Cheat Sheet: Using Group Talk As Discussions For Conference Education

The discussion

The evidence is loud and clear that peer discussions are more effective than lectures if

  • memory and knowledge retention,
  • attitude, behavior and skill change,
  • and learning

are the goals.

Just dividing a traditional lecture into 10 minute chunks and then giving the audience two to ten-minute breaks for time for discussion increases learning.

How Discussions And Democracy Are Intertwined

Using discussions as a learning method is a valuable and exciting way for revealing diverse opinions and perspectives. It’s a great strategy to explore a topic and develop a fuller appreciation of the array of human experiences, knowledge and applied insights.

Discussions also embody the democratic process. Participants in a discussion have the opportunity to voice their views as well as devote their attention to listening to others’ views.

Discussions and democracy are inseparable because both have the same objective: to nurture and promote human growth. Isn’t that a goal of most conferences as well: to move an industry forward and promote growth. John Dewey (1916) said that discussions create an ever-increasing capacity for learning and an appreciation of and sensitivity to learning undertaken by others.

Conversations, Dialogue And Discussions

Blending lectures with peer discussions in pairs, triads and small groups is more than just conversation and dialogue. It has a purpose and goal.

1. Conversations

Conversations seek equilibrium where each person takes a turn to speak and listen but no forward movement occurs. Conversations are a genial cooperative exchange of thoughts and feelings. Lipman (1991). They are generally aimless, carefree and effortless without any real goal.

2. Dialogue

Dialogue, according to Matthew Lipman (1991) is an exchange of disequilibrium where each argument evokes a counterargument that pushes itself beyond the other and pushes the other beyond itself. Lipman believes dialogue is an exploration of inquiry where participants collaborate to move and issue forward or solve a problem.

In short conversation is informal and dialogues focus on inquiry.

3. Discussion

David Bridges (1998) claims that discussion is different from conversation and dialogue by its goal of development of knowledge, understanding, evaluation and application among those participating. It is more serious than conversation as it requires participants to be both mutually responsive to diverse views and affected by the opinions of others that merit acceptance. Discussions are highly disciplined, facilitated talk.

Four Purposes Of Discussions

Often conference group talk is a blend of conversations, dialogue and discussions. Great presenters can facilitate an audience as they move through all three types of group talk.

Most discussions incorporate reciprocity and movement (from one individual to another), exchange and inquiry, cooperation and collaboration, formality and informality. Brookfield (2012). In the conference education session, discussion is an alternating serious and playful effort by a group of two or more to share views and engage in mutual and reciprocal critique. This is where the true learning occurs. Brookfield and Preskill (1999)

According to Brookfield and Preskill (1999) discussions serve four purposes:

1. Informed Understanding

Help participants reach a more critically informed understanding about the topic as well as how to apply it.

2. Self-Awareness and Self-Critique

Enhance participants’ self-awareness and their capacity for self-critique.

3. Foster Appreciation Of Diverse Opinions

Foster participants’ appreciation of diverse opinions when views are exchanged openly and honestly

4. Catalyst for Informed Action

Act as a catalyst to help participants take an informed action in the world. This one is critical!

All four of the purposes often line up with conference goals. Ultimately, discussions are a great way for people to be together!

References for Cheat Sheet: Using Group Talk As Discussions For Conference Education

What keeps most presenters from using discussions during their presentations? Why do presenters often feel that covering all of their content is more important allowing the audience to discuss the topic?

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