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Conversation Theory

Conversation Theory is a constructivist model attempting to explain learning in both living organisms and machines. It is often regarded as a framework for cybernetics or dialectics which investigates how knowledge is constructed through communicative human and non-human transactions. The fundamental idea of the theory is that learning occurs through conversations about a subject matter which serves to make knowledge explicit. 

According to Conversation Theory as developed by Gordon Pask human communicative interaction, similarly to any planning environment, is based on two main characteristics to successfully localise meaning: interpretation and context.  In a dialectical interaction the participants gradually shape their viewpoints to accommodate the received viewpoints and the perceived knowledge of the other participants and also contextualise the given and acquired messages. In time the conversation will be more personal, the dialogue more effective, the participants understand each other and get to know each other better. 

In this context an interaction provides an opportunity to reach common understanding, shared sense-making and a synthetized construction of knowledge of different cognitive systems. 

As suggested by Gordon Pask in the 1970s, technologies may act as assistive tools to help make knowledge explicit, facilitate a joint interpretation, and reach agreed meanings by reducing differences until an agreed basis is achieved. He identified different individual learning styles such as the holist (seek the whole framework), serialist (advance step by step, from the known to the unknown), and their optimal mixture versatile as occur through conversations.

The core message of Conversation theory (CT) is that people learn through conversations. CT is a constructivist model that explains learning in both living organisms and machines. It is often regarded as a framework for cybernetics or dialectics, as it investigates how knowledge is constructed through communicative human and non-human transactions. The fundamental idea of CT is that learning mostly occurs through conversations about a subject matter which by design helps to make knowledge explicit.

CT as developed by Gordon Pask also claims that human communicative interaction is based on two main characteristics: interpretation and context, which are fundamental in order to successfully localise meaning. In a typical dialectical interaction the participants gradually shape their viewpoints to

  • accommodate to the pre-emptive viewpoints, alleged knowledge of other participants

and

  • contextualise the given and acquired messages.

In time the conversation will be more and more personal, the dialogue will be more effective, the participants understand each other better and also get to know each other better.

It is in this sense that an interaction provides an opportunity to reach common understanding, joint meaning-making and a synthetised construction of knowledge of different cognitive systems. Technologies as suggested by Gordon Pask in the 1970s may act as assistive tools to help make knowledge explicit, facilitate a joint interpretation, and reach agreed meanings by reducing differences until agreement is reached. He identified the extremes of individual learning styles, such as the holist (who seeks the whole framework), the serialist (who advances step by step from the known to the unknown), and their optimal mixture versatile which only occur through conversations.

SciCafe 2.0 will provide a platform, Citizens’ Say, for online social presence and interaction which facilitates knowledge debates around controversial issues to reach common understanding among contending parties, as well as a support agency that helps build up the capacity to handle controversial issues in a productive way.

See also:
Pask, G. (1976) Conversation theory. New York: Elsevier. http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.119.9872&rep=rep1&type=pdf

Mallen G. (2013) Early Computer Models of Cognitive Systems and the Beginnings of Cognitive Systems Dynamics. Constructivist Foundations 9(1): 137–138. Available at http://www.univie.ac.at/constructivism/journal/9/1/137.mallen