Learning as Experience:
Phenomenological Approaches in Educational Research

International Symposium

Call for Papers

Learning as Experience:

Phenomenological Approaches in Educational Research

School of Philosophy and Education

Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, 17-19 September 2020

What is learning? How does learning occur? How can we study learning? These are some fundamental questions about the nature of learning, a phenomenon that appears to be on everybody’s mind and agenda these days, despite the fact that little is known about the experience of learning itself. Education policymakers are increasingly talking about predefined “learning outcomes” and “flexible lifelong learners”, but the problem with the wider “learnification” of educational discourse is that questions about the content, purpose, and relationships of education are no longer asked, or they are taken for granted (Biesta, 2017). The emergence of new learning theories and especially constructivism has also resulted to a shift from teaching to learning, placing students at the centre of the educational discourse. And while there are many valuable disciplines that study learning, from psychology to sociology to the neurosciences and to biogenetics, the disciplinary perspective of Pedagogy, as an independent scholarly discipline that emerged in Continental Europe in the 19th century, is essential for raising the educational questions about the nature of learning (Schratz & Westfall-Greiter, 2015).

From a pedagogical perspective, the point of education is never if students learn, but that they learn something, that they learn this for particular purposes and from someone (Biesta, 2012, 2017). In this pedagogical context, where the lifeworlds of education are attributed a central role, learning emerges not from experience, but as experience itself. Conceptualising learning as experience implies that one cannot reach this experience directly and that words used to describe the experience transform our perceptions of it. This is where phenomenology as a philosophy of experience can help us, according to Meyer-Drawe (2017), to understand the experiential dimensions of learning, even if there is an inevitable distance between our concrete, situated experiences and our return to them while talking or reflecting about them. The beginning of a new learning experience can neither be initiated nor controlled, because as the process of awakening, “one is present, but one cannot cause the act, an act which is, however, not possible without oneself” (Meyer-Drawe, 2017, p. 15). As living bodies, the only thing we can do is to pay attention to the unexpected and particularly the failure of experience which holds the possibility of helping us to return to the “things themselves” (Husserl, 1965, p. 81).

Teaching is no guarantee of learning, and this fundamental disconnect between teaching and learning allows us to claim that learning is “beyond the reach of teaching” (Schratz, Westfall-Greiter & Schwarz, 2014). What occurs in the classroom is a subjective event for each person, the teacher and the students, meaning that teachers must attend to the experiences of their students, consciously switching their attention to what is emerging from students’ experiences, a process that Schratz (2009) has defined in the German language as “lernseits” (from the side of learning). Although teaching does not produce learning, teaching and learning are co-determining processes in the classroom. According to Horst Rumpf and Käte Meyer-Drawe (as cited in Schratz & Westfall-Greiter, 2015): “My teaching culminates in the learning of others”. As the two sides of the same coin, teaching and learning are experiences that are intertwined in any pedagogical relation.

Drawing on pedagogical phenomenology, the aim of this international symposium is to revisit the experiential dimensions of learning, offering theoretical and methodological insights that can be useful for educational research. The specific event is organised as the 4th annual symposium of the International Network of Vignette and Anecdotes Research and is dedicated to the memory of Vasiliki Karavakou, Professor at the University of Macedonia, whose passion for pedagogical phenomenology and organising this event in Greece has been of paramount importance to us.

To this end, both researchers and practitioners dealing with the phenomenon of learning as an experience from the perspective of phenomenology are welcome to submit a contribution for one of the following:

  • Theoretical papers on the nature of learning and its relation to experience;
  • Empirical studies researching the lived experience of learning in educational settings;
  • Theoretical and methodological contributions about phenomenological approaches in educational research;
  • Papers or workshops that introduce educational research methods for studying the lived experience of learning in school- and out-of-school contexts.

We look forward to welcoming you in Thessaloniki!

For the organisers,

Vassiliki Papadopoulou Vasileios Symeonidis Vassilis Foukas
University of Western Macedonia University of Innsbruck AUThHellenic Educational Society,
Department of Macedonia


Biesta, G. (2012). Giving Teaching Back to Education: Responding to the Disappearance of the Teacher. Phenomenology & Practice, 6(2), 35–49.

Biesta, G. (2017). The Rediscovery of Teaching. Routledge: New York & London.

Husserl, E. (1965). Philosophie als strenge Wissenschaft. Edited by W. Szilasi. Frankfurt: Vittorio Klostermann.

Meyer-Drawe, K. (2008). Diskurse des Lernens. Munich: Wilhelm Fink.

Meyer-Drawe, K. (2017). Phenomenology as a Philosophy of Experience – Implications for Pedagogy. In In M. Ammann, T. Westfall-Greiter & M. Schratz (Eds.), Erfahrungen deuten – Deutungen erfahren. Vignettes and Anecdotes as Research, Evaluation and Mentoring Tool. Erfahrungsorientierte Bildungsforschung, Vol. 3  (pp. 13-21). Innsbruck: Studien Verlag.

Schratz, M. (2009). „Lernseits“ von Unterricht. Alte Muster, neue Lebenswelten – was für Schulen? Lernende Schule, 12(46,47), pp. 16-21.

Schratz, M., Westfall-Greiter, T., & Schwarz, J.F. (2014). Beyond the Reach of Teaching and Measurement: Methodology and Initial Findings of the Innsbruck Vignette Research. Journal for Latin American Education Research, 51(1), pp. 123-134.

Schratz, M., & Westfall-Greiter, T. (2015). Learning as Experience: A Continental European Perspective on the Nature of Learning. Engl. Translation of Lernen als Erfahrung: Ein pädagogischer Blick auf Phänomene des Lernens. In H. Dumont, D. Istance & F. Benavides (Eds.), The Nature of Learning – Die Natur des Lernens. Forschungsergebnisse für die Praxis (pp. 14-33). Weinheim: Beltz.