Providing opportunities for dialogue and reflection

1. Why dialogue and reflection are necessary for learning

Many educational theorists claim that learning cannot occur without dialogue and reflection. Reading and listening are not enough. Interaction is required. 

Learners need dialogue with teachers and other learners to clarify and correct their understanding. Dialogue, or two-way communication, whether in the form of questions or sharing viewpoints, serves at least five purposes.

  1. It provides the critical opportunity for learners to ask questions for clarification or the deeper implications about what is being learned. 
  2. When learners have to explain what they currently understand in spoken or written words, it makes what is being learned more concrete, and can reveal gaps in learning. The feedback received can clarify or refine learning. 
  3. The process of putting ideas into words is itself an important form of active engagement with the content, and a way of growing knowledge (even without feedback). If you have never expressed something in your own words, you do not know it fully.
  4. Dialogue helps learners integrate new learning with existing knowledge. Well integrated knowledge is more readily available and more easily transferred to practical contexts. 
  5. Dialogue brings new content into the course by drawing upon the existing and growing knowledge of learners.

Reflection about what is being learned ensures that learning is strengthened. Reflection can be thought of as internal dialogue, with many of the same benefits of clarifying and integrating knowledge. Reflection, or the internal process of fitting ideas together, occurs during outward dialogue as well, and during other forms of active use of content. Unlike dialogue, reflection can be an entirely private process, such as

  • writing a learning diary
  • making study notes
  • thinking about reflection questions provided by the teacher and learning resources
  • creating a summary presentation on a topic you have studied
  • collaborating with other learners on projects related learning content

Of course, reflection occurs anytime the learner is curious enough to ponder about the lesson content, and not just in formal activities. Stimulating curiosity with an interesting question or case is a good way to stimulate reflection.