I want a word with you!

This month’s theory is Diana Laurillard’s ‘Conversational Model’. It takes as its starting point the idea that higher learning is a ‘second order’ experience that involves making sense of the perspective of others. As such, learning should be designed as a dialogue between student and teacher that enables this sharing of conceptions and experience.

Laurillard presents a four-fold typology of learning and teaching models to demonstrate her argument:

  • Storytelling: the teachers shares their knowledge with the student
  • Discussion: the teacher and student share knowledge through negotiation
  • Discovery: the student tests their knowledge through research guided by the teacher
  • Collaboration: the student and teacher share, test and revise knowledge through the act of collaboration

She argues that advances in learning technologies have enabled an increase in the number and complexity of simulations that provide a perfect vehicle for the fourth – and most profound – type. Key to this is that the simulation should make plain what each participants conceptions and goals are, and provide an opportunity to test out, evaluate and reflect on the choices that are made.

This theory places more emphasis on the teacher than many that I’ve discussed this year. In some of those theories the teacher’s role is the light the blue touch paper and stand well back. Here the teacher is a constant presence in the dialogue. A sample of the characteristics defined as enabling effective teaching/learning demonstrate how important that presence is:

  • Teacher must provide environment within which student can act on, generate and receive feedback on descriptions appropriate to the topic goal
  • Teacher must use feedback on students’ conceptions to revise the focus of dialogue
  • Teacher must provide feedback to students based on their tasks and conceptions
  • Teacher should support process where students relate tasks and experiences to the topic and topic goals

That is a demanding set of ambitions! My task this month, is to work out whether that is too demanding.


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