Meaning-Making Metaphor


Individual generating meaning in/of social contexts

Principal Metaphors

  • Knowledge is … scope of possible meanings and interpretations
  • Knowing is … meaning
  • Learner is … a coherence seeker (individual in a collective)
  • Learning is … making meaning
  • Teaching is … orienting perceptions and juxtaposition experiences




Within the Meaning-Making Metaphor, learning is interpreted in terms of making sense of self, experience, and relationships. The notion falls short of a theory, but it is often invoked in a manner that suggests it is explanatory. That said, the Meaning-Making Metaphor serves as a component of many theories of learning – especially Embodiment Discourses and some Embeddedness Discourses (where “social meaning-making” is a common research focus). Its popularity among Coherence Discourses is likely linked to the way it implies agency on the part of the learner.


The Meaning-Making Metaphor is typically presented/engaged as a literal description (rather than a metaphorical interpretation) of what is going on when learning happens. As such, it lacks some critical elements of a full-blown theory, even though it shares some core assumptions and assertions with prominent Embodiment Discourses and Embeddedness Discourses. Associated discourses include:
  • Inferentialism (Robert Brandom, 2000s) – a theory of meaning-making that foregrounds the defining premise of Coherence Discourses (i.e., that “meaning” is not a stand-alone phenomenon; it arises in the coherence among elements of a system)

Authors and/or Prominent Influences

Viktor Frankl; Neil Postman; Charles Weingartner; Robert Kegan

Status as a Theory of Learning

The Meaning-Making Metaphor is not a theory of learning. Rather than engaging critically with the metaphoric entailments of “meaning-making,” the notion is typically presented/engaged as a literal description of what is going on when learning happens. Lacking such elements, the Meaning-Making Metaphor tends to operate more as a principle of learning – that is, as a metaphor that is invoked by many theories, but that is not a theory in and of itself.

Status as a Theory of Teaching

Advocates of the Meaning-Making Metaphor have assembled some fine-grained advice on supporting meaning-making and using it as a focus in a range of contexts, especially ones dealing with social relationship. While not a theory of teaching, then, the Meaning-Making Metaphor has proven to be a useful lens to view, interpret, and inform teaching situations.

Status as a Scientific Theory

The Meaning-Making Metaphor is a figurative suggestion that might be taken up by scientific theories, but that itself cannot be construed as a scientific theory.


  • Inferentialism

Map Location

Please cite this article as:
Davis, B., & Francis, K. (2021). “Meaning-Making Metaphor” in Discourses on Learning in Education.

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