Transformative Learning: Positive Identity Through Prison-Based Higher Education in England and Wales

Pike, Anne and Hopkins, Susan (2019). Transformative Learning: Positive Identity Through Prison-Based Higher Education in England and Wales. International Journal of Bias, Identity and Diversity in Education, 4(1) pp. 48–65.



On entering prison, prisoners lose their home, their possessions and their very identity as a person, becoming just a number. Transformative learning through Prison-based Higher-level Distance Learning (PHDL) can be the vehicle by which prisoners begin to find a new positive identity as a student. This article argues that PHDL, post-secondary self-study using distance-learning materials, is potentially transformative, leading to positive changes in personal and social identity and making a positive difference to learners' lives during and after incarceration. The study on which this article is based, investigates perceptions of transformative learning for ex-prisoners and prisoners (men and women) who were due for release from 10 prisons in England and Wales. Using the ‘voices' of the participants, this article describes their learning journeys, the motivation to study and the network of support required to overcome the extreme difficulties of study in prison. Although results varied from prison to prison, participation in PHDL produced psychological outcomes including, increased self-awareness, positive identity and resilience. The article concludes that PHDL encourages positive personal change in incarcerated students through transformative learning, with raised hope and realistic aspirations for continuation of learning, employment and a brighter future upon release.

Viewing alternatives

Download history


Public Attention

Altmetrics from Altmetric

Number of Citations

Citations from Dimensions

Item Actions



  • Item ORO ID
  • 51754
  • Item Type
  • Journal Item
  • ISSN
  • 2379-7355
  • Project Funding Details
  • Funded Project NameProject IDFunding Body
    ESRC Centre for Social and Economic Research on Innovation in Genomics.RES-145-28-0002ESRC (Economic and Social Research Council)
  • Keywords
  • Education, prison, corrections, identity, transformative, distance learning,
  • Academic Unit or School
  • Institute of Educational Technology (IET)
  • Depositing User
  • Anne Pike