How Transformation Happens in a Life: 8 Elements of Authentic Learning

Have you ever wondered why transformation does not happen in your life as you would like? Or why authentic learning does not happen among individuals or students in a manner that changes thought or action? Read on and let me offer you some helpful insights.

We can get discouraged but the truth is that we may just need to tweak our process.


Learning is a wonderful thing that we often overlook. And realize it is not an event but rather a process. It means change has occurred. That you are different and think or act differently.

What I am going to share are just borrowed thoughts from a group that has really impacted my life: Pilgrimage. The Learning Cycle, as it is called, was originally introduced to me by one of my backpacking buds, Chris McLain. It has been solidified over the years by the teaching of Dennis and Ben Wilhite and Dwight Peterson. Love these four guys.

This process, or flow, of how learning occurs has shaped my thinking and recreated new paradigms of thought. I have shared this with many, especially with those future secondary teachers that I used to teach back in my Instructional Techniques class in my college-teaching days.

Regardless of the learning that you are desiring, for yourself or for others, classroom or work environment, this will be a tool for your hip pocket that will answer many questions for you and produce convincing change. Let’s get started.


We all come to the table with agendas, whether it be in a classroom setting or not. It may or may not be articulated, but there are desired outcomes that each of us have that will then influence how we interact with our circumstances.


My agenda is going to determine what I think I need in order to accomplish what I have set forth as my plan. In other words, what is going to help get me (or get others) to the desired “finish line”?


Experiences are going to come at us from multiple directions. Or experiences could be created in a classroom environment. Regardless, with every experience that we meet, we are then going to evaluate that experience to assess if it is going to help us meet our needs or not.

Will that experience threaten or advance the fulfillment of my perceived needs?


Tensions can be both positive or negative. They can be in the form of a fear or frustration, a delight or a desire. As I interact with the experiences around me, tensions are going to arise. In other words, they produce a heightened awareness of the experience with which I am being confronted.


God has created all of us with a drive. And that drive is that when we experience tension, we want to know its source. And in understanding the source, we either want to alleviate the tension if it is negative or push through that tension or exaggerate it if it is positive.

We are driven to ask questions when tension comes into our lives. There is a desire to conquer, solve, and explore to reduce the tension if it is negative and how to continue pursuit if the tension is positive.

And let me add…questions are critical. Ask the wrong question and you most inevitably arrive at a wrong conclusion. Right questions lead you to a much better place. This is what you would call a crossroads. Success or failure depends on which road of examination you choose.


We do not like the feeling of ambiguity in our lives. Of just being in a state of limbo with unresolved conflict. And that natural aversion drives us to make conclusions. And again, the quality of your questions will determine the quality of your conclusions.

I often come to wrong conclusions because I have been asking the wrong questions.


Whatever conclusion I come to and embrace is what I will ultimately live out. I may state one conclusion, but the living of my life bears evidence of what I truly conclude in my heart. Application is simply the living out of what conclusions I have come to.


As I make habits of my conclusions, they soon become part of the fabric of who I am. As these conclusions are repeatedly lived out, my thinking is changed, and how I perceive and respond is also changed in a wide array of situations.

In other words, genuine transformation has taken place in me. Inside to out. Thinking to action.

And from there? Fresh agendas are formed and the cycle begins anew.

Don’t miss this…

Please understand these two takeaways: First, the examination stage is the most critical part of the cycle. Why? Because it is here that you start forming the path to the types of conclusions at which you will arrive. Shallow questions lead to shallow conclusions. Irrelevant questions lead to irrelevant conclusions. Blame shifting questions lead to “not my fault” conclusions.

Good questions ultimately lead to change.

Second, as teachers or just in living life, we often want to “help out” our learners by jumping from experience to conclusion. The problem? Learning will not occur. At least not authentic learning. Bypassing tension and examination is like always telling the answer to your students 5 nanoseconds after you ask a question.

This is a key takeaway.

Genuine learning will not occur if you think you are helping the learning process by taking yourself or others straight from an experience to a conclusion.

It would be like having someone just look at exercise weights and then pictures of someone who works out and then believe that alone will change his or her body. Tension and examination must also happen.

Without tension and examination, you are robbed of true learning. Without tension and examination, you will be left only with shallow learning. Memorized results. No actual change.


Let me offer you an example to bring the point home. God has an agenda for my life and I have an agenda for my life. The goal is that they are aligned. God does this through His learning cycle called sanctification. Sanctification that is lived out results in integration and a transformed life.

God’s agenda makes for needs in my life. My needs are viewing Jesus as my life, less pride, more humility, more dependency (among many others). God allows many experiences in my day-to-day. They are called “life.” These allowed experiences produce tensions in my soul. God’s tensions are always for my good but I want comfort and not pain, happiness and not an unfulfilled agenda.

These things in life called trials make me examine what I really believe about God. They press me into the Gospel to ensure I view life from a truthful perspective. I ask questions. If my questions consist of “why me?” or “why doesn’t God care?” or “why would a good God allow this?” then I am in danger of forging a path to poor conclusions.

If my questions consist of “what do You desire?” or “what truth would help align my perspective?” or “I know You are faithful – what good are you working in my life?” then I come to right conclusions about God.

In right questions, I come to a right application of truth, and over time, that right application and faith in God begins to transform me more into His likeness. Wrong questions? That is why you see many fall by the wayside when the perceived negative tensions come.

This learning cycle applies to any and all types of learning, physical and spiritual. It works with training people or teaching kids in a  classroom. It works with personal goal setting or setting goals for those who work with and under you.

If learning is not happening with the end result of integration as you would like, I would challenge you to work it through the learning cycle process and see where the breakdown might be. You might find some helpful and enlightening results in your learning process.

And that is when true learning will occur.



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