Definitions

Learning

It appears that the sole point of agreement across discourses we researched is that learning has something to do with change. Beyond that detail, all other matters – including such core issues as what changes and how it changes – are subject to very different, often incompatible interpretations. For the most part, these notions are framed with metaphors, which are more often implicit than explicit. The diversity of the metaphors used to characterize learning can be gleaned from the following: getting; encodingconnecting; construing; adapting; participating; expanding the possible; living.

Cognition

Meanings of the word cognition are widely varied and dependent on who is using it to talk about what. In relation to “learning,” cognition is used in three different and incompatible ways: firstly, cognition is sometimes used as a synonym to learning; secondly, it is sometimes used to mean something like “thinking” – that is, as a process that is distinct from but a complement to learning; finally, sometimes cognition is used as a label for grander category that includes learning along with other processes that are not typically associated with learning (e.g., maintaining chemical and hormonal balances in the brain). For the most part, we didn’t dwell on the matter unless we felt a discourse’s use of the word cognition might be unexpected or misinterpreted.

Discourse

The word discourse is used in its most general sense on this site. That is, the phrase “discourses on learning” is intended to encompass any description of learning, whether implicit or explicit, written or spoken, or formal or informal. We opted for “discourse” instead of “theory” (which was our original focus) because, from the beginning of the project, it was obvious that “theory” is subject to diverse and conflicted interpretations, especially across its unbridgeable meanings between the phrases “folk theory” and “scientific theory.” Owing to this diversity, we opted for a term that already reaches across scientific perspectives, broad philosophies, everyday wisdom, research domains, personal opinions, and professional practices.

Scientific

The word scientific does not have a standardized definition. Our working definition is developed around four criteria that are commonly associated with robust inquiry. Specifically, on this site, a “scientific discourse” is one that is …

  • explicit about its assumptions (including metaphors and imagery used to describe learning);
  • associated with a body of replicable evidence, none of which flatly contradicts the discourse;
  • open to revision (or rejection) in the face of new evidence or interpretation;
  • preferably (but not necessarily) consistent with scientific discourses that address related matters.