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Learning that Lasts: Integrating Learning, Development, and Performance in College and Beyond (review)

From: The Journal of General Education
Volume 50, Number 3, 2001
pp. 230-233 | 10.1353/jge.2001.0019

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The Journal of General Education 50.3 (2001) 230-233

Book Review

Learning that Lasts: Integrating Learning, Development, and Performance in College and Beyond

Marcia Mentkowski and Associates (2000). Learning that Lasts: Integrating Learning, Development, and Performance in College and Beyond. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 320 pp. $38.95, hardcover.

Alverno College has taken its educational practice as seriously as the most dedicated academicians take their scholarship. Over the past thirty years it has created and sustained an institutional culture that has enabled faculty and staff to instill in its graduates the ability to construct themselves over time in ever broader and complex contexts. In Learning that Lasts: Integrating Learning, Development and Performance in College and Beyond, Marcia Mentkowski and her colleagues at Alverno present an integration of theory, research, and practice based on twenty years of experience at the college.

This unique and challenging book is extraordinary on several levels including its intellectual honesty and generosity, its breadth of scholarship, and its exploration of a new empiricism arising from traditional research, collaborative inquiry, reflective practice, and organizational development and learning. More than a description of Alverno's experience, however, the book lays out a comprehensive model of educational practice that any institution of higher education can use to question and challenge its curricular assumptions and habits of practice.

Learning that Lasts comprises four major parts. Part I lays out the major themes and purposes of the book and describes the four methods of inquiry (or "ways of knowing") used to explore them. Part II describes and summarizes the results of a tri-partite longitudinal study of Alverno students. Drawing on three distinct strands of theory and research -- social constructionist, developmental, and multidimensional performance -- and using both quantitative and qualitative research methodologies, the study first demonstrates how students understand and interpret their learning through the Alverno curriculum. It then describes how students develop with respect to three domains of growth -- critical thinking, integration of self in context, and moral reasoning. It further shows how learning and development persist after graduation, particularly in professional performance. Finally the study explores the relationship between this learning and development, the Alverno curriculum, and its eight core abilities.

Part III presents a comprehensive model of transformative learning: a theory of learning itself and the mechanism that bridges the theory with educational practice. The theory integrates four domains of growth, two metatheoretical dimensions, and three transformative cycles of learning into a comprehensive explanation of how learning occurs over a lifetime. The bridge to practice -- principles for learning and action -- is a necessary part of the theory of learning because without it, educators are unable to bring about the kind of learning they describe. Part IV presents a model of educational practice that supports learning that lasts. It describes the reflective and collaborative inquiry and organizational mechanisms that permit the integration of theory, research, and practice in the design of curriculum and practice of teaching in the service of student learning.

Learning that Lasts is a complex book that demands much of the reader's attention due to the ambitiousness of its agenda, its breadth of scholarship, its language and conceptual subtlety, the slow unfolding and development of its argument, and the nature of the new empiricism it advances. It is sui generis, making it difficult to draw meaningful comparisons with just a few works. Rather it brings to mind a constellation of works, which together help to orient the authors' endeavor. The volume is at once a chronicle of a single institution (e.g., Bensman, Boyatzis); an educational research study (e.g., Pascarella & Terenzini); an advancement of a theory of learning (e.g., Kolb); an organizational development and learning textbook (e.g., Senge); and a handbook for practitioners (e.g., Stringer). The Alverno community has exercised an opportunistic scholarship, taking from this and that tradition and remaining open to whatever assisted and advanced its collective inquiry on teaching and learning. Consequently Learning that Lasts draws from the following theoretical and research traditions as well as others: contextualism, social constructivism, classic development theory, assessment, situated learning, the scholarship of teaching, critical pedagogy, transformative learning, reflective practice, curriculum development, classroom and action research, and organizational development and learning...



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