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Dialogic learning

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Title: Dialogic learning  
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Dialogic learning

Dialogic learning at Shimer College

Dialogic learning is learning that takes place through dialogue. It is typically the result of egalitarian dialogue; in other words, the consequence of a dialogue in which different people provide arguments based on validity claims and not on power claims.[1]

The concept of dialogic learning is not a new one. Within the Western tradition, it is frequently linked to the Socratic dialogues. It is also found in many other traditions; for example, the book The Argumentative Indian, written by Nobel Prize of Economics winner Amartya Sen (2005), situates dialogic learning within the Indian tradition and observes that an emphasis on discussion and dialogue spread across Asia with the rise of Buddhism.[2]

In recent times, the concept of dialogic learning has been linked to contributions from various perspectives and disciplines, such as the theory of dialogic action (Freire, 1970), the dialogic inquiry approach (Wells, 1999), the theory of communicative action (Habermas, 1984), the notion of dialogic imagination (Bahktin, 1981) and the dialogical self (Soler, 2004). In addition, the work of an important range of contemporary authors is based on dialogic conceptions. Among those, it is worth mentioning authors like Jack Mezirow (1990, 1991, 2000) and his transformative learning theory; Michael Fielding (2001), who sees students as radical agents of change; Timothy Koschmann (1999), who highlights the potential advantages of adopting dialogicality as the basis of education; and Anne C. Hargrave (2000), who demonstrates that children in dialogic-learning conditions make significantly larger gains in vocabulary, than do children in a less dialogic reading environment.

Specifically, the concept of dialogic learning (Flecha, 2000) evolved from the investigation and observation of how people learn both outside and inside of schools, when acting and learning freely is allowed. At this point, it is important to mention the "Learning Communities", an educational project which seeks social and cultural transformation of educational centers and their surroundings through dialogic learning, emphasizing egalitarian dialogue among all community members, including teaching staff, students, families, entities, and volunteers. In the learning communities, it is fundamental the involvement of all members of the community because, as research shows, learning processes, regardless of the learners' ages, and including the teaching staff, depend more on the coordination among all the interactions and activities that take place in different spaces of the learners' lives, like school, home, and workplace, than only on interactions and activities developed in spaces of formal learning, such as classrooms. Along these lines, the "Learning Communities" project aims at multiplying learning contexts and interactions with the objective of all students reaching higher levels of development (Vygotsky, 1978).


  • Theories 1
    • Wells: dialogic inquiry 1.1
    • Freire: the theory of dialogic action 1.2
    • Habermas: the theory of communicative action 1.3
    • Bakhtin: dialogic imagination 1.4
    • CREA: dialogic interactions and interactions of power 1.5
  • See also 2
  • References 3


Wells: dialogic inquiry

Gordon Wells (1999) defines "inquiry" not as a method but as a predisposition for questioning, trying to understand situations collaborating with others with the objective of finding answers. "Dialogic inquiry" is an educational approach that acknowledges the dialectic relationship between the individual and the society, and an attitude for acquiring cultures and their capacity to transform themselves according to the requirements of every social moment.

Freire: the theory of dialogic action

Paulo Freire (1970) states that human nature is dialogic, and believes that communication has a leading role in our life. We are continuously in dialogue with others, and it is in that process that we create and recreate ourselves. According to Freire, dialogue is a claim in favor of the democratic choice of educators. Educators, in order to promote free and critical learning should create the conditions for dialogue that encourages the epistemological curiosity of the learner. The goal of the dialogic action is always to reveal the truth interacting with others and the world. In his dialogic action theory, Freire distinguishes between dialogical actions, the ones that promote understanding, cultural creation, and liberation; and non-dialogic actions, which deny dialogue, distort communication, and reproduce power.

Habermas: the theory of communicative action

Rationality, for Jürgen Habermas (1984), has less to do with knowledge and its acquisition than with the use of knowledge that individuals who are capable of speech and action make. In instrumental rationality, social agents make an instrumental use of knowledge: they propose certain goals and aim to achieve them in an objective world. On the contrary, in communicative rationality, knowledge is the understanding provided by the objective world as well as by the intersubjectivity of the context where action develops. If communicative rationality means understanding, then the conditions that make reaching consensus possible have to be studied. This need brings us to the concepts of arguments and argumentation. While arguments are conclusions that consist of validity claims as well as the reasons by which they can be questioned, argumentation is the kind of speech in which participants give arguments to develop or turn down the validity claims that have become questionable. At this point, Habermas' differentiation between validity claims and power claims is important. We may attempt to have something we say to be considered good or valid by imposing it by means of force, or by being ready to enter a dialogue in which other people's arguments may lead us to rectify our initial stances. In the first case, the interactant holds power claims, while in the second case, validity claims are held. While in power claims, the argument of force is applied; in validity claims, the force of an argument prevails. Validity claims are the basis of dialogic learning.

Bakhtin: dialogic imagination

Mikhail Mikhailovich Bakhtin (1981) established that there is a need of creating meanings in a dialogic way with other people. His concept of dialogism states a relation among language, interaction, and social transformation. Bakhtin believes that the individual does not exist outside of dialogue. The concept of dialogue, itself, establishes the existence of the "other" person. In fact, it is through dialogue that the "other" cannot be silenced or excluded. Bakhtin states that meanings are created in processes of reflection between people. And these are the same meanings that we use in later conversations with others, where those meanings get amplified and even change as we acquire new meanings. In this sense, Bakhtin states that every time that we talk about something that we have read about, seen or felt; we are actually reflecting the dialogues we have had with others, showing the meanings that we have created in previous dialogues. This is, what is said cannot be separated from the perspectives of others: the individual speech and the collective one are deeply related. It is in this sense that Bakhtin talks about chain of dialogues, to point that every dialogue results from a previous one and, at the same time, every new dialogue is going to be present in future ones.

CREA: dialogic interactions and interactions of power

In their debate with John Searle (Searle & Soler 2004) the Centre of Research in Theories and Practices that Overcome Inequalities (CREA, from now on) made two critiques to Habermas. CREA's work on communicative acts points out, on the one hand, that the key concept is interaction and not claim; and, on the other hand, that in relationships can be identified power interactions and dialogic interactions. Although a manager can hold validity claims when inviting his employee to have a coffee with him, the employee can be moved to accept because of the power claim that arises from the unequal structure of the company and of the society, which places her in a subordinate position to the employer. CREA defines power relations as those in which the power interactions involved predominate over the dialogic interactions, and dialogic relations as those in which dialogic interactions are prevalent over power interactions. Dialogic interactions are based on equality and seek understanding through speakers appreciating the provided arguments to the dialogue regardless of the position of power of the speaker. In the educational institutions of democracies we can find more dialogic interactions than in the educational centers of dictatorships. Nonetheless, even in the educational centers of democracies, when discussing curricular issues, the voice of the teaching staff prevails over the voice of the families, which is almost absent. The educational projects that have contributed to transform some power interactions into dialogic interactions show that one learns much more through dialogic interactions than through power ones.

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^
  • Aubert, A., Flecha, A., García, C., Flecha, R., y Racionero, S. (2008). Aprendizaje dialógico en la sociedad de la información. Barcelona: Hipatia Editorial.
  • Bakhtin, M. (1981). The dialogic imagination: Four essays. Austin: University of Texas Press.
  • Fielding, M. (2001). Students as Radical Agents of Change. Journal of Educational Change 2(2), 123–141.
  • Flecha, R. (2000). Sharing Words. Theory and Practice of Dialogic Learning. Lanham, M.D: Rowman & Littlefield.
  • Freire, P. (1970) Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Continuum Books.
  • Freire, P. (1997). Pedagogy of the Heart. New York: Continuum (O.V. 1995).
  • Habermas, J. (1984). The theory of communicative action. Volume I: Reason and the rationalization of society and Volume II: Lifeworld and system: A critique of functionalist reason. Boston: Beacon Press (O.V. 1981).
  • Hargrave, A., & Sénéchal, M. (2000). A book reading intervention with preschool children who have limited vocabularies: the benefits of regular reading and dialogic reading. Elsevier Science Journal, 15 (1), 75–90.
  • Koschmann, T. (1999). Toward a dialogic theory of learning: Bakhtin's contribution to understanding learning in settings of collaboration. International Society of the Learning Sciences, 38.
  • Mead, G.H. (1934). Mind, self & society. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Searle J., & Soler M. (2004). Lenguaje y Ciencias Sociales. Diálogo entre John Searle y CREA. Barcelona: El Roure Ciencia.
  • Sen, A. (2005) The argumentative Indian: Writings on Indian history, culture and identity. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
  • Soler, M. (2004). Reading to share: Accounting for others in dialogic literary gatherings. Aspects of the Dialogic Self (pp. 157–183). Berlín: Lehmans.
  • Vygotsky, L.S. (1978). Mind in society. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  • Wells, G. (1999). Dialogic inquiry: towards a sociocultural practice and theory of education. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
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