Non-Trivial Constructivisms


Developmental Learning


Ongoing production and refinement of meaning

Principal Metaphors

  • Knowledge is … sum of already-established construals/constructs
  • Knowing is … personal sense derived from individual experience
  • Learner is … a meaning-maker
  • Learning is … construing or construction
  • Teaching is … supporting sense-making


1720s / 1960s


Non-Trivial Constructivisms encompass a range of learning theories that invoke a “learning as construing” – vs. a “learning as constructing” – metaphor. The construing–constructing distinction is critical, and it became an issue because the French verb construire can be translated as either “to construe” (i.e., to integrate elements to make sense of) or “to construct” (i.e., to build something). Original non-English authors of the theories intended the former, but early English translators opted for the latter – and it stuck. Non-Trivial Constructivisms were among the first Coherence Discourses, and they were explicitly intended as refutations of the assumptions and assertions of Correspondence Discourses (including the “knowledge as object” metaphor that goes along with “learning as construction”). Associated discourses include:
  • Organization Theory (Organizational Theory of Memory) – (George Armitage Miller, 1950s) – an umbrella category that reaches across those perspectives on learning that suggests it involves the constant organization and reorganization of information in ways that enable recall and interpretive reach. The category is roughly synonymous to Non-Trival Constructivisms.
Important notions associated with Non-Trivial Constructivisms include:
  • Construal – one’s evolving interpretation of associated experiences, often coupled with the Sensemaking Metaphor and/or the Meaning-Making Metaphor. The notion is used as an alternative to “construct” in a deliberate effort to detach from building-based metaphors.
  • Knowing – About a century ago, theorists of learning began to use the gerund knowing instead of the noun knowledge to point to the always evolving, intricately networked, inevitably unique, and necessarily engaged nature of personal knowledge. Knowing was understood to be knitted into one’s being, defining of one’s identity.
Noteworthy, some of the defining elements of Non-Trivial Constructivisms date back centuries, albeit that some were phrased in quite different terms:
  • Apperception (diffuse and centuries old; Johann Friedrich Herbart offered a coherent explication in the early 1800s) – conscious awareness of perception – that is, the process of assimilating a new perception with what one has already learned. Associated constructs include:
    • Apperceptive Mass – all that one has already learned, and with which any new perception must fit if it is to be understood – which means that one’s Apperceptive Mass both frames what one is able to perceive and constrains what one is able to learn


The biggest problem with Non-Trivial Constructivisms is that the term “Constructivism” is commonly used to refer to theories that are flatly contradictory. Most formal versions are Coherence Discourses, but some are Correspondence Discourses. To further complicate matters, most are strictly theories of learning, but some focus mainly on teaching. Often critics are unaware of this breadth of interpretation, and criticisms can thus be shallow or misdirected. That point in mind, the two most common accusations against Non-Trivial Constructivisms are that they may be solipsistic (i.e., aligned with the notion that the self is the only thing that exists) and/or relativistic (i.e., aligned with the notion that there are no absolute truths).


  • Apperception
  • Apperceptive Mass
  • Construal
  • Knowing
  • Organization Theory (Organizational Theory of Memory)

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Please cite this article as:
Davis, B., & Francis, K. (2023). “Non-Trivial Constructivisms” in Discourses on Learning in Education.

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