The structure of one’s knowledge

Principal Metaphors

  • Knowledge is … assembled object
  • Knowing is … what one has put together
  • Learner is … a builder (individual)
  • Learning is … assembling, putting together
  • Teaching is … giving access; making components available




Foundationalism is a formalization of the Construction Metaphor. Invoking the image of a building, the perspective argues that justified beliefs rest atop other justified beliefs, all of which ultimately sit atop a foundation of unquestionable (or, at least, unquestioned) truth.


Foundationalism is one of the uninterrogated orthodoxies of traditional education. Although little more than a metaphor, it serves as a truth to define sets of basics/fundaments, to orient curriculum development, and to justify regimes of testing.

Authors and/or Prominent Influences

Aristotle; René Descartes

Status as a Theory of Learning

Foundationalism belongs among Folk Theories.

Status as a Theory of Teaching

While not a theory of teaching, Foundationalism is evident in pervasive interpretations of what is to be learned in terms of an edifice with a “strong foundations.” That notion is integral to most of current educational discourse.

Status as a Scientific Theory

In spite of its popularity and resilience, Foundationalism meets none of our requirements for a scientific theory.

Map Location

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

⇦ Back to Map
⇦ Back to List