Media Synchronicity Theory

My last post discussed media richness theory. While it is not without worth for my research purposes, the theory is somewhat limited in ways that have been discussed by various authors, including Dennis and Valacich in their 1998 article, “Beyond Media Richness: An Empirical Test of Media Synchronicity Theory.” The authors define certain limitations and a lack of empirical support for media richness theory. They conclude that aligning media richness with task equivocality does not improve performance for the media. They argue that the media richness theory is not as effective as its originators claim. After conducting their own empirical studies, they determine that there is no sufficient evidence to support the theory. Additionally, it is not appropriate to state that one media is inherently richer then the other, because it is important to consider other factors in the communication situation, such as the individuals, task, and social context within which they are interacting.

Based on this view of media richness theory, Dennis and Valacich propose a new theory: the theory of media synchronicity, which should be more robust then the media richness theory, since media synchronicity theory considers more advanced electronic communication media that did not exist at the time of Daft and Lengel’s 1984 theory. (Dennis and Kinney 1998).

Dennis and Valacich define media synchronicity as “… the extent to which a communication environment encourages individuals to work together on the same activity, with the same information, at the same time; i.e. to have a shared focus.” (1998). In this way, it takes an outcome-centered approach, converse to the task-centered approach of media richness theory. To reach a group outcome, two primary processes: conveyance and convergence–of which every group communication process is composed–are necessary.

The exchange of information. In this process, not all participants must agree on the meaning of the information or even focus on the same information at the same time. Low media synchronicity is generally preferred for the conveyance process.

The development of a shared meaning to information. In this process, all participants must work together to establish the same meaning for each bit of information. High media synchronicity is generally preferred for the conveyance process.

Discussions of this theory relate more toward application in the workplace, such as meetings in which the group must come to a mutual agreement given a set amount of information. In considering it applied to classroom, one can see that the general information given to the class is conveyance, whereas the understanding gained as a group, about the information conveyed by the instructor, from the book, or in a group work situation, is the convergence on shared meaning. Such an understanding can come about through various levels of synchronicity based on the medium (email, Web discussion board, online video, etc.), but the closer the individuals are to a live/synchronous setting, the quick the understanding will be reached and the higher the level of agreement.

While not the final or ultimate media theory I will use in my research, media synchronicity theory should prove to be relevant to my research and analysis of the data I collect from the classroom. From what I have read of it thus far (lots more to read, still), I find it particularly relevant given that so much of what I have been discussing over the last year on this topic is the aspect of (a)synchronousity in education and distance communication.

2 Responses to “Media Synchronicity Theory”

  1. Comment From Rob MacGregor on September 17th, 2009 at 5:02 pm

    Synchronicity is about two related events coming together in an acausal manner – in other words, outside of cause and effect. Mediia Synchronicity Theory is a misnomer, because by definition it involves cause and effect.

    For real synchronicity, see my blog:

    Rob MacGregor

  2. Comment From Time Barrow on September 17th, 2009 at 11:30 pm

    Yes, Rob, that is one definition of synchronicity: that two events can occur together seemingly by chance, and their occurrence has some meaning. It is certainly Jungian and is generally classified with topics, such as the paranormal. You may argue or clarify any of these statements, as that is clearly your expertise. But, it is very tangential to this post and the discussed theory. Your definition of synchronicity, that topic noted above, is not relevant to media synchronicity theory. This fact likely supports your point that the theory’s title may be a misnomer.

    Of course, I did not coin the theory name, so I cannot fully defend the theorists’ purpose in naming it as they did. However, I can comment that the theory really has more to do with the discussion of synchronous communication: that which occurs in a live setting, ergo at the same time. Also, as noted in the post, it references a communication environment’s (rhetorical situation) ability to have people work at the same time, on the same project, with the same focus. Again, this is about being somewhat synchronous.

    Therefore, “media synchronousness theory” might be a more accurate title. In this way, it defines a conversation that occurs causally (two+ people meeting at a specific time/place for a specific purpose). As it applies to my research, synchronousness is very relevant to the online video conversation (OVC), since participants in a live/synchronous conversation experience certain things during communication, many of which are radically altered through different forms of communication. The OVC may provide a setting in which many of those altered modalities are experienced in a manner more closely related to the live conversation setting than they are through other communication methods.

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