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Turning Down the Heat on Campus: How an online educational program can reduce polarization and improve dialogue in college classrooms

Mylien Duong, PhD, Keith Welker, PhD, Caroline Mehl|August 10, 2022

It is the responsibility of our educational institutions to prepare the next generation for democratic citizenship. However, it has become increasingly difficult for college students to engage in dialogue about important social issues.

To address this challenge, the Constructive Dialogue Institute (CDI) developed a free online learning program, called Perspectives. Perspectives teaches psychological concepts to foster openness to diverse perspectives and equip students with the mindset and skill set to engage in dialogue across differences.

To evaluate the effectiveness of Perspectives, CDI conducted a randomized controlled trial (RCT) of 775 college students across 10 courses at three U.S. colleges and universities.

Across all key outcomes, students who completed the Perspectives program showed significant improvements, compared to the control condition. The study found:

  • 73% of students showed a decrease in polarization;

  • 51% of students were better able to recognize the limits of their knowledge;

  • 59% of students showed less negative attacking behaviors during conflict; and

  • 55% of students showed a decrease in negative evading behaviors during conflict.

This white paper details the study, summarizes the findings, and provides recommendations for fostering mutual understanding and constructive dialogue in the classroom and on campus more broadly.


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