Learning: Dialogic Learning

Dialogic or dialogical learning is learning that occurs within the process of group discussion.

In dialogic learning, participants in group discussion absorb and consider information, make connections between ideas, and challenge assumptions. Dialogic learning theory is based on the concept that meaningful conversation or dialogue engages learning skills and critical thinking and develops questioning skills. It also assumes that learning is reinforced by participants “learning to speak and speaking to learn.”

There are several basic principles underlying dialogic learning.

Dialogic learning is egalitarian: everyone must participate, and there is an assumption that everyone has useful contributions to make to the dialogue. It requires “cultural intelligence” —respect for the personal experiences of each participant. It also requires “solidarity” —that all opinions be considered and assumed to be valid contributions to the building of knowledge. The “equality of differences” is the principle that differences of opinion are a source of learning.

Finally, dialogic learning is not only respectful, but also creates meaning and is transformational. Thus, dialogic learning is part of building personal and social identity and provides participants with the possibility of creating and transforming their lives.


Dialogic learning has a long history, dating back at least to Socrates in ancient Greece, traditional pedagogy in India, and Buddhism in Asia. The foundations of twentieth-first-century dialogic learning are rooted in the works of early Soviet thinkers, especially the philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin (1895–1975), the linguist Valentin Voloshinov (1895–1936), and the psychologist Lev Vygotsky (1896–1934).

The Center for Research on Dialogic Instruction of the Wisconsin Center for Education Research at the University of Wisconsin is at the forefront of “structured” dialogic learning and teaching in the United States. The Center's work builds on research pioneered by Martin Nystrand and Adam Gamoran on the role of classroom dialogue in student achievement in reading and literature. Nystrand and Gamoran demonstrated that open-ended discussions, accompanied by questions and follow-up questions presented by teachers, nurture learning. The Center conducted the first large-scale empirical study showing that dialogic classrooms improve learning in English language arts. Their research has demonstrated positive effects from classroom time spent in discussions lead by openended and follow-up questions. Furthermore, their research has shown that structured dialogic learning reduces the negative effects of background variables such as initial achievement, race, and ethnicity.

Alexander's approach has been adopted in classrooms in the United Kingdom and other countries. This approach to dialogic learning requires:

Dialogic pedagogy

Teachers’ roles in dialogic learning classrooms vary, but in general, the teacher is more of a participant than an instructor, with the teacher and students learning together. Students should have significant input into their instruction. It is the teacher's role to elicit perspectives embedded in the students’ everyday common sense, engage in their developing ideas, and assist them in overcoming misunderstandings. In the course of dialogue, teachers explain ideas, clarify points and purposes, model scientific use of language, and help students understand scientific descriptions of phenomena. As part of this process, the teacher validates student ideas by incorporating their responses into subsequent questions. This is sometimes referred to as “uptake.” Furthermore, teachers’ questions must be “authentic” and without predetermined answers. They should be formulated to elicit information rather than to determine what students do and do not know.

Dialogic learning is more than simply talking, sharing ideas, arguing, or persuading. Rather, it is an extended structured process concerned with problem solving and developing new ideas that lead to new insights and understanding. However, dialogic learning is often suppressed or compromised. In the United States, dialogic learning is generally minimal in public middle and high school classes, and it is virtually absent from “lower-track” classrooms. With an everincreasing emphasis on standardized high-stakes testing, there is little room in most American classrooms for dialogic learning. It is, however, a common component of some humanities and social sciences classes at smaller liberal arts colleges.


A conversation or exchange of ideas between two or more people; the basis of dialogic learning.
The theory and practice of education.

Research is examining ways to integrate dialogic learning into computer-mediated communications. Computer-mediated dialogue may be a hybrid of speech and writing, and it may help merge acquisition of skills and knowledge. Some researchers argue that a new dialogic pedagogy must be combined with new technology to improve student achievement.



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Snyder, Kristen M. “Concept Maps, Voicethread, and Visual Images: Helping Teachers Spawn Divergent Thinking and Dialogic Learning.” In Cases on Teaching Critical Thinking Through Visual Representation Strategies, edited by Leonard Shedletsky. Hershey, PA: Information Science Reference, 2014.


Hopkins, Jed, and Aaron Yost. “A Dialogue about Dialogicality: Getting a Hold on Dialogue in the Classroom.” English Journal, High School ed. 104, no. 6 (July 2015): 31–5/


Abbey, Nicholas. “Developing 21st Century Teaching and Learning: Dialogic Literacy.” Johns Hopkins School of Education. http://education.jhu.edu/PD/newhorizons/strategies/topics/literacy/articles/developing-21stcentury-teaching (accessed September 1, 2015).

“Dialogic Teaching.” Robin Alexander. http://www.robinalexander.org.uk/dialogic-teaching (accessed September 1, 2015).

Lefstein, Adam, and Julia Snell. Better than Best Practice: Developing Teaching and Learning Through Dialogue. Routledge, Taylor & Francis. http://routledgetextbooks.com/textbooks/_author/lefstein-9780415618441 (accessed September 1, 2015).

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American Psychological Association, 750 1st St. NE, Washington, DC, 20002-4242, (202) 336-5500, (800) 374-2721, http://www.apa.org .

Center for Research on Dialogic Instruction and the InClass Analysis of Classroom Discourse, Wisconsin Center for Education Research, School of Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1025 W. Johnson St., Ste. 785, Madison, WI, 53706, (608) 263-4210, Fax: (608) 263-6448, uw-wcer@education.wisc.edu, http://class.wceruw.org/index.html .