Dialogues and Deeper Learning

Faculty interactions that support deeper learning are often dialogues about epistemologies, instead of transactions focusing on information delivery.

As faculty we have frequent interactions with students. It is important to remember that interactions are a crucial part of students’ learning experience (Vygotsky, 1978; Hattie, 2008; Almajed, Skinner, Peterson, & Winning, 2016). Learner-centered practices that support deeper learning approaches are built on transformational interactions, emphasizing personal experiences, knowledge construction and students’ choices for engagement (APA, 1997, 2015).

Alas, too often faculty interactions remain on transactional level, seeking opportunities to shape students’ behaviors and responses, missing the chance to understand students’ viewpoints. This type of educational interaction is not authentic for supporting deeper learning, due to the focus on repeating expectations, societal/institutional norms and obligations (Berne, 1961, 2016). Knowledge construction for transactional interactions remains on the level of external sources and assertions being considered to be facts and transmitting them to students (Kuhn, Cheney, & Weinstock, 2000, p. 311). There is no focus on sense-making and interpretation to challenge one’s own epistemologies. Transactional interactions reflect the mechanist worldview and positivist view of knowledge, therefore not supporting deeper learning approaches.

Engaging in a dialogue supports students’ knowledge construction, thus being essential for deeper, transformational learning. Transformative learning refers to processes that result in significant and irreversible changes in the way a person experiences, conceptualizes, and interacts with the world. (Hoggan, 2016. p.71) For deeper learning experiences our interactions with students must advance beyond simple transactions. These interactions tend to take more time, due to the dialogic approach. Engaging students in dialogues about their learning process and how the construction of new knowledge relates to their lives often increases students’ satisfaction due to added meaningfulness of their learning. Hoggan (2016) suggested that as a result of transformational learning experience students “may embark on a process of introspection and change” (p.61). Isn’t that exactly what we would like to happen? Helping students to become life-long learners.

Without engaging in dialogue there might not be a shared understanding, just assumptions. The interactions that support the transformation are very different from the ones used to reinforce compliance and accountability. The authors of Authentic Conversations state very strongly:

The notion that you can hold other people accountable is a myth, a dangerous illusion that denies a fundamental reality of human existence. People always have a choice about their beliefs and actions. You choose to be accountable—it can’t be forced upon you.

Showkeir & Showkeir, 2008, p. 35.

Faculty interactions that support deeper learning must focus on students’ individual knowledge construction process, instead of simple information delivery or emphasizing norms, expectations and obligations. Berne (1961/2016) discusses this as engaging in adult-adult interactions. Assuming the role of a parent makes it hard (or impossible) to engage in a dialogue, especially if the role is the one for the Critical Parent. Starting a discussion as a Nurturing Parent may build a way for a dialogue about epistemologies and knowledge construction to begin. Within a dialogue it becomes easy for me to describe learning strategies that have helped my other students, or recommend an approach for understanding a complex topic. Engaging in a dialogue does not undermine my professional authority building on knowledge and expertise.

As a faculty member in teacher education, I have learned that I frequently need to remind myself about the best practices for interacting with students. The easiest way for me to engage in dialogues comes from practicing positive regard, reminding myself of the difference between being kind vs. being nice, and acknowledging that my truth cannot be better than your truth.


American Psychological Association, Coalition for Psychology in Schools and Education. (2015). Top 20 principles from psychology for pre K–12 teaching and learning. Retrieved from http:// http://www.apa.org/ed/schools/cpse/top-twenty-principles.pdf

American Psychological Association, Work Group of the Board of Educational Affairs (1997, November). Learner-centered psychological principles: A framework for school reform and redesign. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. Retrieved from: http://www.apa.org/ed/governance/bea/learner-centered.pdf

Berne, E. (2016). Transactional analysis in psychotherapy: A systematic individual and social psychiatry. Pickle Partners Publishing. Origially published in 1961.

Hattie, 2008; Almajed, A., Skinner, V., Peterson, R., & Winning, T. (2016). Collaborative learning: Students’ perspectives on how learning happens. Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-Based Learning10(2), 9

Hoggan, C. D. (2016). Transformative learning as a metatheory: Definition, criteria, and typology. Adult education quarterly66(1), 57-75.

Kuhn, D., Cheney, R., & Weinstock, M. (2000). The development of epistemological understanding. Cognitive development15(3), 309-328.

Showkeir, J., & Showkeir, M. (2008). Authentic Conversations : Moving From Manipulation to Truth and Commitment: Vol. 1st ed. Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

3C Approach for Instruction

Educational change is occurring all over the world. Some educators are intrinsically interested in a paradigm shift to challenge the traditional views of learning. Others are invited to take part in professional development and collaborate within their institutions to make the change to happen (Butler, Schnellert & MacNeil, 2015). And some are trying to hang on to all the changes presented to their work environment.

At best the focus in education is moving towards supporting students’ individual  learning processes,  rather than emphasizing teaching. The importance of information delivery is just a tiny part of the whole teaching-learning interaction cycle (the other parts are feedback, assessment and transfer; sometimes also evaluation for external stakeholders). Receiving information to be learned is just the beginning of the learning process!

Teaching and learning are two separate processes. We shouldn’t try to discuss them as one process, but acknowledge the interaction between the two. In order to improve instruction, we need to know how learning happens. In other words, rather than assuming that it is the professor’s or teacher’s job to impart wisdom to students who will somehow magically absorb it, the focus is in the instructor’s ability to guide the students into building a knowledge base of their own.  Working with students’ need to know makes learning and teaching much more meaningful.

An important part of the 21st century teaching is asking non-googlable questions and emphasizing applications of learning over reproducing given answers. Students need to learn HOW to think instead of being taught WHAT to think. There is more information (and misinformation) available than ever before in the history of humankind and students need to be prepared to find the important information they need. This supports students’ own interests and curiosity, too. Understanding how students think, how to motivate them, and the importance of social context has been recognized by American Psychological Association (APA, 2015).

3C Approach is built on learner-centered and learning-centered educational practice, hence belonging to the humanist-constructivist paradigm, where knowledge construction is considered to be personal, situational, and contextual.

C1 – Cognitive approach makes teaching and learning easy and effective. Viewing learning as a student-centered and dynamic process where learners are active participants, it strives to understand the reasons behind behavioral patterns. Instruction focuses on application and transfer of the learning, supporting and building students’ higher order thinking skills. Learning strategies and metacognitive skills are discussed frequently, because this helps students to understand how to best support their own learning and what is needed for becoming successful in learning and life. Instructors provide graphic organizers and models, and discuss the hierarchy of the concepts in the learning material to support the transfer.

C2 – Constructive practice emphasizes the learning process and students’ need to construct their own understanding. Delivered or transmitted knowledge does not have the same emotional and intellectual value. New learning depends on prior understanding and is interpreted in the context of current understanding, not first as isolated information that is later related to existing knowledge. Constructive learning helps students to understand their own learning process and self-regulate and co-regulate their learning in the classroom and beyond. Regular feedback, self-reflection and joint reflection are important! Teachers individualize their practice and help students to connect new learning to their existing personal knowledge. Self-assessments are a regular practice.

C3 – Cooperative learning is about providing a collaborative environment that supports the learning process. This environment must reflect the relational nature of learning. Therefore, the definition of learning used in 3C-approach follows the words of Illeris, (2003): “an external interaction process between the learner and his or her social, cultural or material environment, and an internal psychological process of acquisition and elaboration” (p. 298).  Cooperative learning environment is inclusive, and designed to make learning enjoyable by providing a variety of different activities. Students learn from each other and engage in collaborative meaning-making. Every student has their own strengths and areas to grow, and growth mindset is openly discussed in the class.

3C practices make instruction easier while also empowering students to move towards autonomous, self-regulated learning, because they focus more on learning than on teaching.

More information about 3Cs can be found at ninacsmith.com and at my Notes.


American Psychological Association, Coalition for Psychology in Schools and Education. (2015). Top 20 principles from psychology for preK–12 teaching and learning.

Butler, D. L., Schnellert, L., & MacNeil, K. (2015). Collaborative inquiry and distributed agency in educational change: A case study of a multi-level community of inquiry. Journal of Educational Change16(1), 1-26.

Illeris, K. (2003). Toward a contemporary and comprehensive theory of learning. International Journal of Lifelong Education, 22(4), 396-406. doi:10.1080/0260137032000094814

Choosing How to Teach

Constructive approach with cognitive and cooperative practices supports deeper learning for all students.

I help teachers, trainers, and faculty to improve students’ learning in their courses and classrooms.  Choosing how you want to teach is easier with a framework to support the professional growth and changing dispositions. That’s why I created the 3C-framework.

We cannot think about education as a fixed 12-year long period of learning that prepares students for living in 21st century world.  It is just the beginning of the journey. Lifelong learning belongs into a large scale paradigm change in education. The way we perceive the nature of knowledge and learning, and the role of a teacher are starting to change to reflect the 21st century and the needs of information/knowledge society, where lifelong learning is a must. Growth mindset is one part of lifelong learning.

The learning theories used in 3-C framework have been combined to meet the reality of 21st century learning needs. Cognitive approach combined with constructive and cooperative practices support deeper, self-regulated learning for students of all ages. The 3C tools  focus on emphasizing learner agency in a supportive learning enviroment.

These tools are compatible with all curricula and instructional design models, and the 3C tools reflect the best practices outlined by American Psychological Association publication Top 20 Principles.