Activity- and Experience-Focused Discourses


Activity-Based Learning
Activity-Based Teaching


Insisting that “doing” be part of the educational experience

Principal Metaphors

  • Knowledge is … action-based and action-altering competencies
  • Knowing is … applying; using
  • Learner is … an actor; a doer
  • Learning is … interpreting; developing abilities
  • Teaching is … formatting (activities, challenges, and situations)




Apart from those that might be described as “radical Mentalisms” (i.e., discourses that consider learning only in terms of transferring information into the learner), Activity- and Experience-Focused Discourses are common across virtually all modern conceptions of learning and teaching. That said, the rationales for activity and experience differ dramatically, with one extreme casting it as little more than opportunity to consolidate mental constructs through practice and illustration, and another extreme equating one’s action/doing with one’s learning/knowing. The latter are usually instances of:
  • Experientialism – a perspective on and model of formal education that focuses on experiences, based on the conviction that experience is needed to relate concepts and skills to one another while situating them in one’s existence
  • Experience-Based Learning – an oft-encountered phrase that is sometimes used to name specific theories, frequently mentioned as an important quality of formal learning settings, and that almost always points to advice to ensure learners’ prior experiences are incorporated into educational efforts
Many Activity- and Experience-Focused Discourses are developed around a secondary focus. Examples include:
  • Action Teaching (Scott L. Plous, 2000s) – a model of teaching that combines two commitments: (i) incorporating engaging activities into academic study and (ii) integrating societal issues
  • Problem Solving – a phrase that is used to label many different emphases and practices within discussions of learning and teaching. Most commonly, Problem Solving refers to engagement with non-routine exercises, which is typically seen to support Deep Learning (see Deep vs. Surface Learning) through contextualizing subject matter while requiring learners to think divergently. Opinions vary dramatically over what constitutes good teaching practice around Problem Solving, but empirical evidence points toward precision (and/or opportunities to seek clarity), nuanced scaffolding, instruction in decomposing complicated scenarios, tight linkages to current topics of study, personal relevance, and appropriate social supports,


Activity- and Experience-Focused Discourses are part of common sense in contemporary formal education. Few would argue against attending to them – and this superficial point of agreement across discourses masks yawning and debilitating divides in belief and practice.


  • Action Teaching
  • Experience-Based Learning
  • Experientialism
  • Problem Solving

Map Location

Please cite this article as:
Davis, B., & Francis, K. (2021). “Activity- and Experience-Focused Discourses” in Discourses on Learning in Education.

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