Meaningful Learning


Strategies and emphases to support personal meaning

Principal Metaphors

  • Knowledge is … scope of possible actions and interpretations
  • Knowing is … interpreting (preferably in effective and appropriate ways)
  • Learner is … an integrator (individual)
  • Learning is … integrating (new details with established understandings)
  • Teaching is … personalizing




Meaningful Learning (which should not be confused with Meaningful Learning Theory) is typically invoked as a contrast to Rote Learning. Explicitly, it refers mainly the comprehensibility of the topics under study, but the term is actually used most often as an implicit reference to classroom strategies that emphasize building on established understandings, learner engagement, inquiry, and empowering learners. Subdiscourses include:
  • Rational Learning – Meaningful Learning that also clearly understood, with regard to both the relationships among the components of the construct and the relationship of the construct to other constructs


Because Meaningful Learning is most often encountered as an alternative to traditional standardized education, generally, and Rote Learning specifically, in popular debates it is often clustered (unfairly) with uncritical and indefensible theories such as Discovery Learning and Learning Styles Theories. Understood for the simple message it offers, it’s difficult to dispute the importance of approaching topics in relevant, comprehensible ways. At the same time, advocates of Meaningful Learning could help to sidestep such inappropriate associations by linking their discussions more explicitly to Embodiment Discourses.

Authors and/or Prominent Influences


Status as a Theory of Learning

Meaningful Learning is not a theory of learning, in the sense of a perspective that offers insight into the complex dynamics of cognition.

Status as a Theory of Teaching

Meaningful Learning is perhaps best interpreted as a moral statement on appropriate emphases within formal education. It is a specific stance on the matter of how concepts should be encountered in schools. However, it would be inappropriate to call it a theory of teaching.

Status as a Scientific Theory

There has been a considerable research contrasting Meaningful Learning and Rote Learning. As might be expected, Meaningful Learning is associated with better attitudes, longer retention, transferability of learning, and other desirable effects. However, since it’s a practice rather than a perspective, it would be inappropriate to classify Meaningful Learning as scientific.


  • Rational Learning

Map Location

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

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