Learning Without Teaching: The Practice and Benefits of the Nelson-Heckmann Method of Socratic Dialogue

Research output: Types of ThesisMaster's Thesis


The subject of this dissertation is the Nelson-Heckmann Socratic Dialogue, a pedagogical method developed by the German philosophers and educators, Leonard Nelson (1882 - 1927), and Gustav Heckmann (1898 - 1996). The purpose of the research carried out here is to understand how Nelson-Heckmann Socratic Dialogues are conducted, to establish what the benefits are of participating in such dialogues, and to find out if the people who participate in Socratic Dialogues experience any of the expected benefits. The dissertation proceeds in the following way. Chapter one provides an introduction to Socratic Dialogue, and outlines why empirical research about Socratic Dialogue is worthwhile. Chapter two explains the philosophical underpinnings of Socratic Dialogue and outlines the process of conducting a dialogue. It then goes on to review the literature concerning Socratic Dialogue, focusing specifically on the claims made about the benefits of participating in a Socratic Dialogue. Chapter three outlines the research methodology and details the research method. Chapters four and five present and discuss the research findings, and chapter six concludes the study and presents further reflections on Socratic Dialogue. Reviewing the literature it was found that there are seven benefits which participants are said to experience as a result of participating in Socratic Dialogues, which are that it enables participants to: i) review and revise (and reject) some of their opinions, widen their vision, and gain insight into some of their beliefs; ii) experience the advantages of constructively and cooperatively thinking together; iii) recognise the educational value of personal experience; iv) improve their critical thinking, reasoning and arguing skills; v) learn that a heterogeneous group of people are able to reach genuine and meaningful consensus about challenging subjects; vi) expand their model(s) of what learning is, and of how and under what conditions it can take place; vii) strengthen their own values, and make the world in which they live more ethical, decent and humane. Three Socratic Dialogues were facilitated as part of the research, and focus groups were conducted with participants immediately afterwards. Analysis of the focus group data showed that, for the most part, the benefits of Socratic Dialogue as suggested by the literature are experienced by the participants who take part in the dialogues.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationMaster of Arts
Awarding Institution
  • University of Northampton
  • Underwood, James, Supervisor
Award date1 Aug 2018
Publication statusPublished - 17 May 2018


  • socratic dialogue
  • leonard nelson
  • gustav heckmann
  • dialogue
  • socratic education


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