Awareness of one’s experiences in the present moment

Principal Metaphors

  • Knowledge is … all states of harmonious well-being
  • Knowing is … harmonious being
  • Learner is … a self-aware agent
  • Learning is … achieving harmony
  • Teaching is … guiding




Mindfulness refers to a broad category of concepts and practices that have been rapidly gaining popularity over recent decades. Within education, definitions and applications tend to revolve around the meditation practices associated with being focused on and aware of one’s experiences in the present moment, often with particular attention on monitoring and analyzing disturbing thoughts and emotions. Such practices are linked to improved psychological health, self-knowledge, social aptitude. Associated discourses include:
  • Contemplative Practices (Contemplative Education) – Sometimes considered synonymous to Mindfulness, Contemplative Practices are deliberate engagements aimed at the cultivation of conscious awareness and conscientious action (see the graphic below for illustrative examples). Typically, Contemplative Practices attend strongly to embodiment, thus refusing simplistic separations of knowing, doing, and being.
  • Affective Learning – Encompassing emotions, values, affiliations, motivations, and attitudes, Affective Learning is an umbrella term that can be applied to any activity intended to promote emotional well-being.
  • Holistic Education (Holism) (Jan Christiaan Smuts, 1920s) – Both a philosophy and a movement, Holistic Education is concerned with the integrated development of all aspects of the learner (frequently expressed in terms of “mind, body, and spirit,” but sometimes emphasizing social/interpersonal relationships and cultural/democratic sensibilities).
  • Mindful Learning (Ellen Langer, 2010s) – Based on a conception of “mindful” as being able to draw novel distinctions and offer inventive interpretations, Mindful Learning involves developing greater sensitivities to one’s habits of thinking and one’s context while being oriented toward new, more expansive and less constraining possibilities for knowing, doing, and being.


As with many popular trends, the Mindfulness movement has its issues. For the most part, the criticisms surrounding Mindfulness tend to be linked to matters of cultural appropriation. While relatively few commentators see Mindfulness as inherently problematic, many see the attempt to transpose a practice that is grounded in Buddhist ethics into a culture that is radically individualistic as naïve, disrespectful, and potentially damaging. Other critics have pointed to the similarity between traditional education’s conception of the model student (quiet, focused, etc.) and the ideals of many Mindfulness practices.

Authors and/or Prominent Influences

Thích Nhất Hahn; Richard J. Davidson; John Kabat-Zinn

Status as a Theory of Learning

While not readily placed in western categories, Mindfulness is appropriately described as a theory of learning – albeit concerned with categories of learning that are not typically considered in discussions of formal education (in which matters of emotional well-being are typically dissociated from matters of conceptual understanding).

Status as a Theory of Teaching

Mindfulness is not a theory of teaching, although some currently popular versions of it in education position Mindfulness as a curriculum focus and/or learning outcome.

Status as a Scientific Theory

Mindfulness and its associated practices are established as important themes in psychological and medical research. Multiple meta-analyses of published research have suggested that, properly engaged, they can consistently contribute to significant improvements to mental well-being and are often associated with improvements in physical health. The research in education is generally more diverse and less robust, but published results are usually reflective of the broader research literature.


  • Affective Learning
  • Contemplative Practices
  • Holistic Education (Holism)
  • Mindful Learning

Map Location

Please cite this article as:
Davis, B., & Francis, K. (2021). “Mindfulness” in Discourses on Learning in Education. https://learningdiscourses.com.

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