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The library of essays of Proakatemia

Dialogue Learning Method

Kirjoittanut: Katrina Cirule - tiimistä SYNTRE.

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Dialogue Learning Method


Before beginning my studies in Proakatemia, dialogue in my mind had always related to day-to-day conversations, literature, or grammar lessons. However, these few months here have opened a new perspective on dialogue. These learnings have shown me that it can also be a tool for learning. That is the reason why I am curious about looking into the historical, theoretical, and practical aspects of dialogue education. In this essay I will investigate the first noted forms of dialogue as a learning tool, theories connected with dialogue education, as well as reflect on my own experience.


There are four distinguished types of conversations- debate, dialogue, discourse, and diatribe. In the general meaning of the word, dialogue has been defined as a conversation between two or more people with the goal to exchange information and build relationships. It is the kind of conversation, where the direction of the interaction is a “two-way street”, meaning that all parties involved are both listening and speaking. And since the tone of this conversation type is cooperative rather than competitive, participants are interested in the perspective of others rather than being attached to one’s own viewpoint.


When looking at the history of the subject, Plato, an Athenian philosopher, and the founder of the Academy (the first Western higher educational institution), based his philosophy on a dialogue form. In his conversations about ethics, metaphysics, the Forms and so much more, Plato uses the dialectic method, which supports asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking. Based on the writings, it has been concluded that the philosopher believes that teaching isn’t just giving the right answers. Plato states that teachers should be instead leading students with the right questions, allowing them to explain and justify the answer on their own. This approach highlights the importance of dialogue, emphasising that it is a matter of learning journey instead of focusing on the outcome. This has been one of the first and best-known forms of dialogue-based learning.


Another valuable insight to investigate is andragogy- an adult education concept firstly introduced in the 19th century by German educator Alexander Kapp. The idea of andragogy was later adapted by Malcolm Knowles, an American adult educator, and turned into the Adult Education theory. This theory features the specific ways adults best respond to learning. The central part of the theory includes assumptions outlining the manners by which adults look at learning, as well as the principles of andragogy:

  1. participants wish to be a part of how their learnings are planned, delivered, and executed;
  2. they gain more when reflecting and building the knowledge on their past experience;
  3. instead of memorising, problem-solving is the best way to comprehend the information;
  4. the learnings must be applicable to current real-life situations.


Reflecting on all these principles, Jane Vella, an Italian-American educator, researcher, and entrepreneur, set a practical base for the Adult Education theory, introducing the Dialogue Education approach in 1980’s. This method applies the idea of dialogue rather than monologue, which is mostly used in the traditional education form. Therefore, the focus of power is changed- for example, when one has training with an expert presenting information, it can imply a top-down approach, meaning that the information distributer holds all the knowledge sharing power creating an information dependent hierarchy. However, when one is learning through dialogue, it enables engagement and positions the participants on an equal level, therefore knowledge is built through the interaction with others.


Moreover, the Dialogue Education approach to learning is also based on the theory of Constructivism, which implies that participants construct their own knowledge through action. Simply put, students utilise their previous knowledge and experiences as a foundation to build on with new things they learn. The principles of constructivism are:

  1. knowledge is constructed- all experience is a vital foundation for continued learning;
  2. people learn to learn, as they learn;
  3. learning is an active process- one must engage;
  4. learning is a social activity- we learn from and with each other;
  5. learning is contextual- we create links between unrelated topics until they connect;
  6. knowledge is personal- the way one perceives new information is also affected by the values, experience, and knowledge existing before;
  7. learning exists in the mind- although hands-on experience is beneficial when it comes to learning, there must also be a mental engagement for the mind;
  8. motivation is key.


Reflecting on my studies in Proakatemia, I can see how dialogue is also utilised in the model of team learning. Honestly, at first, I was rather sceptical about whether I am learning anything at all. I suppose I might have been too used to the traditional type of studies before, thus making this experience feel unusual or even odd. But following the dialogue diamond (listen, suspend, respect, speak up), I had realised that, during this process, I had gained some understanding about learning itself. If I had to compare my previous self with me now, I can admit that I didn’t even know how to truly listen to others. And by this I am not implying that I do now- it is a work in progress. However, I have become more aware of my own thoughts, and, more precisely, I have become more aware of how not present I had been in the conversations I have had in my life. The dialogue diamond has been useful when thinking about the quality of conversations I take part in.


In conclusion, dialogue as a learning method has been introduced centuries ago, however, the theoretical base of it was mostly developed during the 20th century. Dialogue Education is an approach to learning that engages all parties involved, therefore proposing dialogue as a way of learning more efficiently. In my experience, the dialogue diamond tool has helped a lot, especially in practice, when conversing with others doesn’t follow to a certain plan. This essay helped me, and, hopefully, you too to investigate this so often talked about topic even deeper, revealing insights on new theories and methods.





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