Interpreting learning in terms of transformations and differences

Principal Metaphors

As developed in the Synopsis, below, Change is universally seen as an aspect or an indicator of learning, but there is scant agreement on what changes or how change happens. That means that metaphors for knowledge, knowing, learners, and teaching are all dependent on specific discourses, and the only element that makes sense to mention here is:
  • Learning is … change




Perhaps the solitary point of agreement across all the discourses on learning reviewed on this site is that learning involves Change. That said, Change appears to be invoked in three distinct ways:
  • Change as part of a figurative interpretation of learning: In some cases, the phenomenon that is seen to change is figurative – that is, Change operates as a metaphor in combination with another metaphor. Examples include the other two entries in the Ubiquitous Metaphors of Learning cluster:
  • Change as a synonym for learning: In some discourses, “learning” is used interchangeably with a synonym of “change.” In most of these cases, the phenomenon that is seen to be changing is the learner. A partial list includes:
Associated discourses include:
  • Kaizen (Japan) – a Japanese word that might be translated as “continuous change for the better.” It is a notion borrowed by formal education from business and manufacturing, used to refer to not just to individual learning, but to steady, incremental improvements to all aspects of the educational process.
  • Theory of Change (Theories of Change; ToC) – any pragmatic perspective concerned with prompting specific transformations. Typically, a Theory of Change involves (1) recommendations for defining short-term, medium-term, and long-term goals, (2) advice on articulation of rationale statements, (3) strategies for translating goals into a plan of action (“outcomes pathway”), and (4) means to monitor and evaluate progress toward goals.
  • Transition Management (Netherlands Government, 2000s) – a systems-based (see Complex Systems Research), participatory approach to collective change that involves attentiveness to values and beliefs, clear articulation of goals and purposes, and necessary learnings to enable the process


Given the different ways that Change is used across discourses on learning (as indicated above), this entry is difficult to locate on our map. We have included it among Ubiquitous Metaphors of Learning because it is invoked in every single one of our entries, even though not all usages can be immediately identified as metaphorical.

Authors and/or Prominent Influences


Status as a Theory of Learning/Teaching

As indicated above, Change is invoked across both Correspondence Discourses and Coherence Discourses, and it appears to be as prominent among discourses on influencing learning (i.e., teaching) as it is among discourses on interpreting learning – meaning that it spans our vertical axis as well. Concisely, while Change is most often articulated as a principle of (or a synonym to) learning, within discussions of education it appears to be as much about teaching as it is about learning.

Status as a Scientific Theory

As it is more a principle than a theory or discourse, efforts to assess the scientific status of Change only make sense within the discourses in which it is invoked – that is, and with some irony, in terms of the ways it is used in association with other principles.  


  • Kaizen
  • Theory of Change (Theories of Change; ToC)
  • Transition Management

Map Location

Please cite this article as:
Davis, B., & Francis, K. (2023). “Change” in Discourses on Learning in Education.

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