John M. Dirkx has demonstrated a lifetime commitment to bridging theory and practice and his contributions span the related fields of adult education, workplace learning, and the education of adults within higher education.
Dirkx is recognized internationally as a thought leader within these related fields, especially within the area of transformative learning. He is currently on the editorial boards of the German Journal of Adult and Continuing Education and the Korean journal, Culture, Biography & Lifelong Learning; serves on the editorial boards of several journals located within North America; and is completing his term as editor of the Journal of Transformative Education. He is the author or co-author of 26 book chapters, 23 refereed articles, and many proceedings articles and conference presentations in adult and continuing education. He has served in leadership roles in the American Association for Adult and Continuing Education, the Commission of Professors in Adult and Continuing Education, the American Educational Research Association, the International Transformative Learning Conference, and the Academy of Human Resource Development.
Of his numerous contributions to the field, Dirkx’s greatest contribution has been to stimulate research and theory on the emotional and spiritual dimensions of transformative learning. Dirkx’s work in this area focuses on the psychodynamics of transformative learning and especially the role of unconscious processes in how we come to understand and make sense of emotionally-laden experiences within adult learning. His work has focused on the transformative dimensions of group work, online learning, short-term study abroad for graduate students and adult learners, and work-related learning. In these various studies, Dirkx has elaborated on the semi-autonomous nature of the powerful emotional dynamics that arise within adult learning and how educators can learn to work with these dynamics in a more constructive and meaningful way. In addition to the article he co-authored with Jack Mezirow and Patricia Cranton in 2006, Dirkx’s 1997 article “Nurturing soul in adult learning” is one of the most widely cited on this topic.
Dirkx has been able to stress the importance of adult learning to the broader field of higher education and online learning. As a scholar of adult and transformative learning, Dirkx has collaborated with international colleagues in a number of countries and has been involved in the establishment of a European transformative learning network that helps bridge North American and European contexts around adult learning. He designed and led numerous short-term study abroad programs for adults to the United Kingdom, Vietnam, and the Netherlands. His award of the Mildred B. Erickson Chair in Higher, Adult, and Lifelong Education provided three years of support for the study of short-term study abroad for graduate students, an area little studied in international education. Prior to his work in this area, very few within the study abroad field were paying attention to the fact that many adults were participating in short-term study abroad programs. His work has stimulated deeper interest in adult learning through these programs. Through studies, presentations, workshops, and teaching, Dirkx has fostered adoption of adult learning perspectives in higher education.
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