Fostering Moral Competence with
Discussion Theater and the KMDD

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Last revision: July 14, 2019


Discussion Theater - a new theater for democracy (script)

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  Table of Contents (Some entries are password protected for copyright reasons)

Important Note


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 DT/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, I advice against using the DT/KMDD if you are not trained and certified.


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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. Whereas 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 education 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



Aim: Fostering Moral Competence


Fostering moral competence is the key aim of the Discussion Theater (DT) and the Konstanz Method of Dilemma Discussion (KMDD). While most programs of moral and character education aim to foster moral attitudes, orientations, or values, KMDD and DT are 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

"the capacity to make decisions and judgments which are moral (i.e., based on internal principles) and to act in accordance with such judgments" (p. 425).

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 one another. 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 J├╝rgen 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

moral competence as the ability to solve conflicts on the basis of moral ideals (principles) through thinking and discussion instead of through violence, deceit, and submission to others.
More specifically it is defined as the ability to evaluate other people's arguments in regard to their moral quality rather than in regard to their opinion agreement.
(Lind 2019).

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. Endnote


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. Endnote


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 is neither 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.


Semi-real Dilemma-Stories

A semi-real dilemma-story is about the real dilemma(s) of a fictitious protagonist.


As much as the participants identify themselves with the protagonist, a dilemma becomes also real for the participants, and will stimulate moral-cognitive processes in the participation. Thus, teachers should not to interfere with there process of identification and co-construction e.g. by changing the story during the session, 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 but hinder the growth of moral competence..


Semi-real dilemmas may be taken from many sources, e.g., from literature, daily newspapers, or immediate experience. There great advantage of semi-real dilemmas is that the teacher is free to alter them to fit the aim of the method.


Note: Fully real dilemmas are the topic of the just community approach to moral education, which is not covered here. Endnote 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 Story

It is important to chose a genuinely moral dilemma story for discussion rather than just an interesting case. This is not easy because a dilemma does not exist objectively but is in the eyes of the beholder. Because there may be so many different dilemmas be seen in a stogy as there are participants, we can never be sure whether the participants in a DT / KMDD session see the dilemma which the teacher/director sees. So choosing a story which elicits a dilemma feeling in the participants is deceive for stimulating deliberation and discussion in the group.


The dilemma story must be about a behavioral decision which the protagonist must make: Either decide to do this or not to do this. He or she should have no third choice, and should have not much time to rethink or even rearrange the situation.


Moreover, in order to make a discussion possible it is important that the group's opinion on the protagonist's decision is evenly split. If only a very few, or nobody is on one side, there can be no discussion. But don't show disappointment (tell yourself that we should be grateful for consens!) and don't change the story (see above). -> Finding moral dilemmas for classroom learning


The content of the moral dilemma story should always be adapted to the experience and the maturity of the students. The story must not require knowledge which the particular participants do not have.


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..


The optimal length of a DT / KMDD 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 or two dilemma DT / KMDD session within in a year seem to be optimal. Of course, one can offer more. But the additional effect will diminish. It is wiser to use the resources to offer this learning experience to more people instead of concentrating on a few. It is also more moral and democratic.


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. A session length of two about hours also seems to have the highest, and most lasting effects on students’ development of moral judgment competence. Endnote The scheme below shows a two-hour dilemma discussion.

Target Groups

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. Endnote Yet, high effect sizes have also be found with college and university students.


With another discussion format, the basic didactic principles of the KMDD may also be used with younger children. Endnote


Conditions for a Good Dilemma Discussion

I have found the following conditions essential for achieving a good dilemma discussion:

- Some yeas of experience as a teacher. It is not necessary that the teacher has studied moral philosophy. Acquaintance with important contributors to this field is helpful. I recommend especially the writings of John Dewey, Charles S. Pierce, Immanuel Kant, Jürgen Habermas, and Hans-Otto Apel. But routine in ethics teaching can mean an obstacle to directing DT / KMDD sessions. Whereas an ethics teachers has been instructed to "know" ethics better than their student, the director of those sessions are more effective if they are learners like their participants.

- The availability of a supervisor or colleague who can give feedback on trial dilemma discussions Reviewing the video-taping one's own performance can also help.

- 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 training teachers or directors of the Discussion Theater and 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, I recommend

  • that each training in this method is accompanied by peer-supervision. Peer-supervision does not only help the learner but is also a very effective way to reduce suspicion against and to raise interest in this method. There is a growing number of teachers who apply for a training program after they were invited by another teacher to serve as a peersupervision in a KMDD training program.
  • that the training program should be offered to a school or department as a whole. It seems that the learning of an organization speeds up the learning process and makes it more sustainable.
  • that the educational administration helps to institutionalize networking and good evaluation practice. The latter is especially important as bad evaluation are a big threat to good educational practice ....more.

Scaling-up of the KMDD is already taking place in many parts of the world. Information on the KMDD has been requested from individuals and institutions of more than 70 countries.


Similar and Alternative Methods


DT and KMDD share many aspects with similar methods which are used the same or for other purposes. The following clarification 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.

  • Role-Playing. Unlike the KMDD, role-playing asks the participant to pretend to be someone else or to be in an imagined situation. In contrast, the KMDD works best if the participant is herself or himself and expresses the moral emotions that she/he actually feels. Therefore, the KMDD may not be used in combination role-playing, though, of course, role-playing may be used on other occasions for other purposes.

  • Case discussions. The main function of case discussion is to provide the participants with a concrete application of his or her factual and moral knowledge. This way the participant can find out, whether he/she is knowledgeable and able to apply his/her knowledge in practical contexts. However, this focus distracts the learner from his/her own moral emotions and those of others and from the task to discover, clarify and solve the dilemmas involved in this situation.

  • Direct moral teaching. Through direct moral teaching (in which ethical theories, Kohlberg's Stage model and other ethical contents are taught) are well suited to enhance the theoretical (declarative) knowledge of the participant so that she or he can better speak about ethical problems. It may also help to make the participants appreciated ethics and can effectively change participants' moral attitudes. However, research shows that direct teaching does not improve moral judgment competence or procedural moral knowledge. In other words, participants will not learn how to behavior morally by listening to lectures on ethical theories.

  • Open discussions are often used to help participants to generate new ideas about how to solve a technical or a moral problem. Like case discussions, this form of discussion is very helpful for this purpose but not for the purpose of fostering moral-democratic competencies as we understand them.

  • Teacher guided discussion is often used as a way to test the academic and moral declarative knowledge of the participants (e.g., the assigned reading). At least the students mostly perceive it that way and try to make a good impression on the teacher. They will carefully evaluate the teacher's reactions to their responses and the teacher's own contribution to the discussion in order to adjust their own contribution rather than being creative and authentic. This distracts from the aims which the KMDD pursues.

  • Ethical Decision Training (EDT) consists of several intervention units in which the participants are confronted with several dilemma stories and, for each story, some short questions (mostly multiple choice format). In the study by Arimond (2012) the EDT consisted of six units with three dilemma stories each. The participants had about 30 minutes for answering. This intervention with young athletes, which was intended to help to prevent doping, showed no effects. The average moral judgment competence (C-Score) of the athletes who participated in the Ethical Decision Training did not increase but slightly decreased in the intervention group from pretest to posttest. Neither did their attitudes toward doping change much. Although the author used dilemma stories similar to the KMDD, this intervention resembles the KMDD not at all.

  • (More to come)

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