What is asynchronous learning?
Asynchronous learning is a teaching methodology whereby learning occurs independently and in different times and spaces. Asynchronous learning often takes place in online learning environments where the instructor sets up a learning path for students to engage with and proceed through at their own pace.
What is synchronous learning?
Synchronous learning is learning that occurs for students at the same time and place via live online meetings. This means that students sign in to a virtual learning environment at the same time to engage with one another, and follow the learning path together and with guidance from the instructor.
Asynchronous vs. synchronous learning:
The discussion around asynchronous and synchronous learning has been accelerated in recent years. New technology and expanded internet access and made learning more accessible than ever before. Students now have an opportunity to sign in to free learning websites to expand their knowledge or to increase their understanding of a particular school topic. Programs and courses have also emerged to supplement or expand in-class learning. For example, students in university may decide to take online courses along with their in-person learning to get exposure to topics beyond their discipline or to speed up their academic progress.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced many academic institutions to move to completely remote learning causing schools and professors to look at how they could leverage programs and tools for asynchronous and synchronous learning so that learning could continue at a high level despite students being away from school.
There is a misconception that asynchronous learning requires less effort and strategy to engage students. As Brown and Voltz (2011) explain, “Asynchronous e-learning design requires an understanding of educational pedagogies, multimedia content, resource publication, electronic technologies, and international web standards”. That being said, by making a deliberate effort to address students’ unique learning needs and incorporating engaging and meaningful opportunities for students to engage with one another and course content, asynchronous E-learning can be a rewarding learning experience. Having dynamism in the classroom prepares the students with the transferable skills necessary to be successful, both inside and outside of the classroom.
Asynchronous learning activities:
Professors have adopted creative approaches to engage students through asynchronous learning. Here are a few ways asynchronous learning can be implemented:
- Reading articles, or watching pre-recorded lectures, or videos and completing writing assignments
- Independent research projects
- Online class discussions via course discussion boards
- Learning activities, including quizzes, tests, and interactive games
- Online peer assessment
Challenges of asynchronous learning (and how to address them):
No immediate in-class feedback
Without live lectures or in-person teaching, students miss the scheduled time to engage with course material and ask questions on the spot. By not having this live in-class interaction, students may not feel compelled to ask questions, or they miss hearing the teacher respond to the questions of their classmates. In the end, students are not receiving enough feedback to improve their quality of work.
Address this challenge by providing other means for students to receive immediate feedback, such as through peer assessment. Additionally, ensure students have outlets and regular opportunities to ask questions and clarify their understanding and make sure students have exposure to the questions raised by their peers. Online discussion boards or class communities are another way students can share their perspectives and the teacher can respond in the group when questions arise.
Lack of personal interactions
Asynchronous learning that is completely independent means students won’t have an opportunity to learn from their peers and interact with them. Peer learning, when students learn from each other, is a powerful way to enhance student learning. Without opportunities to engage in peer learning and interact with their classmates, students may be unmotivated or disengaged from their learning. Peer-to-peer learning has shown stellar outcomes to student mental health, particularly through the pandemic.
Address this challenge by providing opportunities for students to work together and share in their learning with one another. This can mean having students complete an activity in groups, have students discuss their learning, or a topic covered in a course, or engaging in peer assessment to provide feedback on one another’s work.
Students must be able to work independently
Asynchronous online learning will be well received by students who prefer to work independently and at their own pace. However, for students who require more guidance, structure and interactions, it can be challenging to keep them motivated.
Address this challenge by providing guidelines and checkpoints to ensure students who require structure are supported. Students who are able to work well independently will also appreciate the checkpoints as a way to get feedback and improve their work. These checkpoints may be referred to as staged learning, or scaffolded learning.
Advantages of asynchronous learning
“By logging on at a self-determined time of readiness, learners also will be more focused on task-specific learning behaviour; moreover, because interactions within the group are not in real time, students have the opportunity to absorb and consider information before responding. This type of experiential learning leads to more effective learning” (Li, Greenberg, & Nicholls, 2007).
Learn at your own pace
With asynchronous online learning, students are able to learn at their own pace. For many students this may be prioritizing commitments, and completing their studies around other schedules. Students often have responsibilities beyond their academics, including jobs, family obligations and caretaking of family members. Learning asynchronously, supports individuals given the complexities of life.
Provide an accessible form of learning
The fact that asynchronous learning can be done at any time and from any location, internet connection permitting, means it is a more accessible form of learning than in-person, or even synchronous live learning. Students can be halfway around the world taking a course with students in different time zones. Additionally, as previously mentioned, students with other life commitments can be accommodated through asynchronous learning. With asynchronous learning, learning can take place at the convenient time for the individual students (Marble et al., 2016).
Reduce social barriers
By providing learners with an opportunity to learn at their own pace while ensuring greater accessibility, educators and institutions reduce social barriers, or social determinants. Social determinants are the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, learn, work and age. Asynchronous learning meets the student where and when it is most convenient for them. Allowing for student autonomy and flexibility in course and assessment delivery creates a more fair and equitable learning environment.
Understanding the benefits and challenges of asynchronous learning helps to effectively incorporate it into future online teaching plans. There's no denying that asynchronous learning can be beneficial, but there are constraints to consider before adopting any asynchronous learning strategies.
Asynchronous remote learning is a powerful approach for making learning resources more accessible, however, for some students, that lack of interactivity is a problem. There are ways to address these challenges within your class including interactive learning activities, peer learning and regular check ins. Additionally, asynchronous e-learning resources, without immediate instructor or technical support, must be self-explanatory in nature and intuitive to use (Sinclair et. al, 2017).
Technology, such as Kritik, can make asynchronous learning a seamless experience for professor and student alike, while building students’ critical thinking and soft skills. Not only that, but “when educators complement in-class time with asynchronous learning opportunities, they can create a community-focused collaborative space for personalized learning experiences” (Stafford, 2011). When asynchronous learning is used in combination with synchronous classes, such as with peer assessment through Kritik, professors can enable more meaningful and engaging discussions and class time interactions.
Brown AR, Voltz BD. Elements of Effective e-Learning Design. Int. Rev. Res. Open and Distance Learn 2005; 6(1): 1–10.
Hiltz, S., & Goldman, R. (2005). What are asynchronous learning networks? In S. Hiltz & R. Goldman (Eds.), Learning together online: Research on asynchronous learning networks (pp. 3-18). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Li, T., Greenberg, B., & Nicholls, J. (2007). Teaching experiential learning: Adoption of an innovative course in an MBA marketing curriculum. Journal of Marketing Education, 29, 25-33.
Marble, S., Fulcher, A., & Toman, J. (2016). Advantages and Disadvantages of Asynchronous Online Extension Programming for Delivering Master Producer Content. Horttechnology, 26(5), 584-587. https://doi.org/10.21273/horttech03410-16
Stafford, G. (2011). The unexpected transformations of Chinese international students in Australia (Doctoral dissertation). University of Adelaide, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia.