Wednesday, July 6, 2011
Asynchronous Learning and Its Application to Distance Education
Sun West School Division currently offers two course delivery methods for online, or distance learning: live broadcast or asynchronous. Distance learning offers many benefits to students, including the flexibility to work whenever it best suits a student’s schedule. Online learning also permits students from a geographically wide area to participate in a variety of courses, sharing learning experiences with students from throughout the Division. Asynchronous is defined by Dictionary.com as “not occurring at the same time”. This differs from synchronous learning where the teacher and students are online during the same period of time.
But a more traditional interpretation of asynchronous is any learning which allows students “the freedom to explore the intellectual demands of the specific learning situation in manners comfortable or efficient to the learner.” (VWSU - Virtual Washington State University White Paper). Furthermore, any learning which allows students to explore material outside of the classroom walls, to follow different paths as they gain new knowledge, to learn at their own pace, can be described as asynchronous. It could be argued that any instruction that allows individualization, then, is asynchronous.
To facilitate such experiences involves a shift away from teacher-directed instruction where information is given to the students, toward strategies that encourage and enhance self-paced learning. VWSU suggests integration of different strategies to help create learner-centered instruction, including: replacing lecture with video and multimedia presentations; coordinating small group discussions; connecting activities with specific learning tasks; and utilizing internet-based software to manage the classroom.
Too often, however, this definition of asynchronous learning is not fully realized in online learning environments. Instead, static, traditional paper and pencil courses where students do not interact authentically with the content are delivered. The Saskatchewan Ministry of Education’s correspondence courses epitomize this information-laden, traditional approach, but are often referred to as asynchronous since the learning is done at the student’s own pace.
Even within the structure of Moodle, the web-based course management system used by Sun West, there is a legitimate argument that asynchronous instruction is not as engaging for students and may not reflect the best model of learning for students. Increasing demand for online asynchronous courses in our Division necessitates further exploration of this topic to ensure sound instructional design strategies are implemented during the development of new courses, and when evaluating previously created courses.