Learning Cycle Metaphor


The iterative dynamic of learning

Principal Metaphors

  • Knowledge is … ever-changing, iteratively generated scope of possibilities
  • Knowing is … current possibilities
  • Learning is … any dynamic, adaptive system
  • Learning is … iterative elaboration
  • Teaching is … N/A




The metaphor of a Learning Cycle is an explicit alternative to the imagery implicit in linearized conceptions of learning. Rather than casting learning as an accumulative process, the metaphor of a Learning Cycle channels attention to the roles experience and reflection. That is, learning is imaged not as lines, steps, and progress, but as iterative loops, elaborations, and growth. This imagery is common across Coherence Discourses, and it is especially prominent among Developmental Discourses and those perspectives that foreground action and reflection.


The notion of a Learning Cycle does not offer not much to critique – as might be interpreted from its ubiquity across Coherence Discourses.

Authors and/or Prominent Influences

Diffuse. As noted, the notion is invoked in virtually all Coherence Discourses.

Status as a Theory of Learning

A Learning Cycle is a principle of learning that is invoked by almost all Coherence Discourses. It is a metaphor/image used to describe a specific learning dynamic, but it falls short of a being a full-blown theory of learning.

Status as a Theory of Teaching

A Learning Cycle is not a theory of teaching.

Status as a Scientific Theory

There is a substantial body of evidence supporting the utility of the metaphor of a Learning Cycle. Perhaps the strongest and most explicit support has been provided in empirical research associated with Complex Systems Research.

Map Location

Please cite this article as:
Davis, B., & Francis, K. (2020). “Learning Cycle Metaphor” in Discourses on Learning in Education. https://learningdiscourses.com.

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