This paper reports on research investigating student experiences of learning through face‐to‐face and online discussions in a political science course in a large Australian university. Using methodologies from relational research into university student learning, the study investigates associations between key aspects of student learning focusing on conceptions of what students learn, approaches to learning, and learning outcomes. The main hypothesis tested here was that there are qualitative differences in the student conceptions of learning through discussions and their approaches to face‐to‐face and online discussions. Furthermore, it was expected to find that these differences were reflected in the learning outcomes, that is, student approaches would be linked to more complete conceptions of learning and to better academic performance. More tentatively, the existence of causal relationships between these aspects of learning and academic performance was also explored. Data on students' conceptions and approaches was collected through closed‐ended questionnaires and final mark was used as an indicator of the quality of learning (academic performance). Our analysis identified variations in the quality of conceptions and student approaches also revealing strong associations between what students thought their learning is about, the way they approached their learning, and academic performance in both face‐to‐face and online contexts. Implications of these findings for research and practice are elaborated.