designing experiences for transformation

Transformational experiences can be defined as experiences that fundamentally challenge a person’s assumptions and preconceptions, as well as their beliefs and values, affecting how they understand themselves, others, and the world. [Source: Tufts University (2013). Enabling and Integrating Transformational Experiences]

Transformational experiences are likely to occur when people venture beyond their comfort zones—physically, intellectually, socially, culturally, geographically, or otherwise. The novel thinking that often accompanies unfamiliarity can lead individuals to appreciate unexamined parts of their environments, discover new parts of themselves or others, and achieve in ways previously thought impossible. [Source: Tufts University (2013). Enabling and Integrating Transformational Experiences]

These experiences can be positive and negative, which are important for different reasons. A negative affective response can enable mental focus, which is good for high-pressure situations, while positive affect leads to wider thinking which is useful for creative problem-solving. Learners benefit from assistance in drawing as much meaning and insight as possible from their explorations of the unfamiliar. [Source: Tufts University (2013). Enabling and Integrating Transformational Experiences; Norman, D. A. (2002). Emotion & Design]

How can we design for transformation? 

Consider John Dewey’s concept of inquiry, which begins with a sense of unease or an intellectual conflict; this cycle can be different for every learner: 

  • Interruption, obstruction, breaking the normal flow
  • Observations and inference, which activate a natural desire to understand the nature of the problem
  • Creation of alternative solutions and questioning multiple hypothesis
  • Reasoning, testing, measuring

[Source: Hennes, T. (2002). Rethinking the visitor experience]

Making meaning is an essential step in a human-centered learning process. Narratives are the stories that create meaning from experiences. Including an opportunity for narrative creation rather than offering a pre-constructed narrative creates space for personal affinity and ownership. Narratives need not be verbal; consider all expressive forms including language, art, music, and movement.

When creating self-directed learning experiences, designers and design stakeholders can consider a range of influential cognitive and emotional factors including affect, cognition, context, engagement, experiential learning, interactivity, narrative, self concepts, and usability. Learn more by downloading the Learning by Design white paper at:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s