Mezirow describes the process in which adult learners make meaning from their experiences. When this process is used to make decisions or take action, learning occurs. Meaning schemes refer to habitual expectations of cause and effect (i.e. if we eat then our hunger will be satisfied) whereas Meaning Perspectives refer to the set of assumptions with which new information is assimilated through one's past experiences. Both Meaning Schemes and Meaning Perspectives define our 'horizon of expectation' and "significantly affect the activities of perceiving, comprehending, and remembering Meaning within the context of communication" (1). Perspectives are mainly acquired during childhood and strengthened through experiences; they are the structures with which we interpret and make sense of everyday events.
The article goes on to create a definition for Reflection and Reflective Actions and differentiates the process of reflection from actions guided by habit. Critical Reflection refers to reflection on presuppositions. "We become critically reflective by challenging the established definition of a problem being addressed" (4).
Instrumental Learning takes place when we engage in task-oriented problem solving. Reflection is significantly involved in this process. Communicative Learning refers to learning to understand the meaning of what others communicate. Each type of learning asks us to validate meaning of what we are learning in a different way. However, our interpretations are never truly free of bias due to our meaning schemes.
Mezirow asserts that the most significant type of adult learning takes place when we are critically reflecting: reassessing the way we pose problems and reassessing our own orientation towards them. Critical reflection is concerned with the 'why' rather than the 'how to' and forces us to reexamine notions and assumptions of our childhood.
- "In communicative learning, the approach is one in which the learner attempts to understand what is meant by another through speech, writing, drama, art, or dance" (3)
"We engage in reflective learning through the kind of discourse in which we bracket our
prior judgements, attempt to hold our biases in abeyance, and, through a critical review of the evidence and arguments, make a determination about the justifiability of the expressed idea whose meaning is contested" (3-4).
No need is more fundamentally human than our need to understand the meaning of our experience. Free full participation in critical and reflective discourse may be interpreted as a basic human right (4).