Laurillard: Using Technology to Capture Pedagogic Form

Diane Laurillard has developed a “Conversation Framework” inspired by Gordon Pask’s conversation theory.  Laurillard’s ideas have been used in the UK’s Open University, and are fleshed out in a book I’m still reading (Rethinking University Teaching).  I read this article primarily to see a quick summary, in her own words, of her Conversation Framework.  However, the point of this article is broader: she argues for “the use of an online learning activity management system as a way of capturing and sharing the pedagogic forms teachers design” (p. 139).  She suggests that teachers collaborate as “action researchers” to utilize generalized pedagogic tools, refining them to the specifics of their own courses and disciplines.  Her ideas are interesting (though perhaps idealistic if the academic community still does not view such sharing of “action research” as equivalent to publishing), but here I will simply summarize her Conversation Framework.

For Laurillard, the learning process operates on two levels, the discursive and the experiential (see p. 140).  The discursive level seems to fit best with traditional understandings of “conversation” (which Laurillard does not define in this article): together the teacher and student exchange ideas and concepts; discuss; ask questions; comment; critique; and articulate alternatives.  Learners can similarly have this exchange among themselves.  On the discursive level, Laurillard writes, learning occurs through “listening, reading, writing, discussion, communicating, debating, articulating, presenting etc.” (p. 140).  But for Laurillard, the learning process must “lin[k] the discussion to the practice of the theory, or the application of the idea” (p. 143).  Thus the experiential level consists of “students work[ing] within the learning environment constructed by the teacher…, [wherein] learning [occurs] by doing, practising, rehearsing, analysing, testing, making, building, etc.” (p. 141).  For Laurillard, “[t]his two-level ‘conversation’ between teacher and students … shows the minimal interactions between the teacher and learners that would constitute a completely supported learning process” (pp. 141-2).

For both teacher and learner, “[t]he two levels of theory and practice are connected … by the activities of adaptation and reflection” (p. 141).  The learner concentrates on a goal–action–feedback cycle, reflecting on and adapting their actions as the teacher supplies feedback.  The teacher too is what Laurillard terms a “reflective practioner,” as she adapts the task based on learner actions and “then reflects on their performance at the experiential level to inform their further presentation and discussion at the discursive level” (p. 141).

Let me see if I can outline the 12 stages (including a teacher and one learner, not multiple learners interacting with each other) in their order without the diagram to help:

  • Discursive: concepts shared by teacher (1), questions asked by student (2), answers given by teacher (3)
  • Adaptation: teacher adapts learning task practice environment (4)
  • Experiential: adapted task goal shared by teacher with student (5)
  • Adaptation: student’s actions (transferring student concepts to student plans & outputs (6)
  • Experiential: student actions (7), teacher feedback (8), student revisions (9)
  • Adaptation: student reflects (transferring plans & outputs to revised concepts) (10), teacher reflects (experience in constructed task environment informs teacher concepts) (11)
  • Discursive: student productions, based on student concepts, inform teacher concepts (12)

In some cases, it’s not clear to me why a certain element gets a certain label.  For example, isn’t 12 primarily in the experiential realm, not the discursive?  Why is 8 experiential and not discursive?  Am I misunderstanding the meaning to these labels?

Though not explicitly stated in this article, it is apparent that Laurillard’s focus is on distance and blended learning.  She makes a few references to blending techniques, such as when she writes, about her Conversation Framework, that “[t]he value of the Framework is therefore to demonstrate what other teaching methods must be blended with the technology-based methods to complete the support of the learning process” (p. 142, italics added).

The theory makes sense, but the diagram explaining it is complicated (though not undecipherable!).  I had seen a simpler version of it in Heinze, Proctor & Scott, which featured 12 stages.  But the figure given in this article adds “other learners” to “learner” and “teacher”, making 18 different stages.  The diagram has opted for completeness but not parsimony.


Laurillard, Diane.  (2008).  “The Teacher as Action Researcher: Using Technology to Capture Pedagogic Form.” Studies in Higher Education3(2). 139–154.


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