Freeing Teaching from Learning: Opening Up Existential Possibilities in Educational Relationships

Gert Biesta*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In this paper I explore the relationship between teaching and learning. Whereas particularly in the English language the relationship between teaching and learning has become so intimate that it often looks as if ‘teaching and learning’ has become one word, I not only argue for the importance of keeping teaching and learning apart from each other, but also provide a number of arguments for suggesting that learning may not be the one and only option for teaching to aim for. I explore this idea through a discussion of the relationship between teaching and learning, both at a conceptual and at an existential level. I discuss the limitations of the language of learning as an educational language, point at the political work that is being done through the language of learning, and raise epistemological and existential questions about the identity of the learner, particularly with regard to the question what it means to be in and with the world in terms of learning as comprehension and sense making. Through this I seek to suggest that learning is only one possible aim for teaching and that the learner identity and the learning way of engaging with the world puts the learner in a very specific position vis-à-vis the world, one where the learner remains in the centre and the world appears as object for the learner’s acts of learning. That it is possible to teach without requesting from students that they learn, comprehend and make sense, is demonstrated through a brief account of a course in which students were explicitly asked to refrain from learning and were instead asked to adopt a concept. I show how this request opened up very different existential possibilities for the students and argue that if we value such existential possibilities, there may be good reasons for freeing teaching from learning.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)229-243
Number of pages15
JournalStudies in Philosophy and Education
Issue number3
Early online date18 Nov 2014
Publication statusPublished - 10 Apr 2015


  • Adoption
  • Being addressed
  • Learnification
  • Learning
  • Studenting
  • Teaching


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