Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach: the power of dialogue in educating adults

by Jane Vella.
Rev. ed. San Francisco, CA. Jossey-Bass, 2002.
Reviewed by Lois Kershner, Teachers’ Certification Candidate
Originally Published Autumn 2005

This revised edition of Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach presents twelve principles and practices of teaching/learning, evaluation models, and the author’s experiences since three earlier books (Training Through Dialogue – 1966, How Do They Know They Know – 1998, and Taking Learning to Task – 2000), within the context of “quantum thinking”, author’s new perspective gleaned from the discipline of quantum physics.  Quantum thinking views each part – teaching /learning principle – as a piece of a whole. Ms. Vella shares lessons through a series of stories from her more than fifty years experience of teaching adults around the world.

The book makes the assumption that adult education is best achieved in dialogue, believing that adults have enough life experience to be in dialogue with a teacher and will learn new knowledge, attitudes, or skills best in relation to that life experience.  Part One introduces twelve principles and practices that are ways to begin, maintain, and nurture dialogue:

  • Needs and Resources Assessment
  • Safety in the environment and process
  • Sound Relationships between teacher and learner, and among learners
  • Sequence of content and Reinforcement
  • Praxis: action with reflection or learning by doing
  • Respect for Learners as Decision Makers Learning with Ideas, feelings, and actions,
  • Immediacy of the learning
  • Clear roles and role development
  • Teamwork and use of small groups
  • Engagement of the learners in what they are learning
  • Accountability: how do they know they know?

Ms. Vella posits that quantum thinking uses the power of dialogue as the basic tool for communication, in contrast to lecture. Throughout the books she shows how the twelve selected principles of dialogue education are informed by concepts of quantum physics, including relatedness, a holistic perspective, duality, uncertainty, participation, and energy.  One chapter demonstrates how the twelve principles inform the seven design steps of adult education which views the learners as decision makers of the learning process- who, why, when, where, what, for, what, and how.

The chapters in Part Two focus on the twelve principles for teaching/learning. Each principle is described, illustrated with stories, and critiqued within the context of “quantum thinking”. Each chapter ends with Design Challenges for incorporating the principle into the theory, content, and practice of teaching.

An Appendix briefly describes seven ways to do a needs assessment. The book includes references and a detailed index. I recommend this highly practical book both for the lay person in the situation to train others as well as experienced teachers.