A to Z of Teaching


Jerome Bruner (1915-2016) was an American psychologist, known for his contributions to cognitive learning theory.

Bruner’s research on cognitive development in young people, led him to three ‘modes of representation’: Enactive Representation (action), Iconic Representation (image) and Symbolic Representation (language). His theory suggests learning is effective when faced with new material to follow a progression from enactive, to iconic, to symbolic representation.

Bruner, like Vygotsky, emphasized the social nature of learning, citing that other people should help a student develop skills through the process of scaffolding. ‘[Scaffolding] refers to the steps taken to reduce the degrees of freedom in carrying out some task so that the child can concentrate on the difficult skill she is in the process of acquiring’ (Bruner, 1978, p. 19). As a result of this, scaffolding is also referred to in education as the spiral curriculum.

Key features of the spiral curriculum based on Bruner’s work are:

1. The student revisits a subject multiple times through their learning

2. Each revisit should increase in difficulty to stretch the student’s learning

3. New learning is contextualised with older learning to add to the bigger picture.

Categories: Learning theory
More from the glossary to explore…

What's your top 'Bruner' resource?