The significance of dialogue in learning and observing learning

  • Draper S
  • Anderson A
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Given the widespread usage of computers by groups of learners rather than individuals, this paper focuses on the issue of the significance of dialogue, and the potential relevance of dialogue analysis to research on learning with computers. At the theoretical level there are two considerations. "Cultural Psychology" (descended from the work of Vygotsky) argues that most learning is a social phenomenon and that dialogue is central to this. On the other hand, arguments derived from Wittgenstein assert that dialogue cannot be viewed as the reliable exchange of mutually understood messages, but on the contrary the two conversants (never mind an observer or recorder) can never be sure they have a common understanding of what was said. This latter casts fundamental doubt on the use of dialogue as data, at least as an indicator of the beliefs of individuals, and yet evidence for the importance of peer interaction mediated by dialogue to conceptual development can be found. Possible methods of dialogue analysis and their difficulties are then reviewed. Our conclusion is that for investigations of individual learning, naturalistic dialogue is unreliable while more structured (though unnatural) interviewing is more reliable and can be used to accumulate knowledge. On the other hand investigations of the social processes promoting such learning must look at natural dialogue itself. © 1991.

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  • Stephen W. Draper

  • Anthony Anderson

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