Categorization Strategies


Strategies used to recognize, differentiate, associate, and understand ideas and objects

Principal Metaphors

  • Knowledge is … array of useful categories
  • Knowing is … appropriate categorization
  • Learner is … a categorizer
  • Learning is … developing categories
  • Teaching is … signaling differences and associations




Discourses on Categorization Strategies focus on the processes used to recognize, differentiate, associate, and understand ideas and objects. Several strategies have been identified, and all appear to be strongly associated with cultural influences (i.e., personal preferences for specific modes are likely dependent on one’s situation). The following are prominent in discussions of categorization:
  • Classical Categorization (ancient Greeks, 4th century BCE) – focuses on similar and different properties (e.g., birds have feathers, lay eggs, have beaks, etc.), and it is often associated with rule-based strategies for assigning ideas and objects to groups. This approach is foundational to many Modes of Reasoning, especially deductive logic.
  • Narrative-Based Clustering (Alexander Luria, 1950s) relies on personal experiences and pragmatic uses to categorize.
  • Prototype Theory (Eleanor Rosch, Brent Berlin, Paul Kay, 1970s) relies on generalized, abstract “average” (e.g., robins and starlings are more prototypical birds than ostriches and penguins).
  • Exemplar Theory (D.L. Hintzman, G. Ludlam, 1980s) relies on specific instances, whereby an actual member of a category is used as the basis to determine whether other instances belong.


At least since the Enlightenment, it has been assumed that the capacity for formal, deductive logic is what definitively separates humanity from non-human species. A corollary of that assumption is that humans are logical beings – which, on closer examination, is demonstrably false. Discourses on Categorization Strategies have provided some important insight into the multiple (often non-logical) ways that humans parse their worlds, affording more varied and nuanced insights into how learning happens.

Authors and/or Prominent Influences


Status as a Theory of Learning

Discourses on Categorization Strategies provide important insights into how humans learn. That is, while it would be a stretch to describe them of theories of learning, they are integral to understanding learning – and, typically, are explicitly incorporated into contemporary scientific learning theories.

Status as a Theory of Teaching

Discourses on Categorization Strategies are not theories of teaching.

Status as a Scientific Theory

Discourses associated with Categorization Strategies have been extensively researched and fulfill all our criteria for scientific theories.


  • Classical Categorization
  • Exemplar Theory
  • Narrative-Based Clustering
  • Prototype Theory

Map Location

Please cite this article as:
Davis, B., & Francis, K. (2020). “Categorization Strategies” in Discourses on Learning in Education.

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