Fostering Moral Competence with the KMDD®
Last revision: Fabruary 20, 2016
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Any really effective method of teaching can have undesired effects if it is used by someone who has not been trained to use the method. Only ineffective methods are without such danger. To be effective, dilemma discussions must arouse moral emotions in the participants. But if too strong emotions are triggered, there is a risk that learning stops and that the method leads to psychological stress in some participants. There is a special education & certification program in place (see flyer) where teachers can learn how to use the KIMDD effectively and responsibly.
Untrained teachers can use dilemma discussions successfully for entertaining their students without producing a real learning effect. Untrained teachers also run the risk to trigger too strong emotions and may not even notice when participants feel pain. Therefore, we strongly advice against using the KMDD if not trained and certified, or taking part in a mentored KMDD training program.
In order to protect students against possible harm through un-professional use of the KMDD by non-certified teachers, and the investment of time and money by well-trained and certified KMDD-Teachers and KMDD-Trainers, as well as to hold up the quality of the KMDD, the KMDD has been registered as an international mark.
Certified KMDD-Teachers and KMDD-Trainers are allowed to use the KMDD-mark for advertisement for free. KMDD courses and certification are announced here.
Effect studies using the KMDD as intervention method, can make statements about the KMDD's effect only if the method was applied by a certified KMDD-Teacher, and if the study included a pretest-posttest measurement with a valid test of moral judgment and discourse competence like the Moral Competence Test (MCT)©.
Moral competence is the ability to solve problems and conflicts on the basis of moral principles through thinking and discussion instead of through violence, deceit, and power. Moral competence is the very prerequisite of living together in a democracy. Wheras moral ideals are mostly inborn, moral competence must develop through learning.
We have developed the Konstanzer Methode der Dilemma-Diskussion (KMDD)® in order to foster moral competence effectively and sustainably. The KMDD has been used in various institutions of education and fields of learning and teaching, not only schools and universities but also in adult education, prisons, clinics, and military training, with young children (age eight an above) and adults.
Many empirical studies have shown that the KMDD is very versatile and its effects are large and sustainable (Lind, 2015; Nowak et al., 2013). Only few sessions of 90 minutes are needed to produce measurable results. However, the KMDD teacher must be well trained in order to use this method effectively and responsibly.
Training and certification programs are offered by Georg Lind in cooperation with various institutions of higher edurcation world-wide (KMDD-Flyer). A masters program for educating KMDD-Trainers (professors) is in preparation.
A full account of the KMDD is given in Georg Lind's book "Morality can be taught" (Berlin: Logos, in press). The German edition already available: "Moral ist lehrbar" (Berlin: Logos, 2015)... more
Fostering moral competence is the key aim of the Konstanz Method of Dilemma Discussion (KMDD). While most programs of moral and character education aim to foster moral attitudes, orientations, or values, the KMDD is to foster the competence aspect of morality. At the beginning I based my research on Kohlberg's (1964) concept of moral judgment competence, which he defined as
In an early stage of my research it became clear that this definition needed to be extended. Kohlberg rightly uses the plural in his definition: principles. That is, usually a decision must do justice not only to one moral principle but to several which can come in conflict with oneanother. So the real moral task for the decision-maker is not just to act in accordance with one moral principle (any rigid moralist can do this), but to solve possible problems and conflicts arising out of the desire to be moral. Moreover, moral behavior has also a social-communicative dimension as Jürgen Habermas (1990) insists. So not only the individual capacity to make decisions is needed but also the social capacity to reach a decision through dialogue and discussion.
Therefore, we now define
Constructivism: How to Stimulate Moral Learning
We cannot think of all moral dilemmas that a person will ever encounter, and even less able are we to provide a solution for all of them. All we can do to prepare children to be better able to solve their moral dilemmas by themselves and to utilize the advise and support of other people.
We have found that the best way of preparation is to confront the learner with the kind of tasks that they should learn to master, and also to provide them with support and guidance. This kind of teaching can be best compared to vaccination with tamed viruses, by which the body is stimulated to build up its capabilities to fight real virus attacks.
With the method of dilemma discussion, the teacher puts the student into a semi-real dilemma situation and confronts him with a controversial discussion, all of which creates emotions and social reactions that need to be taken into account. To persist in this situation, the students must activate and develop his/her moral and democratic competencies, for example, a) to give (good) reasons for defending their opinion on a moral issue or choice, b) to listen to opposing reasoning, evaluate and appreciate it, c) to deal with conflicts between group pressure and one’s own conscience, or d) to take the perspective of the actors in the dilemma story (the decision maker and the people affected by him or her). The confrontation with counter-arguments has shown to be a very powerful stimulation for moral-cognitive development.
Support and Challenge
By using tough moral dilemmas, the teacher can create a learning environment which is real enough to create moral emotions and and social pressure. By alternating cycles of challenge and support, this method makes sure that the stimulation of moral emotions and social tensions never get to a point where learning becomes impossible.
To maximize the learning process, it is important to expose students to an intensity and amount of conflicting views which isneither too boring, nor too frightening for the student. In either case, the learning process will be hampered. To this end, the teacher must a) chose a proper dilemma, and b) organize a format of discussion that is both supporting and challenging.
One great difficulty with any teaching method is that each student has his/her own way of learning. We found that the KMDD is well suited to cope with this problem because it contains a good balance between phases of support and challenge, and helps the teacher to keep the learning climate in an optimal range by speeding up or slowing down the phases. We have used this method already in large groups of 100 people and more.
Obviously, a teacher must be well prepared for this method. In order to keep the learning process within the "proximal zone of learning" (Vygotsky), he must know the art of dilemma discussion well and be aware of the responsibility that goes with it.
With the KMDD, we use moral dilemmas that come from outside the classroom, and whose solution is only fictitious. Usually, those dilemmas are called 'hypothetical,' and 'not real.' I prefer to call them 'semi-real' because, if they catch the attention of the students and stimulate a serious, lively debate, then these dilemmas are not just hypothetical, but in some sense real, namely in the same sense as a good fiction or movie is real for the audience.
If a dilemma story is not real for the participants, it will not stimulate moral-cognitive processes in the students. Thus, teachers should be careful not to make the dilemma discussion un-real by spontaneous changes to the story, or by allowing participants to "simulate" their opinion and arguments, or by other forms of role-playing. Those other method have great merits when used for other purposes.
Semi-real dilemmas may be taken from literature, daily newspapers, or immediate experience. There great advantage of semi-real dilemmas is that the teacher may freely alter them to fit his or her didactic intentions.
Fully real dilemmas are the topic of the just community approach to moral education, which is not covered here. It suffices to say that the discussion of semi-real dilemmas seems to be a good preparation for discussing real problems in just community meetings, and that the discussion of real problems requires even more preparation because those problems are as they are and cannot be made "didactical" (Oser & Althof, 1994).
Constructing an Educative Moral Dilemma
Above all, it is important to chose a genuinely moral dilemma for discussion rather than just an interesting case. It must be a behavioral dilemma, that is, in the story someone must make an immediate decision about two courses of action. There is no third choice, and the person does not have much time to rethink or even rearrange the situation.
It must be a moral dilemma, that is, it must involve one or more truly moral principles, that come into conflict with each other or with itself. Yes, a moral principle can conflict with itself, that is, it can imply two mutually exclusive course of action, depending on how one weighs the circumstances. However, in a moral dilemma typically, two moral principles of about equal import clash. -> Finding moral dilemmas for classroom learning
For the present purpose, moral principles (or universal laws) must be distinguished from other, non-moral values and norms. Immanuel Kant's Categorical Imperative provides a useful criterion for making this distinction. To behave morally, he demands says, one should "act only on a maxim that you can at the same time will to be a universal law" should be considered moral principles. In other words, only those maxims or, as we may say now, values that can be universalized can be regarded as moral principles. Example for good moral dilemmas are the famous Heinz Dilemma used in Kohlberg’s Moral Judgment Interview, and the Sharon Dilemma, used in many dilemma discussions.
Other values may be conventional, cultural or personal values. These values may also be subjected to discussions in the classroom. However, only with moral, universalizable values or principles, the teacher can expect that the students share them and engage in a open, rational discussion. With other values, the students may get entangled in the question of 'right' cultural or personal values. It is very unlikely that this question can be solved on the basis of rational discourse. While we do not recommend to use such value conflicts in dilemma discussion, they can (and should) be addressed by the school in other ways.
The difficulty of the moral dilemma should always be adapted to the experience and the maturity of the students. For the teacher, it takes considerable competence and experience to design good dilemma discussion units. But once the teacher understands the basics, he or she will be able to construct good dilemmas on the spot, whenever it fits into the curriculum or seems helpful for other reasons. -> Checklist for Dilemma Construction
In written form the dilemma should not be longer than quarter of a page. The optimal length of a session is 80 to 100 minutes. The approximate times for each step is indicated below. As the teacher gets more experienced he or she may vary this time schedule. One dilemma discussion session in two weeks seems to be optimal; more are less.
Optimal Length of a Session
From my experience and that of many teachers, I regard the optimal length of a single discussion session is 80 to 90 minutes, that is, two regular 45 minute periods. Usually, 45 minutes do not suffice to get a good dilemma discussion started in a class. In many instances the students need 20 to 30 minutes to fully grasp the “moral core” of the dilemma story, and to be able to imagine the psychological pressures under which the protagonist suffers. A session length of two about hours also seems to have the highest, and most lasting effects on students’ development of moral judgment competence. The scheme below shows a two-hour dilemma discussion.
However, I have also seen good dilemma discussion that took only 45 minutes or much less. Short periods may work well when the topic is well known to all students and the dilemma has a simple structure.
The method of dilemma discussion has been used in a variety of schools and grade levels, with children as young as 10 years of age, and adults from various professional background. From my own experience of about 20 years and from the experience of many teachers, we know that this method is highly welcome by students and by parents. It can change the whole learning climate of a class to the better, teachers tell me. I have witnessed many very lively and engaged dilemma discussions with students of grade level 5 to 13, college and graduate classes.
From systematic evaluation of the impact of moral dilemma discussions (the Blatt-method and the KMDD), we know that its best effects are achieved in grades 5 to 10. Yet, high effect sizes have also be found with college and university students. ... more.
Conditions for a Good Dilemma Discussion
I have found the following conditions essential for achieving a good dilemma discussion:
- A good education of the teacher in his own subject field as well as in the field of general education. It is not necessary that the teacher has studied moral philosophy. However, some acquaintance with important contributors to this field is very helpful. I recommend especially the writings of John Dewey, Charles S. Pierce, Immanuel Kant, Jürgen Habermas, and Hans-Otto Apel.
- The availability of a supervisor or colleague who can give feedback on trial dilemma discussions.
- Intensive preparation of the session, if possible together a fellow teacher. My experience is that the better the teacher is prepared, the less he or she must intervene when the students enter the actual discussion phase.
- Doing dilemma discussions regularly, i.e., about every two weeks in a particular class. The students will be bored and profit little, if two dilemma discussions are run on the same day or within too short a time interval.
- Openness for discussing really controversial problems rather than confining the discussion of pseudo-problems.
- Awareness of the limitations of dilemma discussion. It can be easily adapted too many subjects and pedagogical intentions. Yet, the aims of moral education cannot be reduced to the scope of dilemma discussions. Other learning is as important, e.g., the learning of chemistry, geography or foreign languages, of psychological and social facts, of political controversies etc.
- Moral dilemma discussion must not be confused with exercises in rhetoric proficiencies. For the success of moral dilemma discussions, moral sincerity and scruple are of paramount importance. In contrast, such virtues are not necessary for rhetoric success, or may even hinder it.
Learning How to Use the Method
I have designed and tested (in Colombia and Germany) a continuing education program for teachers of all subject areas for acquiring the skills necessary to foster moral and democratic learning, at the center of which is the Konstanz Method of Dilemma Discussion (KMDD) (see flyer).
Going to Scale
Keeping in mind the cautioning note above, and the need of thorough training in this method, the Konstanz Method of Dilemma Discussion may be used as part of the core curriculum for all students and teachers. I believe that after twenty years of development and research, we should think about scaling-up the use of the KMDD.
To facilitate the process of scaling-up the method, we recommend
Scaling-up of the KMDD is already taking place in mayn parts of the world. Information on the KMDD has been requested from individuals and institutions of more than 70 countries. Teachers, teacher trainers and researchers make intensive use of it, as our web-site (www.uni-konstanz.de/ag-moral/) has more than 2'000 visitors each day (as of May 2006).
I am also personally involved in teacher training and policy counseling projects in Germany, Mexico and Colombia. In Colombia, the Konstanz Method of Dilemma Discussion is now recommended by the national Ministry of Education for all schools in Colombia.
Similar and Alternative Methods
The Konstanz Method of Dilemma Discussion shares many aspects with similar methods which are used the same or for other purposes. The following clarifcation is not meant to speak against any the mentioned methods; for many purposes they may be very well suited. But I want to show how these other methods, while useful for other purposes, may not be useful for stimulating those moral-democratic competencies that we pursue with the KMDD. We even caution against the combination of some of these methods with the KMDD because these methods may undermine the effects of the KMDD or vice versa.