An investigation of experiential and transformative learning in study abroad programs


  • Hannah Strange Bournemouth University
  • Heather Gibson University of Florida



Transformative learning, Program length, Program type, Experiential learning, Study abroad, Education abroad


Despite criticism of their outcomes, students are increasingly participating in short-term study abroad programs. This study used transformative learning theory (TLT) to investigate the effects of program type and length on transformative learning (TL), and in particular explore the impact of experiential learning components on TL. Students from a large US university were surveyed on-line upon returning home from summer study abroad (N=216). Data were analyzed using frequencies, ANOVA, and thematic content analyses. No significant differences in TL were found among program types. However, the shortest programs (< 18 days) yielded significantly lower levels of TL than programs ranging 19 to 50+ days. While the shortest programs may not achieve the same degree of TL, students may not need to be abroad for a semester to experience change. This is one of the first studies to provide empirical support for this contention and is a starting point for future research.


Download data is not yet available.


Aguilar, A. L., & Gingerich, O. (2002). Experiential pedagogy for study abroad: Educating for global citizenship. Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad, n.v., 41- 82.

Anderson, P., Lawton, L., Rexeisen, R., & Hubbard, A. (2006). Short-term study abroad and intercultural sensitivity: A pilot study. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 30, 457-469.

Barbuto, J. E., Beenen, G., & Tran, H. (2015). The role of core self-evaluation, ethnocentrism, and cultural intelligence in study abroad success. The International Journal of Management Education, 13, 268-277.

Bell, H., Gibson, H., Tarrant, M., Perry, L., & Stoner, L. (2014). Transformational learning through study abroad: US students’ reflections on learning about sustainability in the South Pacific. Leisure Studies, DOI:10.1080/02614367.2014.962585

Bell, K., & Anscombe, W. (2013). International Field Experience in Social Work: Outcomes of a short term study abroad programme to India. Social Work Education: The International Journal, 32 (8), 1032-1047.

Berwick, R. F., & Whalley, T. R. (2000). The experiential bases of culture learning: A case study of Canadian high schoolers in Japan. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 24, 325-340

Brock, S. E. (2010). Measuring the importance of precursor steps to transformative learning. Adult Education Quarterly, 60(2), 122-142

Brown, L. (2009). The transformative power of the international sojourn. Annals of Tourism Research, 36(3), 502-521.

Chieffo, L., & Griffiths, L. (2004). Large-scale assessment of student attitudes after a short-term study abroad program. The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad, 10, 165-177.

Dwyer, M. (2004). More is better: The impact of study abroad program duration. Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad, 10, 151-163

Engle, L., & Engle, J. (2003). Study abroad levels: Toward a classification of program types. Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad, 9, 1-20

Gudykunst, W. B. (1979). The effects of an intercultural communication workshop on cross- cultural attitudes and interaction. Communication Education, 28(3), 179

Hamad, R., & Lee, C. (2013). An assessment of how length of study-abroad programs influences cross-cultural adaptation. Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, 23(5), 661-674.

Hensley, T., & Sell, D. (1979). A study-abroad program: "An examination of impacts on student attitudes". Teaching Political Science, 6(4), 387-411.

Hoff, J.G. (2005). Students’ perceptions of the culture learning process during the study abroad experience. (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN.

Institute of International Education (2016). Open Doors: Report on international educational exchange. Retrieved January 25, 2017, from

Jackson, J. (2015). Becoming interculturally competent: Theory to practice in international education. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 48, 91-107.

Kiely, R. (2004). A chameleon with a complex: Searching for transformation in international service-learning. Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, 10(2), 1-17.

Kiely, R. (2005). A transformative learning model for service-learning: a longitudinal case study. Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, 12(1), 1-17.

King, K. P. (1997). Examining Activities that Promote Perspective Transformation among Adult Learners in Higher Education. International Journal of University Adult Education, 36(3), 23-37.

King, K. P. (1998). A guide to perspective transformation and learning activities: The learning activities survey. Philadelphia: Research for Better Schools

King K. P. (1999). Unleashing technology in the classroom: What adult basic education teachers and organizations need to know. Adult Basic Education, 9, 162–175

King K. P. (2000). The adult ESL experience: Facilitating perspective transformation in the classroom. Adult Basic Education, 10, 69–89

King K. P. (2003). Understanding adult learners amidst societal crisis: Learning and grief in tandem. Journal of Continuing and Higher Education, 51, 13–23

King K. P. (2004). Both sides now: Examining transformative learning and professional development of educators. Innovative Higher Education, 29, 155–174

King, K. P. (2009). The handbook of the evolving research of transformative learning based on the Learning Activities Survey. Lap-information Age Pub. Incorporated.

Kolb, D. A. 1984. Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall.

Kolb, A., & Kolb, D. (2005). Learning styles and learning spaces: Enhancing experiential learning in higher education. Academy of Management and Learning Education, 4(2), 193-212.

McKeown, J. S. (2009). The first time effect: the impact of study abroad on college student intellectual development. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

McLeod, M., & Wainright, P. (2009). Researching the study abroad experience. Journal of Studies in International Education, 13(1), 66-71,

Mapp, S. (2012). Effect of short-term study abroad programs on students’ cultural adaptability, Journal of Social Work Education, 48 (4), 727-737

Medina-Lopez-Portillo, A. (2004). Intercultural learning assessment: The link between program duration and the development of intercultural sensitivity. Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad, 10(fall), 179-199

Mezirow, J. (1991). Transformative dimensions of adult learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Mezirow, J. (1997). Transformative learning: Theory to practice. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 1997(74), 5-12.

Mezirow, J. (2003). Transformative learning as discourse. Journal of Transformative Education, 1(1), 58-63.

Mezirow, J. (2011). Transformative learning in practice: Insights from community, workplace, and higher education. John Wiley & Sons.

Montrose, L. (2002). International study and experiential learning: The academic context. Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad, 8, 1-15.

Pagano, M., & Roselle, L. (2009). Beyond reflection through an academic lens: Refraction and international experiential education. Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad. n.v. 217-229.

Pedersen, P. (2010). Assessing intercultural effectiveness outcomes in a year-long study abroad program. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 34, 70-80.

Ritz, A. (2011). The educational value of short-term study abroad programs as course components. Journal of Teaching in Travel & Tourism, 11(2), 164-178.

Schattle, H. (2009). Global citizenship in theory and practice. The handbook of practice and research in study abroad: Higher education and the quest for global citizenship, 3-20.

Skelly, J. M. (2009). Fostering Engagement. The Handbook of Practice and Research in Study Abroad: Higher Education and the Quest for Global Citizenship, 21.

Tarrant, M. (2010). A conceptual framework for exploring the role of studies abroad in nurturing global citizenship. Journal of Studies in International Education, 14(5), 433-451.

Tarrant, M. (2014). The added value of study abroad: Fostering a global citizenry. Journal of Studies in International Education, 18(2), 141-161.

Taylor, E. (1998). The theory and practice of transformative learning: A critical review. Columbo: ERIC Clearinghouse on Adult Career and Vocational Education.

Taylor, E. (2008). Transformative learning theory. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 119(Fall), 5-15.

Vogt, J.W. (1976). Wandering: Youth and travel behavior. Annals of Tourism Research, 4(1), 25-41




How to Cite

Strange, H. ., & Gibson, H. (2017). An investigation of experiential and transformative learning in study abroad programs. Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad, 29(1), 85–100.