Holmberg’s Conversation Theory

I just finished reading several chapters from Borje Holmberg on conversation theory and his empathy approach.  I was excited to read these to find out Holmberg’s theory of conversation.  Ever since reading Andy Gibbons’ chapter from his still unpublished work, Instruction and Learning, Technology and Design, I have been drawn to Gibbons’ “definition of instruction: Instruction is the intentional engagement of two or more agents capable of decision-making in purposeful conversation.” (6)  I have wanted to read other theories of conversation in instruction, and felt that perhaps I could address this topic in further research.

I find Holmberg’s theories and suggestions interesting.  But at least in these three chapters, I do not see a clear definition of “conversation.”  With Gibbons’ definition of instruction through conversation, concepts of intentionality, agency, and purpose arise.  I don’t get that sense from Holmberg’s use of “conversation.”  Holmberg is more interested in the adjective (“conversational” or “conversation-like”) than in the noun, I think.  For example, he encourages “conversation-like presentations of learning matter” (2003, p. 82) and “the conversational approach” (1999, p. 59).  He quotes Harri-Augstein to argue that “learning conversation is not idle chatter” (50), and then explains a theory of using reflection and metacognition to increase learning.  These are important concepts, but they aren’t what I expected (after Gibbons’ definition) in terms of a theory of conversation.

I am having a gut reaction without knowing enough, but I want something that more deeply explores how to structure learning as conversation, not just conversation-like.


  • Holmberg, B. (1995).  Course development—fundamental considerations.  In B. Holberg, Theory and practice of distance education.  London and New York: Routledge. pp, 45-67.
  • Holmberg, B. (2005).  A theory of distance education based on Empathy.  In M.G. Moore & W.G. Anderson (Eds.).  The handbook of distance education (1st ed.), pp. 79-86.  Lawrence Erlbaum Associates: Mahwah, NJ
  • Holmberg, G. (1999).  The conversational approach to distance education.  Open Learning, 14(3), pp 58-60.

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