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CONVERSIVE LEARNING : Dilemma to Development

Conversive learning involves engaging in dialogues and includes the goal of the learner getting better at learning through conversation, so a broad definition of conversive learning is: learning for conversation as well as learning through conversation. However, different organizations have different understandings of what conversation is and how best to teach or facilitate it.

Conversive Learning also means opening up to conversive dialogic spaces in which different perspectives can inter-animate and inter-illuminate each other such that learning happens. But conversive learning is more than facilitating and learning through conversation; it is also about learning for conversation, seeking to expand and deepen the conversation space, enabling learners to engage in conversations more productively, reflectively and collaboratively

In today’s article, I will introduce the idea behind conversive learning, outlining two major approaches to implementing conversive learning and a framework that can create an impact of conversive learning.



Conversive learning can be referred as a theory of how we context meaning and construct knowledge. It starts with the assertion that all meaning for us arises first as an answer to questions that we ask explicitly or implicitly within conversations. In this respect, the meaning of articulation and other proofs can only be understood in context. A word a learner uses in a conversation does not necessarily have the same meaning as the same word in a dictionary, its meaning is given through its position and character in the conversation as a response to what has been said as an attempt to influence what will be said.


The big epistemological conclusion of this is that to understand the meaning of any sign or pronouncement we have to look at the context, especially the archival or factual context, and be aware that there is always more than one admissible voice or applicable perspective in play. The major learning or pedagogical implication is that, since knowledge is always conversive we should not facilitate facts without context but need to facilitate learners on how to construct knowledge and make sense of knowledge by facilitating them how to engage in a conversation & how to understand the attested and evolving nature of knowledge. The epistemological conception of conversive learning is close to constructivism, or, more specifically, social constructivism, in so far as both constructive learning and social constructivism understand meaning or knowledge to be constructed socially


Ontological Conversive Learning

Ontological conversive learning differs from constructivist approaches to learning in its ontological understanding: it places less emphasis on the knowledge that is constructed than on the relationships and spaces of dialogue opened up by the differences between perspectives. One aim of a more ontological understanding of conversive learning is the expansion of conversation or dialogue as an end in itself within the curriculum.

Different strings of the ontological conception of conversive learning focus variously on understanding and transforming:


a) The self

One string of ontological conversive learning focuses on developing the self as a more conversive participant. Through conversive learning employees or learners are more open to embracing and learning through differences and better at engaging in dialogue, thinking, and holding multiple perspectives together in reflective tension.



b) Social and Political reality

Proposing conversive learning as a way to change the social and political reality in the direction of greater social outlook. Conversive Learning, on this model, is a form of critical education or learning. Whereas monologic learning or what is referred to as the banking model, deposits fixed truths in the heads of learners and so does not change the social order, conversive education invites learners to question and to name the world afresh for themselves.


c) Experienced reality as a whole.

Another string of the ontological conception of conversive learning emphasizes understanding and transforming reality as a whole. It considers learning as a journey of development from monologic to dialogic. This journey begins with the monologic illusion that a learning self and a learning objective are separate entities within an external fixed reality and moves toward the conversive realization that all learning identifications are aspects of a universal dialogue which are multiple, chiasmatic and co-constructed – with which employees / learners can learn to engage more reflectively.


Approaches to Conversive Learning


1) Conversive Organized Facilitation


The potential of learning for conceptual understanding depends largely on how utterances are treated within instruction; that is, how facilitator’s organize instruction. Hence, a conversive form of instruction is proposed, characterized by respecting and giving space to learners’ voices, which is called as ‘Conversive organized Facilitation’.


Under this model of conversive organized facilitation, the three ‘dialogue moves’ frequently used by facilitators to organize conversive instruction are emphasized: uptake, authentic questions, and high-level evaluation.


a) Uptake refers to the process of understanding the voices of learners allowing the facilitator to validate particular learners’ ideas by incorporating their responses into subsequent questions This reflects the role of the facilitator in inter-connecting the voices of learners and building on their contributions.

b) Authentic questions are all about different from questions with pre-determined answers, authentic questions are designed to invite learners’ perspectives and ideas into learning dialogues, promoting facilitator-participant interactions.

c) High-level evaluation is opposite to low-level evaluation, in which facilitators respond to and assess learners’ ideas with simple repetition or perfunctory praise. Instead, high-level evaluation requires facilitators to respond to learners’ ideas with elaboration, commentary, or follow-up questions


These three inter-related ‘dialogue moves’ illustrate how facilitation can be done conversely to fuel learners’ understanding in classroom training conversations.



2) Communicative Approach


The communicative approach implies that facilitator’s have a range of categories of facilitator-learner discourse that they strategically deploy to suit learning purposes. This distinguishes it from the earlier approach that facilitators should always be conversive. One way to explain this strain is that the goal of introducing a ‘learning story’ can appear to some extent monologic; it requires learners to learn the current consensus as to the experimental learning of concepts.


Authoritative discourse is more efficient for this than conversive. A more implied suggestion that would be effective is that all classroom learning discourse should follow a rhythm. In such a rhythm, the facilitator-learner discourses initially are conversive, when the facilitator explores learners’ ideas about learning concepts. Subsequently, the discourses then shift towards a more authoritative mode as the facilitator works on aspects of the learning concepts ‘through shaping, selecting and marking ideas. Finally, the facilitator synthesizes key points and reviews the learners’ progress. In other words, conversive discourse calls for subsequent authoritative discourses in which the facilitator intervenes to clarify the learning perspective.


The Conversive Learning Framework

A comprehensive framework is required for explaining conversive facilitation and supporting facilitators who intend to improve the quality and power of learning conversations. This framework is largely derived from a comparative learning study on classroom training, underpinned by conversive and socio-cultural theory. It is within this framework that we can define conversive learning as a general pedagogical approach that can strap the power of conversation to engage learners, stimulate and extend their thinking, advance their learning and understanding, which can be characterized by a set of core principles and indicators.


The principles are:


● Collectiveness: Facilitators and Learner’s address learning tasks together, whether as a group or as a class

● Reciprocity: Facilitators and Learner’s listen to each other, share ideas and consider alternative viewpoints

● Supportiveness: Learner’s articulate their ideas freely, without fear of embarrassment about ‘wrong’ answers, and they help each other to reach a common understanding

● Cumulativeness: Facilitators and Learner’s build on their own and each other’s ideas and chain them into coherent lines of thinking and enquiry

● Purposefulness: Facilitators design and steer classroom talk with specific learning goals in view.

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