The Laurillard Conversational Model & Accessibility

The following is based on an extract from a paper in preparation for “Computers and Education” – “E-learning, Accessibility & Pedagogy: In search of the missing tools of practice” by Jane Seale (University of Southampton) & Martyn Cooper (The Open University) –

The Laurillard Conversational Model
Contemporary accounts of student learning accept that it is an active process and depends on interaction. Laurillard [1] offers a model of student / tutor / courseware interaction, and this is outlined briefly here. Laurillard offers a classification of educational media based on a conversational framework (after Pask and with due deference to Socrates), which identifies the activities necessary to complete the learning process. She considers the learning process as a kind of conversation, and asserts that this process ‘must be constituted as a dialogue between teacher and student (or student and student), operating at the level of description of actions in the world’. Her classification system is based on the type of interaction between instructor and student when a particular medium is used. She classifies educational media as discursive, adaptive, interactive and reflective, and raises issues about the nature of feedback, goals and control of student learning. Her review of media asserts that currently only tutoring systems and a combination of tutorials and simulations can claim to address the entire learning process as specified in her model. However her conclusion is not that these are the only worthwhile media, but that educators should consider media combinations to construct learning packages that combine complementary features. Summative and formative assessment can form one aspect of the interaction referred to in the model (although the author has predominantly used it when analysing practical work in science and engineering education, which of course in itself can be assessed). The teacher constructs the assessment, the student interacts with it and there is feedback via the marking and review process.

The Laurillard Conversational Model
Figure 1 - The Laurillard Conversational Model

In her 1995 summary of these ideas Laurillard highlights how different modes of learning map onto the conversational model. For example “Learning through acquisition” (teacher as storyteller or lecturer) maps to a left to right arrow in Figure 1 from the teachers conceptual knowledge to that of the students. In assessment teacher can implement a wide range of leaning modes depending on the types of examination and question chosen. This could include “Guided discovery” that requires all the conversational components indicated in Figure 1.

Accessibility and the Laurillard Model
Key in the Laurillard Model are the various conversations it embodies. Laurillard uses these to analyse the use of media in learning. However this can be further extended to analyse the accessibility of all the media used to support these different conversations. One aspect of the Laurillard model points to practical forms of assessment where the teacher sets up something in the “real” world for the student to examine, interact and reflect upon. Practical exams are not specifically a topic of this post however there is a growing trend to make practical available as part of an eLearning context. The author led a major EU funded project PEARL [] that argued such remote controlled labs could increase access to practical work, particularly in science and engineering subjects, for disabled students.

[1] Laurillard, D. (1993) Rethinking university teaching, Routledge, London


4 thoughts on “The Laurillard Conversational Model & Accessibility

  1. Very clear summary of what the CF is trying to do. And I’m intrigued by the idea that it could be used to analyse accessibility. I’d not thought that it could offer very much to that sort of analysis. The CF does not differentiate between digital and non-digital forms for different types of learning.
    The more recent reference (the 2nd edition, 2002) interprets the CF in terms of learning through ‘acquisition’ (top left arrow), ‘discussion’ (not visible on the 1995 diagram as that only became explicit in the graphic in later versions), ‘practice’ (right hand and bottom arrows) etc. It then says, that in terms of the essential characteristics of these forms of learning as represented in this way, the different ways of learning through practice (lab, field trip, exercise, virtual lab, virtual field trip, simulation, etc) are all the same. However, the accessibility issue differentiates them. The virtual lab has much better accessiblity characteristics for some forms of disability than the real lab.
    So the CF could help to structure an analysis, and focus attention on where accessibility issues are critical to deliver the equivalent learning experience. But it does not itself offer any differentiation. That could be its value to the accessibility issue – that it provides a framework against which to check the nature of the learning experience you are trying to provide. If it’s practice, say, does the disabled learner have the same cognitive experience, as defined by the CF? Is that how you would see it?
    Very interesting – must think about this further.
    My only point of disagreement with your post, Martyn, is the ‘deference to Socrates’ bit. I think I’m about the only person I know who has had the temerity to critique Socrates. Calling his technique “rhetorical bullying” is hardly deference! So I object to deference – reference yes, but not deference!

  2. The eventual paper which slightly changed direction and was retitled “Seale, Jane and Cooper, Martyn (2010). E-learning and accessibility: An exploration of the potential role of generic pedagogical tools. Computers and Education, 54(4), pp. 1107–1116.” is available at:

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