Coherence Discourses


Understanding truths as necessary elements of a systematically coherent whole

Principal Metaphors

  • Knowledge is … ecosystem of interdependent forms
  • Knowing is … doing, being
  • Learner is … an evolving coherence
  • Learning is … adapting, becoming
  • Teaching is … coupled engagement


Ancient, but only over the past few centuries as a prominent movement


Coherence Discourses are perspectives on learning that regard distinctions and descriptions as useful devices to make sense of the complex dynamics of learning, but it cautions that such devices are mere heuristic conveniences. Truths are not cast in terms of correspondences (e.g., between theories and actuality, or between subjective models and objective reality), but as coherences – that is, propositions that are part of a system, elements that contribute to and rely on a larger whole, interpretations that constitute a consistent, extensive body. In this frame, a statement is true to the extent that it is a viable element of a systemically coherent whole. In other words, Coherence Discourses suggest that truths do not exist independently or outside of a system – which is a commentary on humans’ understanding of reality, not a commentary on reality. Most Coherence Discourses employ biological and ecological metaphors, with dynamics framed in evolutionary terms and relationships framed in the vocabulary of couplings, complementarities, and nestings. Learning is typically interpreted as a continuous, iterative process. Constructs associated with many Coherence Discourses include:
  • Attunement (J.J. Gibson, 1960s) – a metaphor proposed as an alternative to the Correspondence Discourses suggestion learning involves some sort of internalization of an external reality. The metaphor of Attunement brings together such notions of responsiveness, fitness, mutual affect, co-determination.
  • Resonance – a metaphor proposed as an alternative to the Correspondence Discourses suggestion learning involves some sort of internalization of an external reality. The metaphor of Resonance highlights such notions as dynamic co-emergence and structural coupling.
Multiple domains make use of the notion of “coherence” in manners that are consistent with the construct of Coherence Theories. The following cluster of associated notions from Psychology are useful for illustrating this convention:
  • Coherence – in Psychology, meaningful and consistent associations among the elements of one’s mental world, including beliefs, ethical principles, and formal knowledge
  • Integration – a concept that is common across a range of contexts and topics in Psychology, generally used to signal processes of coordination, achievements of unified functioning, and/or absences of conflict/dissonance (e.g., among one’s motivations and one’s actions, or between a collective’s stated identifications and its members’ convictions)
  • Disintegration – the interruption or rupture of a structure that is necessary to a system’s fluid functioning
  • Disorganization – the disruption of coherent structure and/or activity – of thought or behavior


The reasonableness of the notion of Coherence Discourses (as contrasted with (Correspondence Discourses) has been debated for well over a century, especially among philosophers and mathematicians. There is no consensus, but opinion has evolved toward Coherence Discourses across most domains.


  • Attunement
  • Coherence
  • Disintegration
  • Disorganization
  • Integration
  • Resonance

Map Location

Please cite this article as:
Davis, B., & Francis, K. (2022). “Coherence Discourses” in Discourses on Learning in Education.

⇦ Back to Map
⇦ Back to List