The following is a sponsored article from the Constructive Dialogue Institute.
At some point, most instructors were once students, so it’s easy to relate to sitting in a classroom, listening to a lecture, and perhaps feeling your mind wander. The class that impacted you most was probably taught by a lively individual who found ways to turn their students into an active cast, rather than an audience ready to snooze. It’s no secret that if your students are on their phones, dozing and doodling, they’re most likely not learning. But what if there was a practical way to bring your classroom to life, to engage students in a way that sparked their curiosity, deepened their understanding, and fostered a sense of connection?
That’s where classroom dialogue comes in. It’s a dynamic and interactive approach to learning that goes beyond passive listening and transforms education into a vibrant conversation. You might be thinking, I use dialogue all the time by asking my students questions. This might be true, but dialogue can be much more than that. Imagine students building on each other’s ideas, working through problems, developing their viewpoints, and learning (not just demonstrating learning) through dialogue. Instructors who prioritize dialogue find it beneficial to talk about talking and structure lessons in ways that guide students into meaningful discourse rather than hoping they figure it all out on their own.
In this article, we’ll explore five benefits of classroom dialogue and introduce you to a powerful tool to help you create an engaging dialogue-based classroom where your students turn their eyes from their phones and toward each other.
The benefits of dialogue-based learning
- Comprehension: Unveiling the gaps
Have you ever thought you understood something perfectly, only to realize you had gaps in your knowledge when asked to explain it? It happens to the best of us. Classroom dialogue provides a unique opportunity for students to verbalize their understanding, bring their thoughts to the surface, and examine them closely. By engaging in dialogue students can identify knowledge gaps, challenge their assumptions, and solidify their comprehension with the help of their peers.
- Retention: Recalling the content
In our fast-paced, technology-driven world, we often treat our devices like extensions of our minds. While convenient, this constant access to knowledge has led to a decline in memory recall. But here’s the good news: classroom dialogue can mitigate the side effects. When students actively participate in conversation and process information verbally, they strengthen neural associations, ensuring that the information sticks with them long after the conversation ends.
- Engagement: Being present in the learning process
In a dialogue-based classroom, students become more than passive recipients of information—they become active participants in their own education. Dialogue encourages students to ask questions, share their perspectives, and contribute to collective knowledge. It’s hard to drift off when you’re the one speaking.
- Connection and belonging: Building a classroom community
Research shows that students learn better when they feel they belong, which translates to higher achievement. Think about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: first comes belonging, then esteem and achievement, and finally, at the top of the pyramid, is self-actualization. Classroom dialogue nurtures an inclusive environment where every student’s voice is valued. Through conversation, students not only connect with course material but also with their peers. When students talk to each other in meaningful ways, barriers come down, creating a classroom community where students feel heard, respected, and supported—helping them reach their full potential.
- Purpose: Bringing knowledge to life
As learners, we’ve all asked ourselves, How does it relate to the real world? By integrating dialogue into the classroom, instructors can help students connect academic content to real-life experiences and current events. Questions like, “Have you encountered this before?” or “How does this impact the world around us?” prompt students to connect academic content to prior knowledge, explore the practical applications of what they’re learning, and connect their classroom experience to a deeper sense of purpose.
When you list the benefits of dialogue, emphasizing it as a learning method seems like a no-brainer. However, it might feel like a heavy lift to rewrite your syllabus to incorporate foundational lessons on dialogue skills when you already have so much content to cover. Thankfully, there is a free, practical, easy-to-implement tool for faculty to quickly build skills with students.
Perspectives: Empowering students in thoughtful discussion
Perspectives is a blended-learning program rooted in psychology that empowers students to engage in thoughtful discussions, consider diverse viewpoints, and develop critical thinking and conflict resolution skills. Students enjoy the short lessons, interactivity, built-in quizzes, multimedia, and optional practice conversations with peers that help reinforce what they learn while connecting with classmates in low-stakes settings. The program’s effectiveness is even proven through randomized controlled trials—the gold standard in research.
There’s a great activity in Perspectives where students are asked to explain how a zipper works. It’s an eye-opening moment for many students because they realize that once asked to share their knowledge, something so mundane as a zipper becomes complex and challenging to put into words. It’s a lesson for students to recognize the limits of their knowledge and be more open to others and their ideas. The zipper is just one example of how content in Perspectives can create light bulb moments for students that enable them to come to class with a mindset prepared for productive dialogue.
One student from Towson University said, “Perspectives was very applicable to real-life scenarios. The program taught me different ways to communicate with others who may have dissenting opinions.”
And for many faculty, the tool has enhanced their classroom environment, even with larger groups of students. Lindsay Hoffman, a professor at the University of Delaware, explained, “I use Perspectives in my media & politics class—open to students in communication, political science, and public policy—as a way to enhance student-to-student interaction in a larger lecture. The peer interactions are incredibly well-received.” All instructors are welcome to use this off-the-shelf tool for free with their students. And if you decide to incorporate it in your course, we’d love to hear how it impacts the way your students engage with each other and your course content.
This article was written by Constructive Dialogue Institute. For more information about Perspectives, click here.