Polycontextual bridging – how to be in two places at once


Polycontextual bridging (Elstad, 2016) is a useful term that allows us to explore literacies around engaging with hybridity, blended learning spaces and learning literacies. Simply, it refers to the experience of being in two or more places at once. Before associating this immediately with social media let’s note that the phenomenon is not essentially new. Though I am not a psychologist it seems that our attention wanders by nature, we become distracted, we attempt to multi-task, we use multimedia that may create dissonance, we experience split attention, and so forth. More particularly, as individuals how we appear to others (a form of being) may not be how we see ourselves. Clearly, there is so much behind each of these ideas, and others, but before we attempt to manage the literacies associated witth polycontextual bridging we should appreciate that in education the concept may be useful even if it is fundamentally complex.


I am attracted to the concept because of my interest in learning spaces and, at the moment, my exploration of learning walks, twalks, social media augmented space, smart learning, and my commitment to developing understanding around ‘studio for all’. Each of these interests seems to coalesce around the richness of boundary crossing as a basis for understanding learning. In other words, polycontextual bridging appears to be useful for thinking about experiential networked learning in the digital-social age.

Significance – the nature of disrupted space

The implications of polycontextual bridging for education are diverse. Much of this has been discussed in texts on boundary crossing and liminality and I have tried to express the ideas in conference papers, publications, and blog posts here over recent years. If it doesn’t already exist, it would be useful to devise a framework to understand the implications. My initial thoughts are that this relates to notions of disrupted space, but there may be better ways of looking at it.

Here is a first stab at presenting ideas for how space is experienced polycontextually:

  • Augmented space – in which polycontextual experience adds to or complements first space experience, e.g. if first space experience is the classroom social media may provide timely access to resources (people, artefacts) that can immediately enrich the primary experience;
  • Conflicting space – in which polycontextaulity is experienced as dissonance, e.g. the individual appears to be equally present in one or more spaces (home, school, work, third place) but their attention is divided. This may be perceived as multi-tasking, but the polycontextuality experienced by the individual affects the quality of their engagement to one or more of the spaces in which they are present;
  • Multi-polycontextual space – in which multiple participants in any related space are committed to multiple activities concurrently, e.g. three family members sitting on a sofa watching television, each holding a smart device, and each engaged with one or social media channels or sources of web-based information. One of may be a student with a deadline, another may be a worker winding down, the other may be a child playing games.

Immediately it is evident that polycontextual bridging describes a complexity that can be experienced positively or negatively. It suggests opportunities and challenges. From an educational perspective, it is evident that such behaviours require us to develop our ideas about learning spaces, how people experience learning, and the relationship of learning context to life context to work context.


Elstad, E. (2016). Educational technology and polycontextual bridging. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.

About Andrew Middleton

NTF, PFHEA, committed to active learning, co-operative pedagogies, media-enhanced teaching and learning, authentic learning, postdigital learning spaces. Key publication: Middleton, A. (2018). Reimagining Spaces for Learning in Higher Education. Palgrave.
This entry was posted in BYOD, Learning Space and Place, Polycontextuality, Social Media for Learning, Studio and Studio-based Learning, Walking and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Polycontextual bridging – how to be in two places at once

  1. Pingback: The writing is on the wall – poetry and place | Tactile

  2. Pingback: Between states: metaxis, agency, connectedness and fluency | Tactile

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