Ensuring that learning is active, relevant, and practical

Principal Metaphors

  • Knowledge is … scope of possible action and interpretation
  • Knowing is … appropriate action/interpretation
  • Learner is … engaged agent (individual)
  • Learning is … engaging
  • Teaching is … formatting experiences




Learning-by-Doing is blends the principles that learning should be active (rather than passive), relevant (rather than seemingly arbitrary), and practical (rather than entirely theoretical). Learning-by-Doing is a foundational tenet of Progressivism and the many perspectives on influencing learning that are associated with the movement. An important associated discourse is:
  • Learn-As-You-Go – a formalized principle based that reflect a commonplace recognition – namely, that most of what one knows is learned in context as it becomes necessary. Learn-As-You-Go may be interpreted as a critique of models of education that are oriented to an unknown future and that are focused on generic competencies.
  • Minimalist Theory (Minimalism) (John M. Carroll, 1990s) – Picking up on the core themes of Learning-by-DoingMinimalist Theory recommends that learners be provided with minimal (and sometimes flawed and/or incomplete) information for the tasks to be performed. It is supported by a handful of studies that demonstrated that, in some situations, people provided with such information learn faster and perform better than those who have access to comprehensive materials and instruction.


Criticisms of Learning-by-Doing typically revolve around its impracticality and relative inefficiency for teaching traditional school topics.

Authors and/or Prominent Influences

John Dewey

Status as a Theory of Learning

Learning-by-Doing is more a principle of engagement than a theory of learning.

Status as a Theory of Teaching

Learning-by-Doing is principally concerned with formatting learner engagements, and so it is properly characterized as a theory of teaching.

Status as a Scientific Theory

Learning-by-Doing is not a “scientific theory,” per se. But it is a principle that is associated with a diversity of well-theorized and well researched theories of teaching.


  • Learn-As-You-Go
  • Minimalist Theory (Minimalism)

Map Location

Please cite this article as:
Davis, B., & Francis, K. (2023). “Learning-by-Doing” in Discourses on Learning in Education. https://learningdiscourses.com.

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