by Lesley Reilly, Senior Learning Experience Designer, WGU Labs
The past couple years have led many educational institutions to diversify the way in which learning is delivered, with a large push toward online delivery. And particularly opportunities for asynchronous learning. Although the large-scale shift toward asynchronous learning may have been initiated by the pandemic, educational institutions are retaining these options after realizing the benefits of delivering learning content in this format.
The shift to online learning was initially jarring for many, but many of the online delivery strategies that educators had to quickly learn have become integral to their practice going forward. And it’s clear that the integration of online learning will benefit many students and faculty in the years to come.
For example, large school districts, like Gwinnett County, GA, have incorporated several digital learning days into the school calendar each year where all students in the county learn from home. On digital learning days, teachers prepare asynchronous content for students and block out small chunks of time for synchronous check-ins. While students learn online, teachers have dedicated planning time in school with their colleagues.
The benefits of asynchronous learning have also been felt in professional development for faculty. For example, Northeast Wisconsin Technical College found it challenging to provide quality onboarding experiences for new faculty to their dispersed campus locations. WGU Labs worked with NWTC to convert long, synchronous Zoom training into engaging, self-paced, asynchronous learning experiences.
As more educational institutions incorporate asynchronous online learning into their delivery models for students and faculty alike, the benefits of doing so are becoming increasingly clear. Here are four of the main benefits of asynchronous learning:
1 – Personalized Pacing
When instruction is delivered only face-to-face, those who may need more time to process information or have questions may be at a disadvantage. With asynchronous online instruction, learning can be more inclusive: learners can proceed through the instructional material at their own pace and engage with the learning experience when they are most prepared to learn.
Asynchronous online instruction also allows learners to return to the content as often as needed to refresh their memory about content they know was previously covered. The online material becomes more than a “one and done” learning experience – it’s now a valuable resource to continuously support learners.
2 – Intentional Integration of Learning Science
The process of creating quality asynchronous learning experiences requires that instructors and learning designers carefully think about what they want learners to understand, and which resources and activities will help them walk away with those skills or understandings. Careful planning is required to ensure that learning objectives clearly specify the desired outcomes, appropriate assessments are used to evaluate whether learners are gaining the intended knowledge and skills, and that content is carefully selected to align to the learning objectives. Each of these steps require a deep understanding of learning science to keep learners engaged and ensure they get the most out of their learning.
3 – Consistency of Design and Delivery
Quality of instruction in face-to-face learning environments relies heavily on the quality of the instructor. When creating asynchronous learning experiences, it is easier to ensure quality and consistency across courses so that all learners have access to the same learning experience. When creating courses, instructional designers work with a template that ensures consistency and guides designers in carefully outlining learning objectives, content, knowledge checks, and assessments that all align. Platforms like Coursera offer learning experiences and professional certificates from a variety of learning providers but all experiences provide a consistent course design while allowing learners to proceed at their own pace.
4 – Easy to Reuse, Update, and Enhance
Once asynchronous learning experiences have been created, it is easy for instructors to update and enhance the course content for future use. Put differently, the content becomes responsive. This allows instructors to meaningfully apply feedback from each instance of the course to make continuous improvements. For example, if end of course feedback highlights that embedded simulations were most effective in clarifying difficult concepts, the instructor can locate or design additional simulations to add into future iterations of the course. Or, if current events apply directly to course topics, those headlines can be incorporated into the content to make it more relevant and relatable for learners.
Asynchronous learning is becoming increasingly popular – and for good reason. Learning is no longer confined to classrooms or time zones. The flexibility of asynchronous learning allows every student to proceed through content at their own pace, spending more time on concepts that interests or challenges them, and breezing through other content as they demonstrate competence through integrated self-assessment activities. These benefits can help to engage learners of all ages, and can provide instructors and designers with new ways to interact and support their students with more personalized learning experiences.
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