Playing with time and crossing boundaries: multichronicity #activelearning

Warped clock face based on Dali's painting 'The Persistence of Memory'
after DALI ‘The Persistence of Memory’

In Reimagining Spaces for Learning in Higher Education I examine the inadequacies of binary descriptions of space and time for representing contemporary learning experiences. Within the exploration I considered social media for learning and two of the case studies described tweetchats. An analysis of the tweetchats revealed that neither synchronicity nor asynchronicity are able to capture the essence of what goes on in such a conversational space. Neither get close to capturing the value of the learning experience.

Tweetchats disrupt the binary of synchronous-asynchronous communication and instead present a ‘multichronous’ multidimensional flow of live conversation. While the tweetchat epitomises an intense multi-participant and immersive conversation, it also lives on as a learner-generated resource.

Middleton, 2018

Unified active learning – a pedagogy of connections

Quite rightly, during the pandemic our attention has been given to the operational matters of ensuring our students can access their course irrespective of their situation. At Anglia Ruskin University I continue to engage colleagues in the concept of ‘unified active learning’ (UAL) – a principle-based articulation of a design ethos and supporting pedagogies in which active, inclusive and collaborative learning provides a learning framework.

UAL is people and engagement-centred – the starting point for the academic designer must be the need to connect with every student: any design that does not accept the challenge of engagement is prone to failure as a teaching strategy.

A critique of synchronous and asynchronous conceptualisations of learning design, therefore, sits within this context. Such a binary conception of learning focuses the teacher only on the practical; the doing. That would seem to make sense in an active learning paradigm. However, it is not enough. The danger is that the academic designer asks “What am I expecting the learner to do at this point in time?” with the implication that the acts stand alone with no history or consequence for each learner. They are portrayed as being disconnected. As noted in an earlier post, it is not the act but the consequence of the act that indicates where we should look for value in an active curriculum: the ‘so what?’ of reflection in and on learning.

Multichronicity, therefore, provides a way of looking at the design of experiential learning in settings that accommodate learning ecologies: the academic designer must consider the quality of time spent in and navigating through a learning experience.

An analysis of desirable acts of learning is helpful to understand the role of time and flow in the design of active learning.

Ekeblad (1999) makes observations about the value of pace and fluidity in consideration of engagement with mailing lists:

Discussions on a scholarly mailing list typically do not proceed at an even pace, but swing between phases where contributors converge on a new object of intense discussion and phases of topical divergence and diminishing interaction frequency

Ekeblad, 1999

Returning to the tweetchat scenario (a learning environment defined by its simple affordances), a breakdown of interaction patterns quickly indicates the significance of time to thoughts on engagement and learning: the Twitter environment acts as a conduit for faux synchronous discussion, in a process that co-produces a persistent archive of multiple concurrent conversations (‘multilogues’ [Shanke, 1993]) demarcated by the hashtag spatial signifier. The act of posting is an act of intervention, production, creation, contribution and participation. It is inherently active, inclusive and collaborative. The act of posting leaves traces of evidence in which thoughts are made real and left abandoned to be found or ignored like embers from a fire. Each ember has latent energy with the potential to ignite further embers or to metamorphose into sooty deposits. Ekeblad (1999) refers to these as patterns of ’emergence and decay’.

Let’s trace the life of a tweet to understand this ecology and observe how, rather than being binary or linear, time is multichronous.

The life of a tweet

A tweet is a posting full of potential to provoke reaction. It finds its space in the tweetchat by incorporating its shared hashtag. Inherently, tweeting is an act defined by its latency: it demands acknowledgement, but may go unnoticed or be overtaken by other events such as other tweets that may capture attention, or may be returned to as its meaning and value become clear.

A tweet is a message. Simply, its primary purpose is to be read and its meaning conveyed. While it may be ignored, in the instant that it occupies the limelight, one or more people may like the tweet, retweet it, or reply to it. Any such act draws attention to the tweet and its essence. This attention gives it more energy potentially – it is no longer only associated with the tweet’s originator, it acquires new provenance, value and association. For each association, the tweet has both an immediate presence and one or more future lifelines that create traces, embers, or hauntings: memories that may spark new life or fade, decay, and disappear.

The tweet exists within the context of other tweets. Once released, it has its own life and timeline, but for the originator and those who interact with the tweet, it may hold up proceedings as the centre of a micro-conversation. In a tweetchat, for example, other participants may keep up with the pace set by the tweetchat facilitator as they release more stimulus questions or, instead, participants may get side-tracked into new micro-conversations. Such micro-conversations are like eddies in the flow of a stream, having their own energy.

Active learning as a multichronous learning ecology

At the Active Learning Conference 2021 ( #activelearningnetwork #ARUalc which I had the privilege of Chairing last week, I ran a session titled “Playing with time and crossing boundaries: beyond synchronous and asynchronous active learning” in which I began to explore some of these ideas and demonstrate how multichronicity characterises the real value found in many active learning designs, including in the hybrid UAL methods.

An analysis of activity patterns in flipped learning pedagogies, learning walks and twalks, co-created educational podcasting methods, crowdsourcing and curation activities, co-writing assignments, for example, all reveal the value of multichronicity in understanding why such methods work.

Undoubtedly, I will return to this idea of multichronicity and how we value it in active learning.


Ekeblad, E. (1999). The emergence of multilogue. Self-regulation of a scholarly mailing list (revised version). Symposium proceedings, ‘Time and coordination in a virtual community of learners. European Association for Research on Learning and Instruction conference (EARLI 99): Advancing Learning Communities In The New Millennium’, Guttenborg, Sweden, August 24-28 1999. Online at:

Shank, G. (1993). Abductive multiloguing. The semiotic dynamics of navigating the Net. Arachnet Electronic Journal on Virtual Culture v1n01 (March 22, 1993). Online at

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 Active Learning, Digital Placemaking, Learner Engagement, Learning Space and Place, Media-enhanced learning, Polycontextuality, Scholarship and Research, Social Media for Learning, Walking and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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