Didactic transposition: characteristics of this teaching process

Didactic transposition is a process in which scientific or academic knowledge undergoes a series of transformations. to adapt it to a less technical level, affordable for non-specialist students. In other words, it consists in modifying a wise or learned knowledge to make it plausible to teach.

This idea was originally raised by Michel Verret (1975) and later reintroduced by Yves Chevallard, a theorist of the didactics of mathematics who initially applied it to this discipline, although later this concept was extrapolated to other areas of knowledge.

This process is of great importance in teaching because, if done in an appropriate way, it will be possible to provide the students with useful, current and scientific knowledge, but without abusing technicality or too specialized information.

    What does didactic transposition consist of?

    Scholarly or scientific knowledge is that which has been obtained and developed by institutions specializing in a particular field of knowledge, such as biology, chemistry, psychology, among others. Being a very technical knowledge, it must be modified in such a way that it can be learned by people who do not specialize in the subject.

    Didactic transposition involves a series of phases in which scientific knowledge is gradually adapted to the level of the students. This knowledge is modeled according to the objectives of the program proposed by the education authorities and both the authors of the textbooks and the teachers themselves in the same class are involved in this process, providing the knowledge of “useful for the pupils”.

    Scientific knowledge is subject to two main transformations. First, it is modified so that it can be taught and transformed into a teaching object. In this first transformation, teachers and experts in the field of education are involved.

    Subsequently, the second transformation occurs, in which the teacher takes this knowledge which has already been modified and adapt it according to the characteristics of your class.

    It is of fundamental importance that the teacher, as a participant in the didactic transposition, takes into account the characteristics of the pupils who make up the class: socio-economic differences, stage of development, cultural diversity, learning difficulties, differences linguistic, number of students in class …

    The teacher should ask three questions in relation to the knowledge you are going to teach:

    • What are you going to teach?
    • Why are you going to teach it?
    • How are you going to teach it?

    How to adapt knowledge to the level of the pupils?

    When it comes to transforming knowledge, it must be done in a way that is not distorted or presented in a too prevalent way and the essence of its content is lost. It is essential to avoid that, in the reformulation and simplification of this knowledge, the scientific knowledge on which it is based is contradicted.

    It is very important to be up to date on scientific knowledgeSince science is advancing very quickly and what was until now taken for granted can perfectly well be refuted after a while. If the teacher does not update his knowledge, he may run the risk of teaching knowledge which has become obsolete and is misleading his students.

    As an example of outdated knowledge to teach, we have the already famous case of Pluto when it was relegated to the category of dwarf planets. Many textbooks continued to present it as the ninth planet in the solar system for years.

      Teaching approach

      The teacher should take special care when teaching content in the classroom, as two types of distances can occur:

      1. Distance between the knowledge to be taught and the knowledge taught

      The teacher must be vigilant that the knowledge to be taught and that which is ultimately taught in the classroom correspondsOr at least they’re not too far apart in terms of core content.

      2. Distinguish between knowledge taught and knowledge learned by students

      Students have a knowledge base before they acquire a new one, which can facilitate or hinder new learning. as well, the new learning may not have been properly adapted at the student level.

      It is very difficult for all the content taught to students to be fully learned. The teacher must take this into account, in addition to encouraging motivation and the desire to learn in the students.


      When the end of the process is reached, the knowledge to be taught presents a series of characteristics that facilitate its learning:

      1. Declassification of knowledge

      The knowledge to be taught, although originally belonging to a certain field, differs in that it is less specific. It always starts from the domain from which it originates, but allows it to be formulated explaining more general knowledge.

      2. Depersonalization of knowledge:

      All academic knowledge has one or more authors behind it. By adapting to less specialized levels, it stands out from the name of the one who made it.

      3. Programmability of knowledge acquisition

      The knowledge to be taught has been developed in such a way that it allows to be introduced, explained and concluded in a clear way. In other words, it is intended to be explained gradually in a school context and to ensure that students understand and learn it.

      4. Advertising and social control of learning

      By being modified to reach less specialized levels, the knowledge to be taught can reach a wider audience, allowing it to be exposed in the media. Thanks to this, a certain social control can be exercised over the general culture of the population.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Gómez-Mendoza, M. Á. (2005). Didactic transposition: history of a concept. Latin American Journal of Educational Studies, 1, 83-115.
      • Chevallard, Y. (1991) The didactic transposition of scientific knowledge to teach knowledge. Editions de Grenoble, La Pensée Sauvage.

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