Improving learning by talking through current understandings

Principal Metaphors

  • Knowledge is … declarative information
  • Knowing is … recalling
  • Learner is … articulator
  • Learning is … expressing and revising
  • Teaching is … listening




A Self-Explanation is any attempt by a learner to explicitly lay out current understandings and interpretations of a concept or task. From the perspective of the learner, Self-Explanations are seen to support integration of new learning with existing knowledge, revision of previous understandings, and improvement of problem-solving skills. From the perspective of the teacher, a learner’s Self-Explanations can afford insight into otherwise inaccessible sense-making.


Self-Explanation is a formalization of the age-old advice to “talk your way through it.” It comes as no surprise that gaps in knowledge might reveal themselves when one is compelled to make current understandings explicit. Some critically minded educators have argued that Self-Explanation has gained popularity not because it represents an important insight or innovation innovative, but because it runs counter to the entrenched practice of holding learners silent.

Authors and/or Prominent Influences

Michelene T.H. Chi

Status as a Theory of Learning

Self-Explanation is not concerned with understanding the dynamic complexities of learning.

Status as a Theory of Teaching

Effectively, Self Explanation is advice for teaching – whether teaching another or teaching oneself.

Status as a Scientific Theory

There is considerable evidence that Self Explanation is effective across a wide range of disciplines and across many age/grade levels. However, we have not characterized it as a “fully scientific” discourse because it is most often presented as straightforward advice for teaching, rather than a well-theorized protocol that is grounded in the scientific literature on learning.

Map Location

Please cite this article as:
Davis, B., & Francis, K. (2020). “Self-Explanation” in Discourses on Learning in Education.

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