In this unit, we provide an introduction to online dialogues and their educational applications and use. We introduce key concepts and terminology related to dialogue in general and online dialogue in particular: what are central dimensions and characteristics and what are some examples of their use in formal and/or informal education and learning environments. We also discuss the theoretical underpinnings underlying playful online dialogues for learning.


Have a look at the timeline below for a a short overview of communication through time, inspired by this wikipedia entry




See One - Knowledge about online dialogues
  • What is communication
  • Theoretical underpinnings of Online Dialogues
  • The learning dialogue
  • Dialogues online
  • Reading and watching videos on pedagogical and didactic theory regarding online dialogues
  • Explore the timeline on the history of communication
  • Explore the table of three main dimensions of communication
  • Writing reflections in your Reflection journal
  • Be able to identify and differentiate between dimensions of communication and types of dialogues
  • Be familiarized with the theoretical underpinnings of online dialogue

Overview of Communicating



Communicating in digital settings can be structurally defined as taking place within three main dimensions:



The form of technology use and teaching format we focus on in this PLD module is ‘online dialogues’ - the use of video-conferencing systems such as Skype, Google Hangouts, Adobe Connect, Zoom or Face time in teaching to communicate in ways that are Synchronous-Oral-Digital.

If you want to know more about synchronous/asynchronous or oral/written communication flow the links below:


Theoretical underpinnings of Online Dialogues

The use of dialogue in education originates, among other places, from the philosophies of dialogue in Martin Buber (2013), Gabriel Marcel (1952), and Emmanuel Levinas (2005). For Buber dialogue is fundamental to the formation of the individual. It is through the meeting of the ‘thou’, the uniqueness and the irreplaceable other person, that ‘I’ encounter the possibility of becoming unique too. It is through talking together that we become human to each other.

This is for example visible when the teacher moves into an explorative mode by asking open, and not leading or loaded, questions. The subject becomes something teacher and students examines together. When the teachers asks: “what do you think is interesting in the situation encountered?” or “how do you respond to the argument proposed in a given text?”, the student is recognised and acknowledge in her own right as human being with thoughts, experiences and opinions. Taking the student serious as an autonomous (yet not fully an expert) and legitimate partner in the professional or disciplinary setting is central in order to let the student step into the conversation with her full self.  This requires that the teacher is actually interested in the student and concerned for her development and growth. To meet the ’thou’ of the student demands an openness and sincerity on behalf of both, or all, the partners in the dialogue.

By realising what is other and even alien to me through dialogue, I realise the possibility of change and transformation through learning, and the opportunity to become not just anyone but someone. To Buber the dialogue forms a portal of meaning through which new ideas and thoughts may enter. For Levinas the dialogue is like wakening up from the slumber of being and engage with the very element of transformation itself. We can see this in teacher replies like “ah, that’s interesting, I hadn’t thought of it in that way” or “yes, I see what you mean, I didn’t realise that it could be interpreted in that way”. Giving the student the opportunity to change her perspective demands that the teacher allows, or perhaps requires of, herself to change too. This is something carried out through being in dialogue with each other and the world.

Levinas (2000) argues that the ‘saying’ that is characteristic of dialogue (in contrast to the ‘said’ of the monologue) keeps possibilities open for the arriving of something new and not yet fully known. Marcel focuses on the dialogue as forming the collective 'us’, which is a relation that is different from and more than the mere sum of the individuals present. The ‘us’ holds its own catalyst powers and brings the involved parts to a state of ideational abundancy. We see this happen when teachers successfully join with students in a shared reflection and discussion. To try to see what the student see, and to adapt to the tone and voice of that troubled sound and reflection. We see this in the teacher stating that “Yes, I understand your concerns. That’s a very tricky challenge you have encountered, and I don’t have any immediate solution to it, but I’ll very much like to hear what you plan to do. Maybe, we may find a way forward together.” Tuning in and joining in is central to form a shared dialogic space.

In counselling literature, this perspectives has been advocated by Carl Rogers (2003a) in his client-centered approach to counselling, where he draws heavily on Buber’s I-Thou dialogue model (Rogers, 2003b). Roger’s interpretation of Buber’s dialogue model is taken up by the Norwegian expert on relational dialogue Tordis Lien (2011), and both Buber and Levinas’ conceptions of the deep dialogical relation is integrated into John McLeod’s (2011) internationally acclaimed counselling theory. The point is here that the dialogue is not between partners, the dialogue is the between-ness itself. Listening into what the student is saying and exploring the meaning and learning emerging in the between-ness is essential for entering into the dialogue. This form of dialogue moves beyond instrumental and superficial turn-taking structure and requires an actual contact and engagement from all parties.

Overall, dialogue can be characterised by being:

  • An encounter that makes the individual be open to other people's opinions, worldviews and thoughts, and through this their their own thinking is opened up to the world (or the ‘thou’)
  • A way to explore and examine subjects, worlds, perspectives, and ideas together as something not established or fixed (‘said’), but as something we establish together through talking together (‘saying’).
  • Something creating a relation or bond between people in education, where they connect to each other forming a collective us.

If you are interested to know more on about this deeper dimension of dialogue you can view Partially Examined Life podcast - Buber - I and Thou

The learning dialogue

As Shields and Edwards (2005) point out dialogues are fundamental to learning and development. The dialogue breaks with the transmission of knowledge and it disturbs the hegemony of the monologue. The dialogue has an in-build play and playfulness that erodes hierarchies and fixed mental categories and societal frameworks. As Dysthe and Samara (2006) argue the dialogue is not merely a one-to-one relationship but may be group-based and may even be said to constitute the interplay of voices and perspectives in larger collectives and communities. One way of exploring the world is by playing in and with it through the dialogues we have with each other. Entering into a group dialogue is like forming a social contract about joint responsibility for the understanding we have of the world, or at least certain aspects and contexts of it. However, group dialogues without the premise of truthfulness tend to generate scepticism and indifference in the students. Therefore, to succeed, the trust in each other’s sincerity and integrity is essential to the dialogue.  

As stated by Dysthe, Samara and Westrheim (2006) and argued by Bengtsen (2016) in relation to supervisory dialogues, dialogism contrasts with monologism, where monologism sees knowledge as something fixed and given, dialogism sees knowledge as emerging from the interaction of voices – the so-called ‘multivoicedness’ of the dialogue. Where monologism is concerned with the transmission of knowledge, dialogism is concerned with the construction and transformation of understanding through the tension of divergence. Monologism can for example be a ‘conversation’ largely dominated by the teacher, where the student is reduced to a stand-in audience. Also monologism is at work in pseudo-conversations, where more parties are talking ‘together’, but only to repeat or reproduce the teacher perspective. Dialogism is a conversation where each partner has his or her own autonomous voice and is acknowledged and granted equal access and membership of the conversation. Not to say that all are experts on the same footing, as there is a reason for having a teacher (senior academic or professional) facilitated dialogues.

The Difference Between Monologue and Dialogue Kain Ramsay - Principles Into Practice

The mutual knowledge-building of the dialogue is possible because of the in-built creativity and possibility of self-transcendence, which, according to Barbara Grant (2010) defines dialogue. Grant argues that the dialogue is a way of testing ideas, of playing with new possibilities, and she compares it to the jazz sessions of musicians, where new perspectives and tonalities are being played with, tested and tried out together. However, dialogues are not easy to master and facilitate, and as Grant points out they are like ‘walking on eggshells’ (2010), constantly in danger of collapsing and disturbing their own flow and playfulness. To Denise Batchelor (2006; 2014) the dialogue is inevitably linked to silence and listening. As Batchelor points out the dialogue is not merely constituted by talk, but by the listening, and the active silences. This is a listening where you do not listen in order to give a clever comeback reply, but listen to understand your partner’s individual mindset. Many teachers feel uncomfortable with prolonged silences, and they feel, after a pause in the conversation, that they should contribute with a solution to the student’s challenge or problem. In contrast, deep listening and active listening is about exploring the silences and using one’s own silence to make room for the student and to let the student pause and reflect without pushing the conversation forward  unnecessarily.

For the dialogue to take place there must be, what Tera Fenwick (2014) calls, a ‘touching’. Teachers and students ‘touch’ when they find shared footing and resonance, for example in acknowledging that neither of them have the answer or solution - but may each, and in different ways, qualify and inform the conversation. Active listening is when you listen to understand the other person’s concerns from his perspective and not your own.

The participants in the dialogue must to greater or lesser degree expose themselves, lay their understandings and intentions bare, and offer themselves to the greater whole of the community. To be involved in dialogue is to touch each other, and to become touched, be caught by the openness and vulnerability of the other.

Improvise Every Conversation

5 ways to listen better | Julian Treasure


Taken together, learning dialogues can be characterised by being:

  • learning through one-to-one, group-based or collective dialogues
  • multivoiced and allowing for different perspectives and voices to blend and be tried out
  • improvisational as meaning emerges between the participants in the dialogue
  • linked to active listening and as such is radically different to speeches, delivery of information or instructions

Dialogues online

For quite some years the notion of online presence has been discussed in literature on online counselling and supervision. As Norm Friesen (2011) points out time and space changes from an embodied whole to a series, even a myriad, of multimodal ‘heres’ and ‘nows’. The here and now is not only experienced in a close vicinity of the local context as in face-to-face dialogues, but becomes an interwoven and complex ‘parallel presents’ and ‘parallel localities’. The teacher and student are not only speaking together - they are speaking together on a certain digital platform with a certain linguistic infrastructure that impacts the dialogue. Also, each platform allows for certain modalities (text, video, sound, images, emoticons, etc.) and hereby constituting a certain dialogical persona or profile. That is, the choice of platform is also a choice in regards to the forms of dialogue that become possible. Also, when speaking together online, the teacher and students are most likely not in the same place, e.g. at the institution, but physically located in other professional contexts, or even in more private domains, or simply at home.

Due to the lack of bodily and tacit cues and silent markers of mood and tone of the dialogue, the online communication may require more overt and explicit statements and articulations of emotional aspects, humour, and irony. Friesen argues that online dialogues may require more work to keep spontaneous and authentic and that they takes some experience to become accustomed to and to master online dialogues fully. At first, Susan Simpson (2003) points out, they may be experienced as alienating and exhausting, and fatigue may set in quite fast compared to traditional face-to-face conversations. As Michael Fenichel (2003) underlines, it is important to be mindful of how to build and maintain student and teacher personality and personal presence when communicating through video-conferencing. This includes being aware of how much of your body and face is visible when speaking (in the camera zone), and from what angle address the camera.

Jane Evans (2009) advices that attention is given to the how you intentionally create and maintain contact online, which may be through eye contact but may also be through a particular use of voice or how you position yourself bodily in relation to the web-camera used. Expression in your eyes, voice, and body does not become less important when communication online, quite the contrary, you may say that it becomes even more important.

John Suler (2004; 2008) argues that online dialogues may have their own strengths and advantages compared to face-to-face contact. For some they feel less intense and intimate and thereby provides a stronger ‘zone for reflection’, as Suler calls it (2008), where the interlocutors are more at ease to explore their own inner imaginative space while maintaining the dynamic and spontaneous dialogue.

Also, the digital tool or platform used for the online dialogue may hold new possibilities for exploring the relation established, and, as Suler states (2008), the software design and interface of the programme influences the dialogue. Bengtsen and Mathiesen (2014) has discussed the epistemic underpinning of digital tools and how they may interact with, and even strike back at, the participants in the dialogue. For example the interruption of someone in video-conference may be felt more offensive than in a similar face-to-face situations as you cannot mediate or apprehend the interruption by your body language. Also, the amplifying of background sound or asides to colleagues or fellow students sitting next to you may gain much more prominence, in an unfortunate manner, than in unmediated settings. The online dialogue may, therefore, be seen as part of a particular format for communication (Bengtsen & Jensen, 2015; Bengtsen & Nørgård, 2018), and the digital tool cannot be seen merely as an external part of the dialogue, but as co-constituting the dialogic and being a central part of its very fabric and dialogical flow.

Using video conferencing in teaching & learning

To create dialogic online dialogue through the use of video-conferencing in educational settings, the Oxford Tutorial (Horn, 2013; Ashwin, 2005; 2006) has been used as a model, as presented and discussed in Bengtsen and Nørgård (2018). The Oxford Tutorial is a highly dialogic teaching format, where the conversation between the teacher and the small group of students is dependent on student engagement and student initiated topics and themes for discussion. As Horn (2013) describes, the tutorial is meant for creating a safe space for dialogic discussion, where the individual student can take more risks without the fear of humiliation that is sometimes related to larger classroom settings and lectures. However, the dialogue is a premise for the tutorial to work, so even though the number of students is smaller, and the familiarity greater, there is a demand for active participation and engagement. The online tutorial has been used with good success in the model for participatory academic communities (Nørgård & Aaen, 2015) as well as in the model for online hotseat tutorials (Bengtsen & Nørgård, 2018). Within these formats, the online dialogue does not hinge on just two persons, but is being co-constructed and maintained by a group, where the collective 'us' take turns in contributing to the discussion. Such small-scale learning communities contribute to the familiarity and feeling of safety, and encourages its members to relax more and find their own way of building presence in the online environment.  



Reflection points

Before moving from the See One What' section to the 'See One Why' section of this unit take some time to reflect in your learning journal on a couple of central considerations and questions when doing teaching and learning through dialogue:

  1. What modalities are active and become part of the online dialogue? How will sound, video, and text/chat play together in the dialogue - and how may you use each modality according to your aims with the dialogue?
  2. What are important points in relation to the tone of your voice or your facial expression when underlining certain points, signalling that you are listening or inviting students to come forward with their own views and ideas.?
  3. How do you make sure to include and hear everyone, when not being able to have a traditional overview of people’s emotional and cognitive responses?
  4. How do you balance curricular and pedagogical leadership (the teacher role) with an inclusive and inviting listening approach? Would you have to structure the dialogue or discussion in ways that are different to your traditional classroom or learning environment?
  5. What is your chief goal and ambition of using the online tool for dialogue? Do you use it to complement or supplement face-to-face sessions, or is it the primary means for communication in the learning situation?