Not All Learning is Created Equal: How to be More Intentional in our Efforts to Engage in Transformative Learning

November 21, 2023 — by Elizabeth McGee

Understanding the essence of transformative learning is akin to cultivating a garden with care and dedication. Evaluation without learning is like planting seeds and watering the soil, but not taking the time to witness the transformation of seeds into flourishing plants. I’m Elizabeth McGee (she/her), the Founder and Senior Consultant at LEAP Consulting. In my journey, I’ve delved deep into the realms of transformative learning, discovering its profound impact on personal and professional growth.

Throughout my evaluation career, I have witnessed learning efforts fall short because people tend to view learning as a task to check off a list, rather than recognizing it as a process that demands time, attention, expertise, and depth.

I routinely see groups focus too heavily on process (and not outcomes) or vise-versa, groups rely too heavily on quantitative measures without using qualitative measures to provide context to their findings, and I have seen groups that ask a lot of learning questions, but none that offer insights into root causes.


Researchers discovered the concepts of surface learning and deep learning by studying how learners approach learning in various ways based on a series of internal and external motivating factors. In revisiting these concepts. I was struck by how often we as evaluators and learning practitioners facilitate learning processes that produce surface learning results.


Here are 3 ideas to get us started in transforming our evaluative learning practices to facilitate deeper learning.

  1. Leave the blame game for children. When mistakes in our work materialize, assigning blame can be a natural impulse. Blame takes the space that should be filled by analysis and the desire to understand the structural and relational elements at play in a given problem.
  2. Motivate the learning. Why should people want to learn about this topic? Why should they spend their busy time doing this? Why should they choose to be vulnerable and ask hard questions? Don’t underestimate the importance of getting buy-in and motivation from your learning group about learning!
  3. Ask different questions. We found dissatisfaction with snacks at a community support group, but it’s not particularly profound. Don’t be afraid to ask deeper questions, that get at more systemic causes of organizational and community challenges. Such as: poor leadership, power dynamics, lack of community engagement or relationship building, ineffective facilitative processes, lack of time and space for learning, hierarchy, and countless others. Working to address these findings could help to truly combat the status quo.
  4. Pay attention to your external and internal learning environments. Remember that systemic causes of organizational and community challenges (referred to in #3). Influence not only the context of the problem we are trying to solve but also the learning environments of the group of learners. So, for example, be mindful of power dynamics that impact the problem in question (e.g., homelessness). But also those impacting the dynamics of those involved in the learning process (key community players at a municipal town hall).


The mistakes we make in groups that stunt innovation

Better Evaluation: Choose Methods and Processes

Surface Learning and Deep Learning

I originally posted the blog on AEA365. The American Evaluation Association (AEA) is a professional association for evaluators and those with a professional interest in the field of evaluation. Including practitioners, faculty, students, funders, managers, and government decision-makers. Elizabeth McGee, a member, regularly presents at their conferences and publishes on their AEA365 blog. On January 29, 2022, she published a piece on How to be More Intentional in our Efforts to Engage in Transformative Learning. It was edited by Elizabeth Grim.

Link to the blog post:

Or And Because . Or And Because. And Because. And Because. Or And Because. And Because Or And.