Finding Laurillard’s Conversational Framework in Distance Courses

Last week I met with new teachers to welcome them and introduce professional development opportunities. My agenda was simple: to raise awareness of ongoing distance courses and to create buy-in so that teachers use these courses to support their ongoing learning. The plan being that these opportunities to learn online will enrich teachers’ work, improve quality of teaching, as well as encourage teachers to consider short and long-term development paths.

So it turns out not everyone is as excited about online learning and e-technologies as I am. Note to self, don’t begin an information session by inviting people to share their experience of online learning. For the majority, their comments on distance learning in their prior studies consisted of:

·      it was disengaging and involved no interaction

·      there was no feedback, just a set of tasks to complete

·      it was repetitive and required a great deal of self-discipline

On the upside, there was one point of positive feedback – that distance learning had enabled a teacher to study at her own pace. Aside from this single benefit, the overall experience had been counterproductive to the learning process.

On reflection, I shouldn’t be surprised by the overall negative past experiences the teachers shared in studying online. For the most part, Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs), such as Blackboard, Moodle and Sakai, have been used a repository for content rather than a facilitator for learning. Stephen Downes’ vlog on this topic provides an excellent summary of this.

In a bid to alter the mindset of the room, I outlined how trainees enrolled on courses get the opportunity to:

·      collaborate with fellow trainees on tasks through a variety technologies, such as Wechat, LinkedIn and Skype

·      receive feedback from peers and tutors every week

·      engage in a variety of tasks each week

·      create products of their learning

The above strategies lean towards Diana Laurillard’s Conversational Framework (2002), in which technologies are utilized to facilitate an ongoing interactive dialogue between teachers and students. Laurilliard’s approach was designed in response to the type of issues raised in my information session in order to create an environment that is conducive to learning.

Although there is room to implement Laurillard’s approach further in my work as a distance learning trainer, I can identify how technologies used in online courses fit into the Laurillard’s Conversational Framework - shown below.

 Diagram representing Laurillard's Conversational Framework for learning

Diagram representing Laurillard's Conversational Framework for learning

The following diagram shows how technologies for online courses, such as the 10-week distance course on Teaching Phonology, are used with Laurillard’s approach:


 Diagram shows how technology and media is used on the Teaching Phonology Distance Course

Diagram shows how technology and media is used on the Teaching Phonology Distance Course

Mapping technologies used on the Teaching Phonology Distance Course onto Laurillard’s Framework is useful in highlighting the following:

1.   How the organisation and technologies used on the Teaching Phonology course emulate qualities described in Laurillard's Constructionist approach to learning.

2.   How the same technology can be used for multiple purposes and at different points in the learning-process. For example, Wechat is often used in addition to other technologies throughout much of the Conversational Framework.

3.   The above diagram is an overview of key technologies used on Teaching Phonology course. There is room to add further detail by adding specific technologies and media that are used in weekly tasks. For example, in week three of the course we use interactive phonemic charts to practice transcribing utterances. 


Maybe next time I meet with new teachers to introduce distance courses I should show them this diagram instead.