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.