Dialectic Process of Learning

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In classical philosophy, dialectic is controversy: the exchange of arguments and counter-arguments respectively advocating propositions (theses) and counter-propositions (antitheses). The outcome of the exercise might not simply be the refutation of one of the relevant points of view, but a synthesis or combination of the opposing assertions, or at least a qualitative transformation in the direction of the dialogue. In ancient and medieval times both rhetoric and dialectic were understood to aim at being persuasive (through dialogue).  The aim of the dialectical method, often known as dialectics, is to try to resolve the disagreement through rational discussion, and ultimately, the search for truth. One way to proceed-the Socratic method-is to show that a given hypothesis leads to a contradiction; thus, forcing the withdrawal of the hypothesis as a candidate for truth. Another way of trying to resolve a disagreement is by denying some presupposition of both the contending thesis and antithesis; thereby moving to a third synthesis.

The Socratic method of conversation or dialogue that leads to truth can be used to drive Intuitive Learning.  Learners develop Key Questions that arise out of personal interest, background knowledge or simply curiosity. This realm of education that generates the Key Question is the Will aspect of learning.  The initial naivety of the learner concerning the question is a strong force often referred to as “beginner’s mind.”  This state of open awareness and receptivity often feeds into what is commonly called, “beginner’s luck” that is frequently the source of innovation and creativity.

Once a Key Question has motivated the learner to establish an interesting question, the learner can begin by making a mind-map or graphic organizer that visually outlines what the learner already knows about the Key Question and what they want to learn throughout the project.  Then the research begins and the learner starts to gather support information from the Internet, libraries, interviews with experts, books, websites, video clips, movies, and other sources of data. During this stage, the Key Question remains open and undisputed. The learner will naturally keep a bibliography of all resources accessed as part of the tracking process of the project.

When enough resources have been gathered, the Dialectic Process can begin.  As information is processed, a spectrum of opinions becomes apparent and the Key Question (thesis) begins to meet its counter-opinions (antithesis) from different opposing ‘schools of thought’ on the topic. Opposing views must now be examined and balanced with the accumulating data. The key factor of developing clear judgment now becomes the prominent force driving the learning process.

Truth is the ultimate goal. Truth must be substantiated and backed up by multiple sources of information.

Now the Key Question starts to transform into a more focused, poignant question that may create new knowledge or a new question for the field of knowledge.  Once the learner sees the push and pull of the Thesis – Antithesis of the Key Question, the direction of the learner can find balance between the opposing opinions and the opportunity for Synthesis arises.  At this point, the Key Question can reformulate and transform into a question that has direct application and pertinence to the overall question in its field of knowledge.  The Key Question, hypothesis or theory begins to “take on flesh and blood” and become a living, active question that energizes the research and focuses the question.

As the Key Question transforms into a more refined quest for knowledge leading to truth, the Learner reflects (feelings) on what is being learned and what is needed or missing in the equation. The learner can take time to let their inherent creativity blossom and therefore inform or illuminate the question. Music, drawing, sculpture, poetry, graphic design, or any artistic process can open the learner to subtle nuances of the question that might not be overt and obvious from a cursory examination of the question.  It is at these moments that great discoveries can be made.  Drawing analogies, creating metaphors, comparing, contrasting, or simply ordering the hierarchy of knowledge surrounding the question can shed new light on the subject.

This is often when “beginner’s luck” may strike and reveal an aspect of a question never found before, even by the experts.  Often, the seemingly naïve question of the child can revolutionize a field of knowledge.  Teachers who are not ready to find new answers and new learning from every student are missing one of the great reservoirs of inspiration.  Sometimes trying to answer a question in the language of a child can unearth novel and valid perspectives.  This phase of learning is often overlooked or undervalued.

In the Intuitive Learning model, experience (willing) is the primary informer of learning.  We learn by doing and then reflecting upon the experience to create a valid perspective.  When we have created a Key Question, gathered information from all sides of the question and then reflected upon the content and scope of the collected data, we are ready to start balancing out the Thesis and Antithesis to arrive at a Synthesis of knowledge.

With the perspective of the history of the question and the accumulated “state of the art” data gathered from all “schools of thought” on the question – the learner is ready to develop a Synthesis of all information gathered and create a vantage point from which to discuss the Key Question and its implications.  This “higher view” cannot be attained until both extremes of the question have found their appropriate place in a balanced perspective.  Both sides need to be experienced fully before a valid synthesis is possible.  When the synthesis is found, new questions may arise that stimulate further research and may be the key to advancing the “state of the art” in that field of knowledge.  New knowledge may arise that informs new perspectives.  Truth may even be found or the lack of truth may stimulate further research and development of the question.

At this time, the learner may want to write a narrative exposition of the process of learning surrounding the investigation of the Key Question.  A clear, step-by-step description of the process would be in order.  Visuals of the question, whether graphic organizers, mind-maps, or visual tools, can help demonstrate and display the knowledge acquisition process.  All media may be used to illustrate what has been studied.  The learner needs to “show” or “demonstrate” his/her competency or mastery of the Key Question.

This process is much like defending a Master’s thesis.  Special events will give the learner a chance to show what they have learned and dialogue with others who are interested in the question.  The learner may give a presentation, speech, slide show, Power Point presentation, display the evidence, or have an exhibit much like a science fair project.  Essentially, the learner must defend their hypothesis or prove it wrong.  Ultimately, the project should become a teaching tool or “module” that the learner shares with other learners.  Thus the learner becomes the teacher.

When a project is finished, the learner may share in a monthly event called, A Celebration of Success, where they can set up their display and demonstrate their knowledge of the Key Question.  Certificates of completion will be given to presenters during this wonderful opportunity for sharing and inspiring other learners. 

Learning Skills Involved in the Dialectic Process 


Thesis – Establish a Key Question – Initial framing of the question arises from the interest, background knowledge and inner curiosity of the learner.  Then the project requires refining the Key Question based on resource gathering – Internet, books, libraries, interviews with experts, videos, apprenticing, movies, etc.

Examples of a local or state educational unit recommended learning skills:

Gather Information.  Research and retrieve information from a wide range of primary and secondary sources in various forms and contexts.

Learn and Consider Issues Collaboratively. Engage in shared inquiry processes, in a collaborative and team‑based fashion with persons of diverse backgrounds and abilities.

Draw and Justify Conclusions. Draw and justify conclusions, decisions, and solutions to questions and issues by, among other things, using reason and evidence, specifying goals and objectives, identifying resources and constraints, generating and assessing alternatives, considering intended and unintended consequences, choosing appropriate alternatives, and evaluating results.

Examples of 21st Century Learning Skills: 

Critical Thinking and Problem Solving Skills

~Exercising sound reasoning in understanding

~Making complex choices and decisions

~Understanding the interconnections among systems

~Identifying and asking significant questions that clarify and lead to solutions

~Framing, analyzing and synthesizing to solve problems and answer questions

Information Literacy

~Accessing information efficiently and effectively, evaluating information critically and competently and using information accurately and creatively for the issue or problem at hand

~Possessing a fundamental understanding of the ethical/legal issues surrounding

 the access and use of information

Flexibility and Adaptability

~Adapting to varied roles and responsibilities

~Working effectively in a climate of ambiguity and changing priorities 


Antithesis – Reflecting on the data gathered and developing a continuum of expression of the question after researching the question from all points of view is in order. This involves illustrating the concepts or creatively manifesting knowledge of the Key Question through artistic expression – drawing, painting, sculpting, music, poetry, poetic prose, dance, building models, graphic organizers, visual tools, video, documentaries, displays, exhibits, etc.

Examples of a local or state educational unit recommended learning skills: 

Understand Information.  Understand, synthesize, and evaluate information in an accurate, holistic, and comprehensive fashion.

Learn Independently.  Engage in learning in an active, exploratory, independent, and self-directed fashion.

Create Knowledge.  Create knowledge by raising and identifying previously unconsidered or unidentified questions and issues; creating new primary knowledge; and creating new approaches to solving or considering questions and issues.

Examples of 21st Century Learning Skills: 

Creativity and Innovation Skills

~Demonstrating originality and inventiveness in work

~Developing, implementing and communicating new ideas to others

~Being open and responsive to new and diverse perspectives

~Acting on creative ideas to make a tangible and useful contribution to the domain

Media Literacy

~Understanding how media messages are constructed, for what purposes and using which tools, characteristics and conventions

~Examining how individuals interpret messages differently, how values and points of view are included or excluded and how media can influence beliefs and behaviors

~Possessing a fundamental understanding of the ethical/legal issues surrounding the access and use of information

Initiative and Self-Direction

~Monitoring one’s own understanding and learning needs

~Going beyond basic mastery of skills and/or curriculum to explore and expand one’s own learning and opportunities to gain expertise

~Demonstrating initiative to advance skill levels towards a professional level

~Defining, prioritizing and completing tasks without direct oversight

~Utilizing time efficiently and managing workload

~ Commitment to learning as a lifelong process


Synthesis – Recording the portfolio of work and documenting the process in a narrative that summarizes the different points of view and answers the Key Question or proves or disproves the initial hypothesis.  Clear thinking is needed that encapsulates the overall content of the study in graphs, diagrams, or other forms of illustrating the knowledge gained through the process of completing the tasks in the project.  Hopefully, new knowledge is created on a deep enough level to add to the field of study and make a contribution or establish questions that need answering.  Each demonstration/display aspect of a project can become a module of learning that stands on its own and can be a springboard for others studying the similar questions.

Examples of a local or state educational unit recommended learning skills: 

Analyze Issues.  Review a question or issue by identifying, analyzing, and evaluating  various considerations, arguments, and perspectives.

Organize and Communicate Information.  Organize, present, and communicate information in a variety of media in a logical, effective, and comprehensive manner.

Think and Communicate Critically.  Read, listen, think, and speak critically in connection with any subject with clarity, accuracy, precision, relevance, depth, breadth, and logic.

Act Ethically Adhere to the highest intellectual and ethical standards in conducting all of the above.

Examples of 21st Century Learning Skills: 

Communication and Collaboration Skills

~Articulating thoughts clearly and effectively through speaking and writing

~Demonstrating ability to work effectively with diverse teams

~Exercising flexibility and willingness to be helpful in making necessary compromises to accomplish a common goal

~Assuming shared responsibility for collaborative work

Information and Communication Technology Literacy

~Using digital technology, communication tools and/or networks appropriately to access, manage, integrate, evaluate, and create information in order to function in a knowledge economy

~Using technology as a tool to research, organize, evaluate and communicate  information, and the possession of a fundamental understanding of the ethical/legal issues surrounding the access and use of information

Social and Cross-Cultural Skills

~Working appropriately and productively with others

~Leveraging the collective intelligence of groups when appropriate

~Bridging cultural differences and using differing perspectives to increase innovation and the quality of work

Productivity and Accountability

~Setting and meeting high standards and goals for delivering quality work on time

~Demonstrating diligence and a positive work ethic

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