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Dr. G. & Friends  |  

Dialogue vs. Discussion

A friend led a workshop on the dialogical learning method that I presented in my book How To Be the Best Christian Study Group Leader.

He shared how difficult it was for some of the participants to understand the difference between dialogue and discussion.

I suspect that most of the participants, who were teachers, were probably defending their personal attention to using “discussion” in their classroom.

They were rightly proud to point out that they have moved from an exclusively didactic lecture approach toward increased class participation, and we should celebrate their effort.

But the fact remains that there is a difference between dialogue and discussion.


People tend to use the terms dialogue and discussion interchangeably, and therefore, making a distinction between the two often yields resistance at first.

But in order to be effective in our teaching we need to understand accurately the educational terms we use and the actions they refer to.

In a discussion you are trying to put forth a point of view, and, perhaps win others over to that view, belief, or opinion.

In dialogue you are striving for insight.

Dialogue requires listening to another person’s point of view with appreciation and seeking understanding through empathy and reflection.


Discussion seeks to tell, persuade, and convince others.

Its goal is to seek to come to agreement or to form agreement on one meaning by all the members in the group.

A discussion is used to evaluate and select the best or the most acceptable perspective in the group, or to affirm, justify, and defend one’s assumptions.

The distinction between dialogue and discussion is not subtle.

Methods must be understood accurately and applied appropriated to their corresponding purpose if they are to be effective.

Informed teachers apply methods rigorously, with clear understanding about their nature and purpose.


For example, dialogue can include reflection-on-action, that is, reflecting on one’s experience (and on one’s experience of that experience).


Discussion does not require that element. Carol Rodgers identified these four criteria of reflection-on-action:





When teaching, do you differentiate between a discussion and dialogue?


Cited: Carol Rodgers, “Defining Reflection: Another Look at John Dewey and Reflective Thinking,” Teachers College Record Volume 104, Number 4, June 2002, pp. 842–866.

Israel Galindo is Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning at the Columbia Theological Seminary. He is the author of the bestseller, The Hidden Lives of Congregations (Alban), Perspectives on Congregational Leadership (Educational Consultants), and A Family Genogram Workbook (Educational Consultants), with Elaine Boomer and Don Reagan.

His books on education include Academic Leadership: Practical Wisdom for Deans and Administrators (Didache Press); Mastering the Art of Instruction,The Craft of Christian Teaching (Judson), How to be the Best Christian Study Group Leader (Judson), Planning for Christian Education Formation (Chalice), and A Christian Educator’s Book of Lists (S&H), and Theories of Learning for Christian Educators and Theological Faculty.

Galindo is a consultant to theological schools with the Wabash Center for Teaching Theology and Religion and contributes to its blog for theological school deans.


Dr. G. & Friends