Perspective transformation explains how the meaning structures that adults have acquired over a lifetime become transformed. These meaning structures are frames of reference that are based on the totality of individuals' cultural and contextual experiences and that influence how they behave and interpret events (Taylor 1998). An individual's meaning structure will influence how she chooses to vote or how she reacts to women who suffer physical abuse, for example.
The meaning schemes that make up meaning structures may change as an individual adds to or integrates ideas within an existing scheme and, in fact, this transformation of meaning schemes occurs routinely through learning. Perspective transformation leading to transformative learning, however, occurs much less frequently. Mezirow believes that it usually results from a "disorienting dilemma," which is triggered by a life crisis or major life transition, although it may also result from an accumulation of transformations in meaning schemes over a period of time (Mezirow 1995, p. 50).
For Boyd, transformation is a "fundamental change in one's personality involving [together] the resolution of a personal dilemma and the expansion of consciousness resulting in greater personality integration" (Boyd 1989, p. 459, cited in Taylor 1998, p. 13). The process of discernment is central to transformative education (Boyd and Myers 1988). Discernment calls upon such extrarational sources as symbols, images, and archetypes to assist in creating a personal vision or meaning of what it means to be human (ibid.; Cranton 1994).
The process of discernment is composed of the three activities of receptivity, recognition, and grieving. First, an individual must be receptive or open to receiving "alternative expressions of meaning," and then recognize that the message is authentic (Boyd and Myers 1988, p. 277). Grieving, considered by Boyd (ibid.) to be the most critical phase of the discernment process, takes place when an individual realizes that old patterns or ways of perceiving are no longer relevant, moves to adopt or establish new ways, and finally, integrates old and new patterns.
Grabov (1997) suggests that the two views share a number of commonalities including "humanism, emancipation, autonomy, critical reflection, equity, self-knowledge, participation, communication and discourse" (p. 90).