Learner Trait Discourses


Interpreting learning and teaching in terms of the characteristics of the individual learner

Principal Metaphors

  • Knowledge is … established, external truths
  • Knowing is … measurable performance
  • Learner is … an individual
  • Learning is … acquiring; attaining
  • Teaching is … instructing




In popular terms, the word “learner” is overwhelmingly interpreted in terms of an individual person. Consequently, “learning” is understood in terms of changes to individual possibility, and that notion serves as a grounding assumption of Learner Trait Discourses. Concisely, if “learning” is narrowly defined in terms of what a “learner” does, it follows that the characteristics of the learner will define the learning that happens. (Compare: Identity Discourses.)


Learner Trait Discourses tend to cast the individual learner as an isolated and insulated entity whose learning is determined by largely immutable qualities. These discourses have been used to differentiate among and segregate learners, to rationalize regimes of measurement and comparison, to explain away differences in achievement and aptitude, and to further entrench structures and emphases of traditional (standardized) education. Critical attentiveness to underlying assumptions on learning and learners is rarely part of the discourses.

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

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