The sudden shift to remote learning using learning management systems (LMS) forced many learning institutions and educators to rapidly adjust to meet students’ needs. That’s why course designers must now be more creative about how they provide their learning content, which means shifting away from traditional, synchronous learning.
Instead, instructors and educational institutions must employ some asynchronous learning options to best suit the needs of their students. If you’re a course designer who is struggling to come up with great, asynchronous learning methods to use in your class, we’ve got you covered.
By the end of this article, you’ll understand why designing online learning courses with at least some asynchronous learning elements is the best move to keep your students engaged.
Asynchronous vs. synchronous learning: What’s the difference?
Before we dive into the different types of asynchronous online learning it’s important to know the difference between asynchronous and synchronous learning. Knowing this distinction will help you understand whether or not to include only asynchronous or synchronous learning methods, or meet somewhere in between with a course designed around blended learning.
What is asynchronous learning?
Asynchronous learning is a term used to describe forms of education, instruction, and online learning that do not occur in the same place or at the same time. Previously called distance learning or asynchronous training, asynchronous learning has been around since the early 1900s and was done via the postal service.
What is synchronous learning?
Synchronous learning is real-time learning where students and an instructor gather together at a set time and place. It’s what most people think of when they think of school or class and has been the go-to type of instruction for nearly the entirety of education. Synchronous learning can include online classes as well.
Use pre-recorded video lessons to enable students to learn on their own time and at their own pace
Example 1: Pre-recorded video lessons
A recent study found that when students received video lessons instead of the usual forms of synchronous teaching, the average grade increased from a B to a B+. Additionally, they found when students received video tutorials in addition to their existing classes, the effect was even stronger, moving students from a B to an A.
The study analyzed 105 past randomized trials with 7,776 students enrolled in higher education courses. Researchers examined the effects of videos on learning compared to the effects of other teaching mediums, such as in-person lectures and assigned readings.
A student gains improved comprehension and retention with pre-recorded lessons because they can use the extra time to process what they saw, pause the video to rewatch parts they might not have understood, practice any skills they’re being taught, and respond to any testing material.
Explain Everything Software’s pre-recorded video lesson (Source)
Students have more control over their learning which can reduce the likelihood of them feeling overwhelmed by their coursework. While it might not be the right fit for every learner, it is certainly an option worth considering when planning your course selection list.
Pre-recorded, asynchronous classes also offer benefits for the instructor. These include eliminating the need for operating confusing technology during an online course and precisely recording their lesson with as many retakes and re-shoots as needed. Plus, there’s no need to worry about disruptive lag or bandwidth issues that sometimes arise during a synchronous online course.
Examples in practice: Claire works a typical 9-5 job and can’t make it to classes during the day, but certain courses she needs to graduate are only available during those hours. If there were only synchronous courses available, Claire would need to heavily disrupt her life in order to complete her coursework to graduate. Pre-recorded videos allow Claire the freedom and opportunity to watch lectures when she has the time so she won’t fall behind.
How to start today: Recording video lessons sounds daunting, but you can start off simple by using YouTube to source materials. Make sure you vet the creator/channel first. If you see positive results from students, you can gradually use platforms like LinkedIn Learning.
Provide online quizzes so students can get immediate feedback about their progress
Example 2: Online quizzes
With synchronous learning, the instructor collects quizzes, takes them home, grades them, then returns them the next class day. The feedback is often not immediate, and students might not remember why they chose the answers they did, which can prevent their overall comprehension of the material.
Asynchronous learning, on the other hand, looks a little different thanks to technology. Using a learning management system, students submit their comprehension quizzes and instructors provide immediate feedback. Students receive a more concrete, immediate understanding of what they may have missed or failed to comprehend and can refer back to the materials in order to fill in those comprehension gaps.
Additionally, when using an LMS to design quizzes, instructors can include embedded video snippets from lectures, pictures, and diagrams to provide more context around the questions.
An example of what a quiz can look like in an LMS (Source)
It’s easy to forget that students are very often taking 3-6 other courses aside from the one you’re teaching, so receiving prompt feedback while they’re engaging with your course material is crucial to amp up their comprehension.
How to start today: On a tight budget? Don’t worry. Online quizzes don’t have to be costly. Consider using free tools like Google Forms as a cost-effective option. Plus, your students might need to get the hang of using online quizzes first before graduating to a more sophisticated platform.
Use online forum or discussion boards to foster collaboration
Example 3: Online forums and discussion boards
One of the unique features of asynchronous learning that synchronous learning can’t provide is using open-ended forum topic posts. This typically takes the place of, or enhances, in-person collaborative discussion.
You provide students with an engaging, thought-provoking question or situation students need to draft and submit a detailed response to. Effective forum topics are open-ended and designed to encourage your students to take a position on the issues you are discussing in your class. Ideally, the question you pose requires a learner to respond with an organized, thoughtful point about the concepts introduced in class.
Additionally, part of any successful online discussion board requires students to respond to each other’s posts. This can lead to students challenging other points of views as well as having their points challenged which fosters greater understanding of the material.
A learner also has the time and flexibility to think about how they’ll respond to the discussion question. In a traditional, synchronous classroom, students are often put on the spot during discussions without having enough time to process the material and form a coherent position.
Piazza Software’s built-in discussion board (Source)
With an online discussion board, a student can bounce ideas off roommates, family members, or even other students before posting to make sure their point is salient and makes sense in context.
A traditional, synchronous classroom might have 25-30 students, and some students will always dominate discussions which means less confident, shy, or apathetic students might never speak or offer their point of view. Even if every single student in a 30-person class speaks, they’d be given less than 2 minutes in a 50-minute class. Regular forum discussions about the material can add hours of interaction over a semester.
Examples in practice: Jose is a shy student who only speaks when he is called on. But Jose has thoughts and opinions about the material that he wishes he could convey in class. With asynchronous learning, Jose can access a discussion board platform to express his opinions with the rest of the class because he’s more comfortable formulating and drafting his thoughts online. This leads to a more enriching class experience for Jose and his fellow students who would otherwise not have heard his perspective.
How to start today: New technology like online forums and discussion boards can seem overwhelming for instructors who are new to LMS, but it doesn’t have to be. Consider starting out small by using free and easy-to-navigate tools like Slack or WhatsApp.
Asynchronous learning is important for any distance education
While it’s certainly not a one size fits all solution, and synchronous learning is still an important part of a learning experience, asynchronous learning should be a crucial part of any learning institution’s course offerings because it offers certain things a traditional classroom cannot. Use asynchronous learning to empower your students to learn at their own pace and schedule.
Remote learning isn’t easy, but with the right approach, you and your students can have a successful course. Check out the content below for advice and insights relevant to today’s unique learning environment for your students.