Discourses on Learning in Education

What is learning? How does it happen? Can it be made to happen?

It turns out that these questions have been answered in many, many ways. This site offers a survey of some of those responses, aiming to highlight key differences among beliefs about learning and their entailments for teaching and research. Designed more as a dictionary than an encyclopedia, the site includes summaries of more than 1000 discourses and subdiscourses, providing information on their foci, themes, imagery, and supporting evidence. Brief genealogical details are also offered, especially for those discourses with diverse interpretations and/or multiple subdiscourses.

The heart of this site is a “map,” through which convergences and divergences among discourses on learning are highlighted. Our hope is that this composite image might contribute to the advancement of formal education by supporting more informed and critical discussions of learning … and, ultimately, to teaching practices and research emphases that are infused with nuanced and defensible principles of learning.

The map is an evolving form. As new insights into learning emerge, and as we learn more about what is already known, the map (and the summaries behind it) will be revised and updated.

Go to the map >


Our logo is a GIF generated from four separate images, each of which serves as a visual metaphor for a major cluster of discourses on learning. (Roll over the images for descriptions and interpretations.)

The first element, a unidirectional arrow, is perhaps the most ubiquitous of icons associated with commonsensical understandings of learning – and, hence, with popular conceptions of formal education. Usually pointed rightward and/or upward, the unidirectional arrow is implicit in references to progress through a subject matter, assumed in a cause–effect models of instruction, rendered literal in teachers’ acts of pointing, and enacted in teachers’ efforts to direct, deliver, and transmit.
The second element combines three images that came to be prominently associated with progressivist and reform educational movements in through the 20th century – namely triumphant individual, organic structure, and multiple directionality. This icon is thus intended to highlight emergent attentiveness to learner’s agency, the active body, and multiple paths of learning.
The third element is reflective of currently popular images involving clusters of people with raised arms and/or joined hands. The integrity of the individual is preserved, but that integrity is situated among the many. The intention here is to signal a simultaneity of individual/self and collective/society – which, among discourses on learning, is typically articulated in terms of participation, conscientization, situatedness, and co-dependencies.
The fourth element of our logo is a stylized decentralized network, which is a mode of connectivity that has no specific center but, in a very pragmatic sense, comprises many centers. Decentralized networks might also be described as networks of networks, summoning notions of multiple levels of activity, nested systems, and intertwining agents – all of which helps to explain why decentralized networks are recognized as ‘fingerprints’ of complex learning systems.