Asynchronous learning may sound like a new convention for bringing courses online, often lumped in with other types of remote and hybrid learning. However, this tried and true method of learning is a pertinent concept that continues to grow more common and essential in today’s learning landscape. From its origins in correspondence courses to today’s contemporary online courses, asynchronous learning has gone through some dramatic changes to keep pace with the latest technologies and needs of learners.
What is Asynchronous Learning?
Asynchronous learning simply refers to an environment in which teaching and learning do not occur at the same time or in the same space. Learning materials are typically loaded in advance with learners engaging in methods of individual or self-paced learning, logging in and completing work on their own schedule. That is not to say that asynchronous learning does not have a pace or schedule with concrete deadlines and start and end dates, but rather that the learner can choose when to login and complete their work during the allotted time frame.
In asynchronous learning environments, creating a collaborative and communal environment, especially virtually, can sometimes be challenging. With learners engaging at their own pace and convenience, the following practices will help ensure your asynchronous courses are engaging, meaningful and impactful for your learners.
Asynchronous courses, like other types of courses, should begin with an agenda or syllabus. An effective syllabus is flexible, detailed, and dynamic, clearly outlining the course content as well as scheduled assessments and deadlines.
For asynchronous learning in particular, it’s important to include the various methods, tools, or channels that will be used to present learning materials and connect with other learners and instructors. Showing learners that their course will be a robust learning environment rather than a solely text-based course helps capture learner attention from the start and leads to long term engagement and retention. Providing a detailed syllabus allows learners to know what to expect for the course and reach out in advance with any questions so that they’re more easily able to plan and manage course responsibilities.
Set the Course Pace
Asynchronous learning is more effective when there is a suggested pace for learners to follow as they work through the course. Time management can be a challenge for learners, and even more so with fewer to no set class times. Even for a single course project, spreading small assignments or deadlines out over weeks or modules helps balance the workload and allows learners to pace and plan for each week or module in advance.
As an instructor, it is important to work through your course from start to finish so that you understand how long each task might take, and how to disseminate those tasks in a manageable way. You may also consider using options or certain conditions within your Learning Management System (LMS) to ensure content is released incrementally, rather than all at once. This further helps learners to stay focused and pace themselves. Finally, to evenly divide the workload and provide learners with a feeling of predictability, consider having set due dates that repeat. For example, you could set each module to open each Monday with an assignment due Wednesday and another due on Sunday. Setting a pace for the course sets your learners up for success!
Establish Concrete Expectations and Due Dates
Nothing derails a learner more quickly than unclear directions and assignments! Help keep your learners on track by establishing concrete deliverables and due dates at the outset of the course. Provide clear and concise instructions for each assignment with information about what elements are being evaluated, how it is being graded and what the objectives are for the assignment. Be sure to reference the deliverables throughout the course content and ensure the assignment due date is clearly and repeatedly communicated. Make used of any electronic calendars or reminders that may be available in your learning platform as well. Establishing these clear guidelines and expectations can keep learners focused and invested.
Not only are clear instructions and due dates important, providing timely and meaningful feedback on those assignments is critical in asynchronous courses. Learners rely on feedback to learn and improve their performance. Ensure learners receive feedback on each assignment or assessment before the next one like it is due. This gives learners the opportunity to evaluate and digest the feedback, turning it into “feedforward” to be applied in their future work.
Forums are a great way to encourage constructive feedback and communication from instructors and other learners. Meaningful feedback builds a positive rapport between the instructor and learners, which contributes to feelings of validation, self-efficacy and confidence for the learner. When an instructor provides timely and meaningful feedback the learner is assured that there is indeed someone on the other end of the computer who is invested in their development and progress in the course.
Leverage Interactive Tools
While asynchronous learning transpires at different times in different spaces, it doesn’t need to feel that way for learners. Video, audio, simulation, interactivity, dynamic discussion and motivational learning are among the many ways you can create an engaging asynchronous learning environment and facilitate ongoing learner interaction within the course. Providing learners the opportunity to interact with content, the instructor and each other helps establish a culture of learning and engagement, and it doesn’t take a lot of pricey technology to make this happen.
Discussion forums are one of the more commonly used activities in online courses; with a few simple adjustments you can make forums an engaging and interactive resource for learners. Creating small groups for discussion forums helps to ensure learner posts are seen and increases the likelihood that learners will engage with one another on a higher cognitive level. Continuing to use group work, even asynchronously, for the duration of the course helps learners to establish a sense of community within the course and promotes a learning relationship where questions and answers can flow more freely.
Another interactive method that promotes asynchronous learning is the use of video, audio, or other media in courses. Whether delivering content as a recorded video lecture or providing video feedback, learners will benefit from hearing and seeing their instructor interact with them. Video allows the instructor to convey feelings and intent that may not be obvious in text-based interactions, which contributes to a feeling of presence and interactivity for learners.
Asynchronous learning offers substantial flexibility and scalability making it a versatile teaching and learning approach. Applying these best practices can ensure that both instructor and learner are engaged, invested and successful in asynchronous learning.