Expansive Learning


Individuals transforming an activity system (object-oriented, collective, socially situated, and culturally mediated human activity)

Principal Metaphors

  • Knowledge … the ever-expanding horizon of possibilities
  • Knowing is … acting (within an activity system)
  • Learner is … an actor (individual) and/or a system of activity (organization)
  • Learning is … adapting /fitting
  • Teaching is … modeling, coaching




Most theories associated with formal education assume a backdrop of a stable activity system (part of which is an established curriculum with clear, standard learning outcomes). Expansive Learning, a component of Activity Theory, breaks from this backdrop in two key ways: (1) it sees individuals and organizations as constantly learning, and (2) it recognizes that some of the most important transitions involve new and not-yet-known forms of activity. Expansive Learning is thus a sort of collective activity that is focused on transforming an activity system, opening a wider horizon of possibilities.


As might be surmised from the above synopsis, Expansive Learning is not well fitted to the structures and emphases of most formal educational systems. Unsurprisingly, it has not gained much of a foothold there.

Authors and/or Prominent Influences

Yrjö Engeström

Status as a Theory of Learning

Expansive Learning is not a theory of learning in and of itself.

Status as a Theory of Teaching

Whereas Activity Theory is solidly a theory of learning, Expansive Learning is more a theory of teaching. This point is most evident in its “cycles of expansive learning,” which are more prescriptive than descriptive – that is, they are designed to offer direct advice across a process that begins with noticing new possibilities and culminates in codifying new rules.

Status as a Scientific Theory

Expansive Learning is a component of Activity Theory, which is a well-established scientific theory of learning.

Map Location

Please cite this article as:
Davis, B., & Francis, K. (2019). “Expansive Learning” in Discourses on Learning in Education. https://learningdiscourses.com.

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