Trialogical Learning Design

Sami Paavola

The purpose of the trialogical learning design (Paavola & Hakkarainen, 2009; Paavola, 2015) is to focus the learning process on different aspects of how knowledge (known information, skills, attitudes, practices) is born. In the course of learning, joint knowledge is built up and shared among a group or community (organisation). This kind of learning design enables to experience a constant process of development together with concurrent feelings of creativity and success, thereby inspiring one to learn.

Combining digital technologies with traditional learning technologies supports the goals of trialogical learning design: digital tools and resources help to conduct certain knowledge-based activities better, e.g. by assisting with the transmission of knowledge and its maturing from individual learner’s knowledge to communal knowledge, all the while enabling it to pass from certain forms of representation and digital vehicles to others.


Figure: Trialogical learning design framework (Paavola & Hakkarainen, 2009; Paavola et al., 2011; Paavola 2015)

Important principles for trialogical learning design are the following:

  • The activity is organised around certain shared “knowledge objects” (idea, phenomenon, rule, principle, goal, topic). Throughout the learning process, keep the learners aware of the goals of consecutive activities with “knowledge objects”.
  • In the activity, one has to be able to build and share a “knowledge object”, discuss it individually or collectively and reflect on the learning process of oneself or one’s group.
  • During the activity, results of one’s individual creative work with “knowledge objects” need to be applied further in subsequent joint activities and vice versa. None of the “knowledge objects” that have been created should be left unused and forgotten in subsequent activities.
  • The activity is organised so that the “knowledge object” is enriched and improved through disclosing the opinions of different individuals and groups, perceiving and understanding a variety of viewpoints/perspectives, practices of use in respective knowledge communities (e.g. how knowledge used by historians and different cultures; how knowledge is created by natural scientists; how rules are used by linguists and language users). At each stage, the activity needs to have a justified context that supports some specific level of maturity for the “knowledge object”.
  • A “knowledge object” passes through activities, growing richer and maturing from one form of representation into another (e.g. a written response by an individual learner, joint discussion of the responses, recording of the joint discussion and a note-based written summary of it, an integrated view of the “knowledge object” formed from the summaries).
  • Activities are supported by a variety of traditional and digital tools that enable to disclose different aspects of the “knowledge object” (e.g. independent observation, joint database, a diagram based on the database, conclusions drawn from the diagram and generalisations in the context of some situation) with practices suitable for the particular subject.