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Guided Didactic Conversation aka teaching-learning conversations

A model for understanding and designing Distance Education introduced in 1960 by Börje Holmberg. Holmberg (1983) offers a detailed summary, including postulates, assumptions and hypotheses about the approach. Connected with [[conversation-theory]].

The idea is very simple. I assume that if a course consistently represents a communication process that is felt to have the character of a conversation, then the students will be more motivated and more successful than if it has an impersonal textbook character. The conversational character is brought about both by real communication (students’ assignments, comments on these, telephone, e-mail, fax and postal support), and by a conversational style in printed and recorded subject-matter presentation which attempts to involve the students emotionally, and engage them in a development and exchange of views.(Holmberg, 1999, p. 59)

Built upon the assumption that learning is “an individual activity and is attained only through an internalizing process”. It sees individual practices such thinking aloud and text elaboration as features of good learning and sees value in leveraging those in teaching. Descriptions of the model tend to focus on learner-teacher interaction as a starting point. This is not intended to ignore the importance of peer interaction.

7 postulates

  1. that feelings of personal relation between the teaching and learning parties promote study pleasure and motivation;
  2. that such feelings can be fostered by well-developed self-instructional material and two-way. communication at a distance;
  3. that intellectual pleasure and study motivation are favourable to the attainment of study goals and the use of proper study processes and methods;
  4. that the atmosphere, language and conventions of friendly conversation favour feelings of personal relation according to postulate 1;
  5. that messages given and received in conversational forms are comparatively easily understood and remembered;
  6. that the conversation concept can be successfully translated for use by the media available to distance education;
  7. that planning and guiding the work, whether provided by the teaching organization or the student, are necessary for organized study, which is characterized by explicit or implicit goal conceptions.


Characteristics of guided didactic conversation


Testing of the theory

Difficult/impossible to prove the impact of the different characteristics. Instead testing has focused on falsification.

With no conclusive evidence. Results are “statistically less supportive of the theory than expected” (Holmberg, 1983). But has not been falsified and “is considered valid as an ad-hoc theory until one with more explanatory power has been developed and tested with more favourable results”.

Other Perspectives

It’s not academic

Holmberg (1999, p. 59) quotes Peters arguing against the less “academic” nature of guided conversations

Scientific thinking is targeted, logical, systematic and conscious of its methods and cannot be brought about with the help of “constant conversation”. …How can academic contents be imparted in a “clear, somewhat colloquial language”… How can authors of academic texts be advised to write in a personal style, not to exceed a defined density of information and to address students emotionally as well… Is it not the case that with most contents a strict objectivity of the analysis and exposition is required? Is it not so that efforts made step by step to open up and understand a dense and initially inaccessible text provide more intellectual pleasure than the feeling of taking part in a simulated conversation?

Holmberg’s response is that guided conversation is not intended as a replacement for academic texts. It is meant to help learners learn how to engage and engage with the academic texts.

Other use

Balzotti, J. M., & McCool, L. B. (2016). Using Digital Learning Platforms to Extend the Flipped Classroom. Business and Professional Communication Quarterly, 79(1), 68–80.

Kanuka, H., & Jugdev, K. (2006). Distance education MBA students: An investigation into the use of an orientation course to address academic and social integration issues. Open Learning: The Journal of Open, Distance and e-Learning, 21(2), 153–166.

Pilkington, C. (2018). A Playful Approach to Fostering Motivation in a Distance Education Computer Programming Course: Behaviour Change and Student Perceptions. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 19(3).


Holmberg, B. (1983). Guided Didactic Conversation in Distance Education. In Distance Education: International Perspectives (pp. 114–122). Croom Helm.

Holmberg, B. (1999). The Conversational Approach to Distance Education. Open Learning: The Journal of Open, Distance and e-Learning, 14(3), 58–60.