The Learning Conversation

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The Learning Conversation is a teaching technique based on Pask and Scott’s work on Conversation Theory to support student-centred learning. It is an interactive and iterative process stemming from a problem-solving encounter. Its original application was to assist the dynamic process of human learning through the use of adaptive technology. The teacher (or machine) enters into a dialogue with the student and first explores the frames (pre-existing assumptions, understanding, perspectives and analytical approach) that eventually led to her conclusions or actions

It is based on the constructivist theory of education that individuals accommodate new information uniquely by integrating it into their own cognitive maps through the interaction with another individual’s point of view. This contrasts with the didactic approach where knowledge is assumed to be objective and is transferred passively irrespective of how the learner interprets or manipulates it. In this situation, the teacher tells the student what the ‘best’ solution is and leaves it to the student to later determine its potential usefulness or relevance.

The strength of the Learning Conversation is that it may uncover preconceived notions that potentially block further understanding of new concepts. It also allows the student an opportunity to reflect on contradictory points of view, absorb the lessons and ‘work-through’ alternatives. It can also establish a non-judgemental environment that may otherwise inhibit effective learning.

The following scripts apply to simulation team-based training but could be adapted to other problem-solving activities.


  • How did you feel during that scenario? What was it that made you feel that way?
  • Was there a point in the scenario you felt you were really struggling, facing a dilemma or got stuck? What was going through your mind?
  • What did you think were the main issues to address during the scenario? Why?
  • In order what do you think were the priorities? Why?
  • What did you think were the main lessons to be learned about that scenario? Why?
  • Was there anything that was helping or hindering your performance? Why? How did you manage this?
  • How did you feel the members of your team performed? Why?
  • What did you think about the interactions you had with your team and outsiders?

Specific Inquiry (emotions, reactions) – Advocacy/Enquiry

  • I noticed you looked flustered when…what were you thinking/feeling?
  • I noticed you became quiet or things slowed down when…. what were you thinking/feeling at the time?
  • When x happened, what were you thinking at the time?
  • When y didn’t happen, what were you thinking at the time?
  • I noticed z wasn’t actually completed, why do you think this happened?
  • When a occurred, I noticed that you did b. What where you thinking at this point? Is there anything else you might have considered was going on what you may have done? Why did you think b was the priority in this case?
  • I noticed that you didn’’t do what would be conventionally recommended, what was your reason?
  • At one point I noticed that a lot of conversations or actions were occurring, what was going on there?

Team observations

  • How do you feel the team leader functioned?
  • How did you feel the team members functioned?
  • Were there any barriers to good team functioning?
  • How did you feel about the way the team interacted or communicated?
  • How did you feel you managed the noise or distractions?
  • Were there moments you felt you could have participated more?
  • Did you feel the team were clear enough about their roles?
  • Did you feel the team were clear about the priorities?

Changing the frame

  • If I said that the main clinical priorities of the scenario were x, how would have that changed what you did, your prime focus or in what order?
  • If I said that the main clinical lessons from the scenario were y, how would have that changed what you did, your prime focus or in what order?
  • If I said that the main lesson in human factors of the scenario were z, how would that have changed your interactions?

 Delta plus one

  • What would you have done differently in this scenario?
  • What would you have done to manage these issues differently?
  • What would you have done differently that might have helped you achieved the diagnosis or treatment faster?
  • Do you think an altered strategy would have worked for apparently similar situations but with a different underlying problem or eventual outcome?

Scott, Bernard. (2001). Conversation theory: A constructivist, dialogical approach to educational technology. Cybernetics & Human Knowing. 8. 25-46.

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