Note: This is a draft exploring some ideas.

Diana Laurillard talks about teaching as a ‘Design Science’ not as a craft, or art. With readily available learning designs or pedagogical patterns teachers can share what works and build on the knowledge of others.

I want to examine the ways in which the teacher interacts with the learner, and see if these can be codified in a way that is practically useful. Laurillard’s analysis of the exchanges between teachers and learners is one insightful solution. These exchanges are contained in her Conversational Framework, an elegant yet complex schemata that attempts to describe how learning happens through a limited group of interactions. Teaching isn’t about broadcasting but a conversation where the learner re-calibrates their learning and the teacher re-aligns their teaching as the conversation (which neither party may know is going on) develops. 

Conversatinal framework Clean JHO1
The Conversational Framework

In its complete state it looks like this. It’s an attempt to depict the irreducible elements (and the iterative connections between them), when learning from formal teaching takes place. It’s not as easy on the eye as Senge’s Double Loop or Kolb’s Learning cycle which to me are too reductionist.

Why go all the way to create such a ‘Unified Field theory’ (to use a term borrowed from science) of teaching? Laurillard’s intention was to use it to test the suitability and effectiveness of new technologies in learning. In her book “Teaching as a Design Science” (Laurillard 2012), she makes the point that we still reference the work of Dewey, Piaget and Vygotsky after almost a century, because what it takes to learn has not changed but

“What does change is how we motivate and enable formal learning…the idea of the Conversational Framework is to try to use the salient ideas in the principal theories to give us the basis for understanding how to design teaching and learning now that digital technologies are making more impact on education.”

As someone who authored a MOOC recently, and observed a myriad of learning styles, this is of interest! Lets divide this framework into particular processes pertinent to this spotlight on teaching.


What do we require of teachers? We want them to motivate or enable the learner. We want them to generate the best way to articulate the subject at hand, and we want them to modulate and change their practice and own conceptual framework based on the response they get from the learner. Teachers need to model the teaching/learning environment or situation in each interaction. There are several types of teaching/learning activities possible through the framework.

Let’s run through this, by looking at the three main cycles in the diagram that describe how we teach. Firstly, the Teacher Communication Cycle.

The Teacher Communication Cycle

Here we see the Teacher’s concepts (TC) are modulated by interaction with the learner. Note; this is not broadcasting as laypeople assume teaching is, but an interaction where the learner responds to that which is communicated, and through that response the teacher finds out whether the learner needs their concept of the thing in question refined or remodelled. This is about the teacher’s role in aligning goals and monitoring the learners conceptions. Is the learner’s concept (LC) correct? If not the teacher may adjust tack. The cyclical arrows indicate the learner may pro-actively inquire of the teacher, as well as acquiring information passively. Meantime, the vertical arrows indicate the interaction is generating and modulating the Learner’s practice (LP), and the “Teacher’s Practice Modelling Environment” (TPME) or the scaffolding and situation/context in which the teacher teaches.

This cycle is scaleable- it can be as simple as the learner asking for details about some homework to a sustained dialogue on a complete discipline. The important point is that in good teaching both the learner and the teacher are recalibrating how they teach and how they apply what is learnt. The number of loops will vary, depending on how long it takes for the learners concept to be aligned to what is being taught. The teacher is not formally assessing here, but rather testing conceptual understanding, however some kind of formative assessment can be used to make the learner’s thinking visible to themselves.

Now for the Teacher Practice Cycle, below. This represents the teacher’s role in scaffolding, designing exercises appropriate to the learners development, for instance creating the right conditions for the learners thinking to be revealed, or providing feedback to change the concepts that underpin the learner’s practice.

The Teacher Practice Cycle

As an example, I might set my task to explore a particular VFX technique. I provide a range of sources and videos to watch. The learner watches these, and reinterprets the technique. I then comment on this. More often than not, this will involve the learner changing their understanding of this concept, and so we loop around again.

Let’s now look at the Teacher Modelling Cycle. The teacher can provide a practice environment in which the learner develops their practice, but which also responds with feedback to that practice. The interesting thing here is that if well designed, the teacher needn’t be burdened with lots of teaching; the environment does it for them. For instance the TPME could be an interactive learning tool, or a web exercise that needs following in order to make a product. All the while, the learners conceptual understanding is being modulated and tweaked, or new concepts are generated. Likewise for the teacher, their concepts are replenished and/or altered.

The Teacher Modelling Cycle

Summary: In this text I have only concentrated on the Teacher-centric portion of the framework. However the Conversational framework has more facets that I hope to analyse in future blogs. It has practical diagnostic possibilities for understanding how digital technologies can be assessed for use in teaching and learning scenarios, and can be used to identify successful ‘Pedagogical Patterns’ to re-use again. Rather than just a theoretical framework, it can be viewed as a giant machine that describes formal education.


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