Conduit Metaphor


Conduit Model of Communication


Communication as exchanging meaning-objects

Principal Metaphors

  • Knowledge is … anything that can be put into words
  • Knowing is … communicating meaning
  • Learner is … an interlocuter
  • Learning is … decoding
  • Teaching is … encoding


Ancient, but academically studied in the 1970s


The Conduit Metaphor is a model of human communication that frames it as a three-step process by which (1) the sender puts thought-objects into word-containers and then (2) shunts those words to a receiver (through some manner of conduit), who (3) extracts the meaning from the word-containers.


The Conduit Metaphor is actually a general, common-sense, and pervasive model of communication in English, as opposed to a discourse that is mainly concerned with learning and teaching. It is usually implicit, and it’s the one invoked in such common phrases as “putting thoughts into words,” “relaying information,” “channels of communication,” and “unpacking what’s been said.” It is closely aligned with the Acquisition Metaphor, the Construction Metaphor, and other attitudes toward learning associated with a knowledge-as-object metaphor. And it’s decidedly bogus. It in no way exemplifies the actual dynamics of human communication. (To that point, contemporary understandings of communication are more about triggering or activating associations among interlocuters. When compatible webs are triggered for both speaker and hearer, clear communication is assumed to have occurred.)

Authors and/or Prominent Influences

Michael Reddy

Status as a Theory of Learning

As noted, the Conduit Metaphor is not a theory of learning. However, it is closely aligned with many, and perhaps most Folk Theories – including, most obviously, the Acquisition Metaphor and the Construction Metaphor.

Status as a Theory of Teaching

While the Conduit Metaphor is not a theory of teaching, it is the metaphor of communication that underpins virtually all discourses on teaching associated with Mentalisms.

Status as a Scientific Theory

Like all metaphors, the Conduit Metaphor is false, literally speaking. In most circumstances, that fact seems to be inconsequential. However, in the space of formal education, use of the metaphor is indefensible, especially as it prompts attentions and actions toward clarity of teachers’ explanations rather than nature of learners’ interpretations. That is, the discourse is decidedly unscientific.

Map Location

Please cite this article as:
Davis, B., & Francis, K. (2021). “Conduit Metaphor” in Discourses on Learning in Education.

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