Dialogue, language, and identity

This paper looks at how dialogue contributes to the construction of identity in a networked learning course. It especially focuses on gendered dialogue, dialogue about people who are not participating, and dialogue between students and their assigned texts. The authors published several articles about networked learning in a Master’s of Arts in Management Learning and Leadership (MAMLL) program at Lancaster University.

Ferreday, D., Hodgson, V., and Jones, C. (2006) ‘Dialogue, language and identity: critical issues for networked management learning’, Studies in Continuing Education, vol. 28, no. 3, pp. 223-239 [Online]. DOI: 10.1080/01580370600947389.


  1. Introduction
  2. Background
  3. Studying online learning and dialogue
  4. Overview of current case study
  5. Dialogue and gender
  6. Dialogue in the networked learning environment: dialogue and inclusivity
  7. Dialogue and academic language
  8. Conclusion


Note: This paper gave a little more information than the other one did about the networked learning aspect of the course. The learners worked on a project and wrote three papers plus a dissertation. There are three face-to-face workshops each year, and between workshops they work in small groups (called “action learning sets”).

Dialogue and gender

Previous studies by these researchers

This paper mentions a previous study of the MAMLL program conducted in 1989, in which participants noted that the online contributions by students were different based on gender: ‘the way some of the male participants crafted their contributions was experienced as too long and cerebral and therefore offputting by some of the women participants’ (Ferreday et al., 2006, p. 225).

Online discourse may be less egalitarian because of social presence or social identity, which is the expression of self to a community. While previous research into social presence and social identity have focused on how people project their identity, the authors of this article posit that we should look at social presence and identity as something that (like learning) is socially constructed. (The authors also note that gender is socially constructed.)

This is echoed in articles about positional or relative identity and gender mediation:

This study

In the interviews for this paper, one of the participants noted that she code-switched to a more “masculine” form of dialogue when she was assigned to a predominately male action learning set, in an attempt to “be one of the guys”.

Participation and inclusivity

In the program, there were two people who did not participate much. One was a tutor and another was a student. The student later withdrew from the program. The authors report that the students had tried to re-engage the student (before he withdrew from the course) via a humorous yet pointed post about his lack of participation. After his withdrawal, they continued to try to include him with posts that treated him like a reader instead of someone outside the group.

I think this is related to peripheral participation and also outbound trajectories. However, this should be contrasted carefully with their 2008 paper, in which some of this is considered ‘tyranny’:

The discussions that the learners had about the person who did not participate was part of identity construction. In a sense, the group constructed an identity for him in his absence.

Academic language and texts

The learners were aggravated by the academic tone and language used in their assigned texts. The language and tone made them feel that the papers were ‘address[ing] a different audience from which these students felt implicitly excluded’ (Ferreday et al., 2006, p. 235). Together they tried to engage with the texts by discussing them on their forums, with the forums then serving as a safe space in which they could do so.

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