed an engaged pedagogy toward freedom, self-actualization, and students’/teachers’ empowerment.

Engaged pedagogy emphasizes the experience of oppression, which can be either of victimization or of resistance, in the learning process. Hooks argues that experience can be a way to know and can inform how we know what we know. Engaged pedagogy asks teachers to integrate the public and private parts of life and share them with students. Ultimately, the student and teacher should strive to participate in a process that connects their lives and empowers them to live deeply.

Concepts & Practices in Health Professions Education

Interprofessional education (IPE)

The goal of IPE is for learners and clinicians from different health professions to learn with, from, and about one another, with the goal of improving collaborative practice and ultimately patient care. This necessitates a questioning of traditional hierarchical structures and unpacking of power relations between professions in order for real change to occur.


  • Freire P. Pedagogy of the Oppressed, translated by MB Ramos, introduction by D Macedo. 30th Anniversary Edition. London: Continuum; 2007.
  • Kumagai AK, Naidu T. Reflection, dialogue, and the possibilities of space. Academic Medicine. 2015;90(3):283-8.
  • Paradis E, Whitehead CR. Louder than words: power and conflict in interprofessional education articles, 1954-2013. Medical Education. 2015;49(4):399-407.
  • For further reading, see:
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