What exactly is a 'concept'? What do 'understanding' and 'meaning' actually signifiy? What happens when a student follows a course on a scientific discipline, such as learning object-oriented programming in Java? This research finds a basis for answering these questions. It uses ideas of metaphor and other conceptual blends in conceptual integration networks (CIN) drawn from cognitive science as a theoretical base, and uses interviews with students to relate theory to reality. It analyses students' discourse into aspects of mental spaces and frames, and identifies how concepts are held in terms of metaphor and blend. A similar analysis is applied to textbooks and other teaching material, and students' ideas are contrasted with those of a professor. Centrally, it is shown that much of the language used is non-literal. The data is consistent with the use of CINs as a way of modelling concept development. The findings are used as a way of designing and assessing course design and content, applicable across a wide range of scientific and technical disciplines.