dialogue education
dialogue education

Dialogue Education

(DYE-uh-log Ed-you-KAY-shun)

gas-like elements


What is Dialogue Education?

Dialogue education is a theory developed by Jane Vella that states that learning happens best through dialogue.

What Does Jane Vella Have to Say About Dialogue Education?

Key Properties

In her book Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach: The Power of Dialogue in Educating Adults, author and educator Jane Vella outlines the 12 core properties of this element:

  1. Needs assessment. Who needs what according to whom?
  2. Safety. How can we make sure all learners experience an environment in which their contribution is valued?
  3. Sound relationships. Everyone in the learning experience is in some sort of relationship with one another, and there should be genuine curiosity that runs both ways in each of these relationships—instructor to learner, learner to learners, designer to learners.
  4. Sequence and reinforcement. The flow of a learning experience matters and needs to be intentional, and key concepts shouldn’t be touched upon only once with the assumption they’ve left a meaningful impact on the learners.
  5. Praxis. From the Greek word for practice with reflection, it’s not just enough to have learners go through an activity—the debriefing of that activity is at least as important as the activity itself.
  6. Learners as decision makers. Do we respect our learners enough to allow them to make some decisions about their learning experience?
  7. Ideas, feelings, and actions. It’s not enough to be exposed to a concept, but learners need to have an emotional connection and decide when, if, and how to act upon the concepts and emotions.
  8. Immediacy. Will the content help learners do their job better (tomorrow)? Will it help solve a problem = (today)?
  9. Clear roles. Another name for this principle could be humility; does the presenter feel the need to be “the professor” in front of the room, holding a monopoly on all knowledge, or do learners play a role in the dialogue that takes place in the learning experience? 
  10. Teamwork. In accordance with the idea that two (or three or four) heads are better than one, providing opportunities for learners to work together not only aids in in-the-moment learning, but also mirrors real life, in which people generally need to work with other team members, colleagues, or co-workers across an organization to get things done.
  11. Engagement of the learners. When learners are deeply engaged in a learning experience, especially one that revolves around dialogue, it can be difficult to get them to stop learning.
  12. Accountability. Yes, learners need to ultimately be accountable for their learning and what they do after a learning experience, but facilitators and course designers must also be accountable to the learners, putting the effort in to ensure an engaging, purposeful experience.

Key Passages about Dialogue Education from What's your Formula?

Whats Your Formula book
Order your copy to learn more about dialogue education and all of the related elements.


audience response systemsAudience Response

Whether you’re in front of a large group or a handful of people, finding ways for learners to engage with your content and with one another can be key. Audience response tools allow your learners to vote, share their thoughts, or respond to your questions in a way that is safe (it’s generally anonymous) and allows everyone’s voice to be seen and heard.

lesson planLesson Plan

We cover this concept in depth in chapter 2, but when you are able to map out the sequence and flow of your activities— complete with talking points, instructional techniques, and detailed directions—the odds of intentionally incorporating the concepts of dialogue education increase over simply putting together your presentation by opening up PowerPoint and generating a slide deck.


Common tools of assessment include formal quizzing or testing, but through dialogue, you can quickly and informally gauge how well your learners are “getting it.”


While Jane Vella’s original concepts focused on in-person instruction, the fundamentals of dialogue education can be brought into e-learning design with great success. Integrating comments, vignettes, scenario-based interactions, and case studies that include real dialogue from others are ways to asynchronously expose people to others’ experiences. Integrating discussion boards could be an alternate way to asynchronously bring dialogue into a learning experience between people who may be half a world away.

virtual meetingVirtual Meeting

While dialogue with participants can be increasingly difficult as the attendance of a virtual meeting grows, most platforms offer a variety of ways to include the voice of participants and allow them to enter into dialogue with the facilitator as well as between one another. Using breakout rooms, the chat tool, on-screen annotation, or even allowing participants to come off mute to speak with the facilitator or other participants are all ways to design dialogue into a virtual meeting.

Potentially Dangerous Interactions

Careful when using Subject Matter Experts (Ex), Powerpoint (Pp), or Lecture (Le) when designing for Dialogue Education. Without thoughtful design, your ability to harness Vella’s concepts of Teamwork, Clear Roles, or Sound Relationships (among others) could be significantly weakened.

Other Sources of Information on Dialogue Education

  • Founded by Dr. Jane Vella, Global Learning Partners has numerous open source resources, from Learning Design, to Assessment, Facilitation, and more.
  • Liberating Structures are practices that harness the power of the people in the room, complementing Vella’s work. 
  • The 5 Moments of Need considers Vella’s concept of immediacy as it contributes to adult learners’ ability to do their jobs better.

Books on Dialogue Education

The classic book that lays out Jane Vella’s twelve principles of dialogue education.

In this book, Vella takes the principles of dialogue education and shows what it looks like to put them into action through both the traditional face-to-face educational setting and also in an online setting

Related to several Dialogue Education concepts, this book describes how to use each of the 33 Liberating Structures with step-by-step explanations of what to do and what to expect.

Download the Element Sanity Check

Even if you haven’t yet purchased the book (what are you waiting for?!) you can get access to worksheets that will help guide you through the use of the elements of amazing learning experiences.