A case study of polysynchronous learning in university bioscience education

Barney Dalgarno, Lucy Webster

Research output: Other contribution to conferenceAbstractpeer-review


Contemporary university students are engaging in new ways with teachers, peers and content in and out of class capitalizing on the affordances of mobile devices and new kinds of synchronous and asynchronous online learning tools. The multiple ever-present communication streams that are emerging through these new tools and devices are leading to learning scenarios incorporating interaction patterns that have the potential to transform the learning process. The term ‘polysynchronous learning’ has been co-opted and adapted to capture these new learning scenarios.

Traditionally interactions between learners and teachers or between learners and learners have occurred either synchronously (participants communicating at the same time), or asynchronously (communication occurring over a period of elapsed time). Moore (1989) also described three categories of interaction, learner-instructor, learner-learner and learner-content. In traditional face to face learning contexts, for example, learner-instructor and learner-learner interaction would occur synchronously through verbal communication, while learner-content interaction would occur both synchronously in class and in follow up asynchronous private study. In traditional online learning contexts, learner-teacher and learner-learner interaction would normally occur asynchronously through, for example, a discussion forum, while learner-content interaction might occur asynchronously through engagement with online learning resources.

Recent developments, however, are questioning the rigid association of synchronous communication with face to face contexts and asynchronous communication with online contexts. For example, face to face contexts often provide asynchronous communication streams for use during or after class in the form of discussion forums and social media tools. In online contexts it is becoming clear that there are potential benefits from synchronous real-time communication alongside asynchronous communication. Additionally, the gradual introduction of blended learning options and the need to cater for students physically present, students participating synchronously from a remote location, and students participating asynchronously at a later time, is leading to new thinking about ways of blending synchronous and asynchronous learning.

The term polysynchronous learning has been used to capture the distinct type of learning experience afforded by these emerging learning scenarios. Dalgarno (2014, p.4) defines polysynchronous learning as “the integration of learnerlearner, learner-content and learner-teacher interaction through a blending of multiple channels of face to face, asynchronous online and synchronous online communication”. Figure 1 (see in the electronic Proceeding) helps to illustrate the way in which polysynchronous learning differs from traditional face to face and online learning by representing the differences in patterns of interaction across modalities in face to face, traditional online and polysynchronous learning environments.

In the study, ‘Blended synchronicity: Uniting on-campus and distributed learners using media-rich real-time collaboration tools’ (an Australian Office of Learning and Teaching Innovation and Development Grant funded project) seven case studies involving blended learning designs were explored (see Bower et al., 2014). This paper draws on the findings from one of these case studies to illustrate the notion of polysynchronous learning within a university Histology subject.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - 2015
EventEDEN 2015 Annual Conference - Catalonia Barcelona Plaza Hotel, Barcelona, Spain
Duration: 09 Jun 201512 Jun 2015
http://www.eden-online.org/old/eden-events/annual-conferences/barcelona.html (Conference website)
http://www.eden-online.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/Book-of-Abstracts_EDEN-2015-Annual-Conference_Barcelona_0.pdf (Conference book of abstracts)


ConferenceEDEN 2015 Annual Conference
Abbreviated titleExpanding Learning Scenarios: Opening Out the Educational Landscape
Internet address


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