Role of self-awareness in learning

Principal Metaphors

As detailed below, Introspection is not a theory of learning. However, introspective processes are invoked in many perspectives, especially Embodiment Discourses. Perhaps ironically, the metaphors most commonly invoked across the Introspection literature bear a strong resemblance to those associated with the Illumination Metaphor, whereby one’s mental state is interpreted as something seeable – that is, able to be watched/monitored and overseen/controlled:
  • Knowledge is … aspects of experience available to consciousness
  • Knowing is … being self-aware
  • Learner is … a self-analyst (individual)
  • Learning is … analysis of the contents of consciousness
  • Teaching is … N/A




Introspection is the examination of one’s own mental states, which includes awareness sensory, bodily, cognitive, emotional, and other states. It is most often considered as a means of learning, operating alongside perception, reason, memory, and testimony. As such, it is usually encountered as an aspect of other theories (e.g., Reflective Practice, Metacognition) rather than being engaged as a theory itself.


As a research method, Introspection has many limitations, which are most often linked to the unreliability of subjective reporting (rooted in, e.g., self-deception, distraction, suggestibility, outright lies, etc.), including the obvious fact that asking people about their states of mind will affect those states of mind. Introspection thus fell into disrepute many decades ago. Nevertheless, methods associated with Introspection are still widely used, under such names as self-report surveys, interviews, and think-aloud protocols. They are also foundational to several discourses, including the Reflective Practice, Phenomenology, and Metacognition.

Authors and/or Prominent Influences

Wilhelm Wundt; Edward Titchener

Status as a Theory of Learning

Introspection is not a theory of learning, and it is not purported to be one. Opinions vary dramatically on its utility in both research and education, but it has been utilized as a tool to investigate learning (e.g., in Phenomenology) and as a strategy to support learning (e.g., via Metacognition). Critically, proponents of Introspection rarely attend to its underlying metaphors.

Status as a Theory of Teaching

Introspection is not a theory of teaching. Some perspectives with strong interests in affecting learning, such as Metacognition, have developed teaching emphases that make heavy use of introspective processes.

Status as a Scientific Theory

Introspection does not meet the requirements of a scientific theory.

Map Location

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

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