Asynchronous learning refers to instructional approaches that do not occur in the same time and place as formalized classroom teaching. The term is commonly applied in the context of digital and online learning platforms.
The educational content comes in the form of pre-recorded lessons that students can complete independently. Assessment can also occur online through standardized exams which are marked and scored automatically by a pre-written program.
Students can register for a class and receive instruction based on their schedule and individual learning goals. There is no need to attend a “class” at a specific time and students can participate while located anywhere in the world.
Asynchronous Learning Examples
1. Flipped Classrooms
One of the most common ways in which asynchronous learning is embraced by educators is through the flipped classroom model.
In this model, teacher give students learning materials that they must consume at home. This might include reading from a textbook, watching videos, or using pre-teaching strategies.
Subsequently, teachers and students engage in discussion of the learning content in class time.
The benefit of this model is that teachers and students spend more time in class discussing content already learned rather than spending time consuming new content such as watching in-class videos.
However, the downside is the out-of-classroom learning is asynchronous. If the student reading the pre-learning materials or watching videos is confused, they don’t have discussion time with the teacher then and there.
Podcasts enjoyed rapid rise in popularity in the first few decades of the 21st Century, and a wide range of educational podcasts exist on just about any topic and niche out there.
Podcasts are great for learning because you can listen to a lecture, discussion, or interview about your topic of interest at your time of choosing.
However, they are asynchronous in the sense that you can’t engage in two-way communication with the teacher. The learning, in other words, is asynchronous. If you want to seek clarification or ask further questions, the best you can do is email the podcaster and wait for a response.
A Slideshow is a digital presentation of photos and information that can be accessed at any time online. Viewers of the slideshow can control the pace of the information being presented by clicking on designated icons in the presentation.
The designer of the slideshow can incorporate audio narrations of key content or background music to make the presentation more engaging. Slideshows are particularly effective when dealing with emotional content that is not heavily text-dependent. The New York Times incorporated a slideshow in their multimedia story Snow Fall.
Some companies like to incorporate slideshows into their training programs or onboarding for new employees. This allows a standardization of material and doesn’t require the direct presence of HR personnel.
Slideshows are less expensive to produce than videos and there are many free programs available that allow novice users to create compelling content.
4. Email Exchanges With Teachers
Another example of asynchronous learning that can take place directly between a teacher and student is email. This allows both the instructor and the student to engage the learning process at a time that is convenient for each.
This can be particularly important in distance learning programs where students may be located in remote regions. Students can send questions to their instructor, who can then reply with a detailed response that addresses the issues raised directly. The instructor also has the option of embedding key links or attaching appropriate content to the email.
The email exchanges have several advantages. Because email can be accessed through mobile devices, this offers a great deal of convenience. In addition, emails provide a record of exchanges that may be useful later.
5. Online Course Platforms
Today, there are numerous online education platforms that offer digital courses to anyone interested.
The topics range from Python and coding, to traditional university courses on leadership styles and marketing. Just about any topic offered at a university can be found.
The courses can be designed by anyone and placed on a platform made available to the public. Interested individuals can register and pay for a course, and then take it at any time, from any location. The degree of difficulty of the courses varies widely and is completely dependent on the course creator.
Many also offer assessment procedures that include quizzes and exams, that can lead to certification in specialty areas.
While most people consider YouTube an entertainment platform, a great deal of its content is educational. It is possible to learn about an incredibly wide range of subjects by just typing in a few key search terms.
Some of those subjects can be relatively harmless, such as how to bake bread or prepare a holiday feast. Other subjects can be more serious and involved, such as how to renovate a house or install a home security system.
Because the videos are stored online, they can be accessed at anytime and from any location with internet access.
The only disadvantage is that there is no control over the quality of the information presented.
Since anyone can upload a video, there is no guarantee that the recipe for bread is going to be to your tastes, and of course, before renovating a house or rewiring the electricity, it would be best to consult an experienced professional.
7. Discussion Boards
A discussion board is an online platform where members can communicate with each other regarding various educational issues.
They can pose questions to each other and offer insights into content that might not be possible in a traditional classroom setting.
Members can offer clarifications regarding definitions, give varying perspectives on issues, or suggest links to additional content that can shed light on confusing topics.
Because members can access the discussion board at any time and through mobile devices, there is a great deal of flexibility.
Discussion boards can also help foster a sense of community among members. Unfortunately, some members may offer information on a topic that is not entirely accurate. Information that does not come from an expert can be misleading and may lead to inaccuracies in understanding the material in question.
A webinar is an internet-based video conference that connects a host with an audience. Because the webinar is online, it can be accessed by viewers from anywhere in the world.
The host can speak directly to viewers live, switch to a video or slideshow, in addition to allowing guest speakers at other locations co-host the event.
Viewers can ask questions directly to the hosts or participate in discussions amongst themselves in a chat box.
Webinars can be used to teach, market goods and services, or conduct live interviews with experts or professionals in given domains.
Because they can be recorded, hosts can place their webinar online for others to access at their convenience.
9. Social Media Groups
Social media groups contain like-minded individuals that are interested in a particular topic or profession.
For example, members of a specific profession may form a social media group that is only open to individuals within the industry.
Members can exchange information, news and industry trends and developments and share opinions about issues that affect the industry.
These groups are very beneficial because they facilitate the dissemination of information that some may not have easy access to. They also foster a sense of community among members and help new professionals build a network of professional connections. Aspiring professionals can learn about job opportunities or training options that they might not otherwise be aware of.
There can also be academic benefits to incorporating social media into class structure. Northey et al. (2003) examined the level or student engagement when incorporating Facebook into a university marketing course. Their results found that “When Facebook activity is explicitly connected to course content and positioned as a component of the learning ecosystem, it promotes perceived engagement” (p. 177).
10. Quick Reference Guides
A quick reference guide is a concise description or summary of comprehensive training content.
Because it is written clearly and concisely, it is a great way to train new employees or new customers on how to use a piece of equipment or follow a particular procedure.
A quick reference guide can be especially helpful if you have a large number of new customers or employees that are spread out in various locations. Training all of them simultaneously may simply not be feasible. Therefore, a quick reference guide can be used at scale to train an entire workforce.
Placing a guide online that all can access allows everyone to be trained at their own pace. There is no need for a supervisor to be present and thus, training is very efficient.
11. Google Drive
Google Drive is a cloud-based storage platform where individuals can share and store resources. Users can store files, photos, word documents, spreadsheets, and presentations.
The Google Drive suite of programs includes Google Docs, Google Slides, and Google Sheets. Since the platform can be accessed at any time by any approved user, it allows people located in different time zones and physical locations to work at times that are convenient to them.
Although often used for collaborative work, it can also be used by educators and businesses to disseminate educational resources to students or training participants. Students and employees can access the content at their convenience and process the materials provided on a schedule that is convenient for them.
12. Online Training Simulations
A training simulation is an activity that is designed to imitate real-world situations. Employees or training participants engage the simulation to hone their skills in dealing with matters that may occur on the job.
By placing the simulations online, remote workers can experience the training at their convenience. Their performance is recorded and can be accessed by designated supervisors, which can then point out errors and offer suggestions for improvement.
For example, in Hinton et al. (2017), nurses participated in medical-surgical test scenarios with manikins in a laboratory while being observed by experienced professionals. Using a simulation offers many advantages, as explained by the authors: “Evaluation of clinical performance in authentic settings is possible using realistic simulations that do not place patients at risk” (p. 432).
Because the simulations are online and in a digital format, employees can engage the simulations repeatedly and improve their skills over time.
This kind of asynchronous learning is especially useful for training personnel in emergency management scenarios such as those involving hazardous materials or hospital ER’s.
Asynchronous Learning Strengths
1. Greater Access
The main strength of asynchronous learning is convenient access. Because the content is usually in a digital format and stored on the Internet, it can easily be accessed by anyone with an internet connection.
This means that the content can be utilized at any time from just about anywhere in the world. Users that have disabilities do not need to travel to benefit from the content and those with limited resources for travel will not be excluded either.
2. Greater Flexibility
Ease of access also means substantially greater flexibility in use.
Users can work around their schedules to engage the content and benefit from the learning experience. This means that individuals with full-time jobs or other responsibilities can participate when their schedule permits.
This is an especially beneficial feature for non-traditional students, single parents, or those with particular health needs that limit their mobility or availability in some manner.
3. Greater Usability
Because the content is often stored online, it can be downloaded or operated at the point of use. This means that a user can rewind the content and listen or view it as many times as necessary.
Greater usability means that individuals can control the pace of learning.
For those that need more time, all they have to do is pause the presentation and process the information at their own speed. This is a particularly valuable feature when dealing with training in emergency procedures or other complex subjects.
4. Participation Quality
Participation can be of higher quality in an asynchronous learning environment for a variety of reasons.
First, each participant may focus their comments or output on areas of the problem/assignment which they feel they have the greatest level of expertise.
According to Morse (2003), “Asynchronous communication networks tend to promote richer discussions than face-to-face exchanges regarding the same problem/assignment” (p. 39). Anything that increases the quality of participation represents a valuable use of resources.
Asynchronous Learning Weaknesses
1. Content Quality
The biggest weakness of some asynchronous learning has to do with the quality of content.
For example, in discussion boards or social media groups, there is often very little oversight over the information posted. There is no system of checks and balances in place, which means that anyone can post any information they wish.
Moreover, with some online education platforms, any individual can create a course and offer it to the general public. There is no guarantee that the information presented in the course is 100% accurate.
2. Delayed Feedback
In many forms of asynchronous learning, feedback can be slow.
Users may ask questions regarding a training procedure or online version of a course, but the response to those questions may be delayed by several hours or even days.
For example, if the instructor and students are located in vastly different time zones, it may be at least one full day before a response is provided.
This is not a problem in traditional learning environments where students and instructor are located in the same room during instruction.
3. Can Decrease Motivation
Some students and employees thrive when engaged in direct interaction with instructors or supervisors.
Their enthusiasm is driven by the dynamics of personal interaction. Unfortunately, when that interaction is missing, they may lose interest and motivation.
At the same time, others may need the presence of authority figures to keep themselves on-task and motivated. Without a supervisor keeping an eye on participants, it can be difficult for some to take training as seriously as they should.
4. Technological Frustrations
Access to stored content requires the use of appropriate and functioning technology.
This can be an issue for many who reside in remote locations with spotty internet, or those with limited financial resources that force them to rely on outdated equipment.
“For any number of reasons, computer-mediated communication technology is at times unreliable, unresponsive or uncooperative in meeting the expectations of users. It is sufficient to note that these unexpected difficulties can lead to inconvenience, frustration and, if left unaddressed, disillusion with the delivery medium” (Morse, 2003, p. 39).
Asynchronous learning offers many advantages to students and employees. The ease of use, flexibility of participation, and convenience means that individuals can benefit at any time from just about anywhere in the world.
The variety of forms available also offers a great deal of flexibility in how asynchronous learning is manifest. From stored videos to live webinars, to social media groups to discussion boards, the options can increase participation, make the participation more dynamic, and increase feelings of belonging to the community or group.
However, disadvantages can also present difficulties. Technology does not always work smoothly, individuals in remote locations may have difficulty with access, and less-advantaged groups may have insufficient equipment to ensure smooth operational experiences.
Cifuentes, L., & Yu-chih, D. S. (2001). Teaching and learning online: A collaboration between U.S. and Taiwanese students. Journal of Research on Computing in Education, 33(4), 456-474.
Hinton, J., Mays, M., Hagler, D., Randolph, P., Brooks, R., DeFalco, N., Kastenbaum, B., & Miller, K. (2017). Testing nursing competence: Validity and reliability of the nursing performance profile. Journal of Nursing Measurement, 25(3), 431. https://doi.org/10.1891/1061-3718.104.22.1681
Morse, K. (2003). Does one size fit all? Exploring asynchronous learning in a multicultural environment. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 7(1), 37-55.
Northey, G., Bucic, T., Chylinski, M., & Govind, R. (2015). Increasing student engagement using asynchronous learning. Journal of Marketing Education, 37(3), 171-180.