4 Asynchronous Learning Activities for K-12 Students
Asynchronous Learning: Definition and Significance
Asynchronous learning, defined as forms of education, instruction, and learning that do not occur in the same place or the same time, is a critical element of any school's remote learning or Hybrid Education program. Asynchronous learning is significant because, when done effectively, it allows students to learn and demonstrate mastery of content at their own pace and on their own time. This personalized approach to education is now more viable than ever when combined with educational technology advances and a sound K-12 learning management system (LMS). Accordingly, here are four asynchronous learning activities you can pursue with your students.
1. Discussion Boards
Online discussion boards are probably one of the most common asynchronous student learning activities. They are also one of the most difficult to implement with fidelity because it takes a significant amount of prior planning to do asynchronous discussion the right way. But if you invest the time and provide appropriate modeling for your students, the results can be tremendous. Here are a few quick tips:
- Publish and model a discussion rubric that establishes items like minimum and maximum word counts, the minimum number of quality posts and responses required, source citation expectations, and more.
- Discussion prompts and questions should be open-ended, aligned with course/unit/lesson objectives, and create opportunities for students to apply what they have learned, transfer learning to new topics and ideas, and reflect deeply on course content.
- Get students talking to each other through strategic instructor participation. By finding the happy medium of not being the first to respond to a student post and not ignoring student posts completely, you'll naturally incentivize peer-to-peer interaction.
Remember that discussion boards, like all the other asynchronous learning activities in this post, will look different depending on their age and ability. Kindergartners will likely have a tough time creating a traditional discussion board post. Before implementing online, try asynchronous discussions in your classroom if you can. Consider the age and technological proficiency of your students, as well as the baseline expectations and modeling you will need to establish to make them successful.
2. Project-Based Learning
Delivery methods for a meaningful education have been changing over the last few decades, a trend that has accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic. "Many districts are finding that project-based learning, or PBL, is a 21st-century model that works to decrease absence and increase engagement and relevance," stated Robert Rametti, headmaster of Brighton High School in Boston, Massachusetts, in describing how the school saw dramatic changes in student engagement as they rolled out PBL more aggressively.
Project-based learning is perfect for the asynchronous learning environment because it is more than just completing a one-off project. PBL is profoundly personal and immersive, thus intrinsically motivating for students. It isn't just part of a unit of instruction. It is the unit of instruction. Examples of popular PBL projects that could be seamlessly ported to the asynchronous environment via your K-12 LMS include, but are not limited to, the following examples:
- A second-grader in Virginia created a "Save a Pond" project that culminated with the clean-up of a local pond and a video reflection piece.
- In New York, high schoolers developed a Visual Art Show project that featured multiple mediums presented to a public audience.
- Students in Massachusetts created a "Slow the Spread" project in response to the pandemic.
One of the sacred 21st-century skills is the ability to transfer learning to novel scenarios and experiences, so asynchronous project-based learning, powered by your learning management system as the hub of PBL activity, is a powerful way to accomplish this essential goal.
3. Video Instruction and Assignments
You are probably already familiar with the now-traditional flipped classroom model. The teacher typically pre-records direct instruction for initial viewing by students online, and in-class time is reserved for individual practice, collaborative work, re-teaching, and enrichment activities. Pre-recorded lessons posted to your K-12 LMS also work as an asynchronous learning activity. Now, consider expanding the use of asynchronous video to student discussion and assignments, as well.
For example, FlipGrid has become a popular edtech tool in the asynchronous learning space and is appropriate for students of all ages. Younger students could respond to a discussion prompt via a retelling activity, demonstrating mastery of the elements of literature, recorded book recommendations for peers, and myriad other activities. Older students could create jigsaw discussions, video portfolios, and more. There are many ways to use FlipGrid to enhance your asynchronous learning activity offerings and a ton of ways to use video technology in general to do the same. Be creative! Students may surprise you with what they come up with.
4. Individual Practice
One of the essential questions raised by Robert Marzano in his classic text, The Art and Science of Teaching, is: "What will I do to help students practice and deepen their understanding of new knowledge?" This becomes a critical question when developing asynchronous learning activities across the curriculum. Instead of traditional homework and practice, like the synchronous "go over the homework" class time we have all experienced, how can we provide students with meaningful and relevant asynchronous opportunities for practice and enrichment?
My third-grade son learned virtually last week, as our county continues to struggle as a COVID-19 hot spot. In science, the class was learning about soil layers, erosion, conservation practices, and more. When I came home, my wife mentioned that he had additional tasks to complete asynchronously via the school's LMS. I was very impressed with what I saw. The layout and steps were clear. After reviewing the day's lesson, which included a brief video and slide deck about soil, students were required to complete a separate asynchronous slide deck, which consisted of drag-and-drop and reflection activities. They were then encouraged to explore a BrainPop Jr. video, quiz, and supplemental materials at their own pace. My son loved it. His teachers took the time to think like him, pose questions, and present material they knew would intrigue him to learn more. He had follow-up questions for me, and I enjoyed the quality time with him. That's the power of engaging, asynchronous individual practice in a blended-learning environment, not traditional "drill and kill" homework assignments.
The Personalized, Asynchronous Future
There will always be value in gathering together—to work, be entertained, and learn—but the future will be increasingly personalized and asynchronous. Just as our media consumption habits have changed in the last 20 years, so will our school and work options. As we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, it's easy to see how online learning platforms and asynchronous learning activities will remain with us, complementing and enhancing what we have traditionally thought of as "school." When you introduce the above asynchronous learning activities to your students in the right amount at the right time, you help spark their intrinsic desire to know, understand, and be able to do more, developing skills that will serve them long into the future.