Asynchronous Learning: Definition, Benefits, and Example Activities
Asynchronous Learning is the key feature of successful online learning programs. The word "asynchronous" means not keeping time together, which refers to students' ability to access information, demonstrate what they've learned, and communicate with classmates and instructors on their own time--they don't have to be in the same classroom or even in the same time zone to participate.
Asynchronous learning allows flexibility for non-traditional learners and easily accommodates different learning styles, as students can often "choose their own adventure" when it comes to the order they wish to cover material and how deep to dive into a given topic. Asynchronous Learning is often called Location Independent Learning, because students can access the course from anywhere in the world thanks to the internet.
Asynchronous vs. Synchronous Learning: What's the Difference?
While Asynchronous Learning allows students to access materials, ask questions, and practice their skills at any time that works for them, Synchronous Learning requires attendance at scheduled meetings or lectures. While this could be in person in a traditional classroom, the term is most often applied to online courses. Examples of Synchronous Learning in an online setting include the following:
- Scheduled quizzes and tests
- Scheduled chat room time for students to share ideas
- Scheduled video conferences or group phone calls
- Live streamed lectures or demonstrations
Asynchronous Learning uses other tools and systems to allow the instructor and students to interact on their own schedules. These may include:
- Recorded presentations, such as slideshows and videos
- Discussion boards
- Social media groups
- Collaborative documents in the cloud
Benefits of Asynchronous Learning
There are many benefits to asynchronous learning, many of which are now being recognized and studied thanks to the prevalence of online learning. The most obvious benefit is flexibility, which allows non-traditional students to balance family, work, and school in a way that works for their schedules. This flexibility can also be beneficial to younger students with health issues that limit time in school or with other needs that cannot be met in the traditional classroom, but can be addressed through an online program.
Other benefits aren't as obvious, but are nonetheless important:
- Individual Pacing: By definition, Asynchronous Learning allows students to design their own learning schedules. This allows learners to spend more time on challenging areas and work toward mastery instead of deadlines imposed from above. Individual pacing helps address different learning styles as well as learning disabilities.
- Asynchronous Collaboration: Using discussion boards and interactive document editing can help students engage more deeply with the material as they communicate with each other. Asynchronous collaboration allows students to reach out for help when they need it and to work with the material as long as needed before sharing their thoughts with others, leading to a richer, more personalized experience overall.
- Portfolio Learning: Because students don't necessarily sit for a single exam, assessment of Asynchronous Learning is often comprised of a portfolio of material demonstrating mastery. At its best, an online learning portfolio can contain a rich collection of video, presentations, and other multimedia projects that show what has been learned in a much deeper way than a standardized test, and these projects can follow students through their academic careers and into the real world.
Asynchronous Activities and Learning Tools
Embracing Asynchronous Learning can feel overwhelming for instructors who are used to meeting with students in a traditional classroom--or at least during online office hours. Try these learning activities to add asynchrony to your course:
- Videos: Turn in-class lectures into videos by recording your teaching. For best results, you can combine video with documents, text, photos, and slides for a full presentation. Movenote and Moovly will help you get started
- Demonstrations: Sometimes students need to see something in action. Post an existing video that shows a skill, or make your own and publish it on YouTube. Consider using the transcript tool to make a text copy for student reference.
- Class Discussion: Discussion boards are a great way to get students to interact while not requiring them to be online at the same time. You can also use social media to make the conversation feel more natural.
- Group Projects: Your students don't have to be in the same room to work together. Group presentations and reports can be edited using Google Docs or Dropbox for real-time collaboration and commenting. To keep communication moving smoothly, you can also introduce a task management system like Asana to track progress.
- Learning Activities: Your students need to apply what they've picked up in your online materials, so try creating quizzes and games that let them practice their skills and get feedback on what they know--and what needs work. JeopardyLabs, Quizlet, and Sugarcane are good places to design customized online activities.
3 Things to Consider Before Transitioning to Asynchronous Learning
Asynchronous Learning has many benefits, but it's not without its challenges. Before adding asynchronous elements to your teaching, ponder these questions to make sure your course functions well:
- How and when will you provide feedback? Regular feedback is essential to clear up misunderstandings and offer encouragement, but not seeing your students in real time can slow the process.
- How will you make lessons accessible and entertaining? You won't be able to shift gears when you see students are bored, so plan ways to make your information exciting. This usually requires high-quality video and presentations, which are time-consuming to produce but can be reused.
- How will you promote higher order thinking? It's not always easy to plan online activities that go beyond multiple choice quizzes and flashcards, but organizing in-depth projects and practice is crucial.
- How will you divide units into smaller lessons? Bite-sized modules are key to providing flexibility for asynchronous learners.