Meaning-Centered Education

May 28, 2013 in M

Meaning-Centered Education



Meaning-Centered Education (MCE) is an educational philosophy that places meaning making at the center of the teaching-learning process. As a philosophy, MCE is a justified set of suppositions that provides a consistent and unified view of the inner world of the individual and his/her external world and the relationship between the two worlds. MCE views learning as the integration of knowing, acting and being in the world and MCE aims to develop appropriate and meaningful ways of being across a wide range of disciplinary practices and human activities. In short, MCE involves integrating the epistemology of learning (what students are expected to know) with the ontology of learning (what students desire to become) with the axiology of learning (what students value the most).


MCE is based on humanistic suppositions, which provides understanding of humans as the consciousness of the world. Without human consciousness there is nothing and/or nobody to make meaning of the world. Humans cannot exist apart from the world. Hence, this is why the idea of the human-world relationship (i.e., one’s life-world) is such an important concept in MCE. Ontologically, the category of a human being represents the dynamic and ever changing flow of life of humankind. An individual is a part of this flow; she/he is becoming a personality and fulfills her/himself as personality throughout her/his existence in the world.

MCE is also based on existential suppositions, which justifies the aim of MCE as supporting a self-regulating and autonomous personality who operates out of her/his own volition and strives to achieve self-fulfillment and self-determination. Self-determination and self-regulation are primary indicators of an existential worldview of personality wherein one assumes personal responsibility and endeavors to achieve self-fulfillment (Leontiev, 2004). The core learning processes supported by MCE are therefore complex, active, constructive, connected, and continuously evolving according to one’s life-world context (Shuell, 1990).


The cultural-anthropological foundations of MCE lie within its ontological aspect, and refer to the deep structures of human subjectivity as an innate attribute. These structures are included in ontogenesis and phylogenies, providing positive and negative states of mind and spirit within the processes of individual development.

MCE as a philosophy is ontologically located within an integrated life world (holistic integration of self with world), and axiologically, within personal values, interests, beliefs, aspirations defining meaning making. In the MCE epistemological view, knowledge is personified, situated, and attempts to integrate authentic learning elements of both the objectivist and constructivist paradigms (Cronje, 2006). Knowledge is created through an awareness of external objective reality but is internally constructed and re-constructed by cognitive, affective, and socio-cultural activities and perceptions.

MCE facilitates the conscious integration of new learning/understanding with prior learning/understanding across all the domains based on personal meanings about oneself in relation to the world. Knowledge therefore is alive, situated and contextual and exists both subjectively and objectively (Leontiev, 2004).

Authentic contexts are critical to motivate learners and usually take the form of complex, full-scale multidimensional problems representative of real-world tasks and problems. Within the MCE paradigm, learners (both teachers and students) are viewed as the co-owners of the curricula, wherein they co-define their learning goals and tasks, assess their own successes and failures, and negotiate their own personal meanings within the learning process. In such a way, learning becomes authorial and entails transformation of the student’s and teachers’ authorship in a targeted practice that is recognized and validated by members of a community of practice, in a broader sense. Such learning is constantly creative and even transcends pre-existing human culture (Lave, 1991; Lobok, 2001).

MCE can be implemented in a variety of ways. To a large degree, context (e.g., institutional mission and type, organizational and societal culture, type of discipline and course, course learning objectives) and how teacher and learner decide to co-create authentic conditions for meaningful teaching and learning will drive how it is implemented.

With MCE, there are multiple modes of inquiry and multiple perspectives, depending on the context and depending on the nature of the questions (Dahlberg, 1985, Rogalsky, 2006). The artistic mode (subjective inquiry), the philosophic mode (rational inquiry), and the scientific mode (empirical inquiry) are all acceptable, as long as they are authentic and meaningful to the participants and germane to the context of inquiry. The integration of multiple modes of inquiry, together with interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary learning, can be a useful approach to develop a more holistic and multidimensional understanding of different realities (e.g., scientific truth, moral truth, artistic-poetic truth).

Examples include learning that is interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary (e.g., integration of math and art, global learning) as well as the development of new models and theories (e.g., exploration of one’s own existential experience, variational learning, probabilistic learning, learning as a dialogue of cultures).

MCE is the interplay between diversity and uniqueness – the process of joining individuality with the diversity of human cultures. So, what is needed is both objectivity and subjectivity that is in a constant dialogical relationship just as one needs both theory and praxis in order to critically evaluate and understand the world. And in the dialogical process where one is striving to become a more conscious, self-governing, authentic agent of one’s own destiny and transformation, one tries to move towards an authentic, holistic, and humane view of the world achieved through critical dialogue with self and with others.

MCE enriches the existent relevant theories (constructivist, learner-centered, transformative, cognitive-development) by the existential dimension of our being in the world and by viewing human life as a coherent whole, with a variety of possible contexts (preset biologically and culturally, as well as the contexts created autonomously).



Cronjé, J. (2006). Paradigms Regained: Toward Integrating Objectivism and Constructivism in Instructional Design and the Learning Sciences. Educational Technology Research and Development, 54 (4), 387-416.

Dahlberg, G. (1985). Context and the Child’s Orientation to Meaning: A Study of the Child’s Way of Organizing and Surrounding World in Relation to Public Institutional Socialization. Stockholm: Gleerup.

Lave, J. (1991). Situated learning in communities of practice. In L. Resnick, J. Levine, S. Teasley (Eds), Perspectives on socially shared cognition (pp. 63-82). Washington DC: APA.

Leontiev, D. (2004). Psychology of meaning. M: Smysl.

Lobok, A. (2001). Veroyatnostnyi mir. Ekaterinburg: Evrika.

Rogalsky, E. I. (2006). Creativity as Meaning of Life. SPb: SPb State University

Shuell, T. J. (1990). Phases of meaningful learning. Review of Educational Research, 60(4), 531.


This encyclopedic entry was edited by Peter C Taylor.


Kovbasyuk, O., & Blessinger, P. (2012). Meaning-Centered Education. The Encyclopedia of Meaning-Centered Education.


Copyright © [2012] Institute for Meaning-Centered Education (IMCE), Olga Kovbasyuk, and Patrick Blessinger

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