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Asynchronous vs. Synchronous Learning-Part 2: How and When to Use


In Part 1 of this post, we discussed the use of both methods of learning in our COVID 19 education space. In Part 2, I wanted us to delve in to when and how both learning methodologies can be used. Full transparency, prior to COVID19, even as an online instructor, I never really thought there was much of a difference in the 2 types of learning, much less did I think about the recommended and optimal ways to use them. I think it was important that I took on an online instructor role, as it allowed me to see the classroom from a different perspective. The online classroom is vastly different from the in-person classroom, for obvious reasons, with the main one being there is a screen separating you from your class but there are also other caveats. I know there was a bit of a time lag between this post and part 1. Between managing our 3 kids and their remote learning plans and building out new offerings, it has been a busy few months but during these times, one thing I have noticed is that most folks are pretty forgiving to very unforeseen circumstances. Without further adieu, let’s explore!

First and foremost, referring to one of my prior blogs (“Online vs. Remote Learning-What’s the Difference?”), Educators need to clearly delineate online learning vs remote learning. It is very easy and tempting to use the two interchangeably, but they are 2 distinct modes of learning.

Beginning with synchronous learning…

This is remote learning. This is virtual learning where the class is set for a designated time, day etc and the hope is that everyone-students and Educator-meet at the designated time and day and conduct a live class, in the virtual space. This is where the Educator can teach, ask questions and students can even raise their hand (in some platforms) to respond, etc. As mentioned in Part 1 of this blog series, there are pros and cons to using the synchronous learning method but when is the right time?

When to use it…

We saw this being used, in many cases, as an emergency response to schools and training departments having to shut down, but then it continued. Some leaders in the education space question the sustainability of this method. With live/remote/synchronous teaching, during everything that is going on around the world, we are now asking our students to join us, through a screen, and be fully engaged? A formidable task but one that can be accomplished…if done right.

Synchronous learning can be suitable in situations such as seminar or courses with a lab component, even for orientations and onboarding. Since these learners were supposed to be in these classes anyway, many Educators feel that this should be seamless but for a lot of learners, their home or remote access does not necessarily mirror their in-person accessibility and attention. There are some who must share devices with multiple people in the home. For now, we can’t even go to our favorite coffee shop and enjoy a latte while learning, in order to be away from of all the distractions that home life brings to the table. While it does foster a sense of community and being in the classroom, we all know its not the same but by using certain tools to engage your live learner, we can at least try to get a version of engagement in the remote arena.

Tools to engage the live learner…

When going the synchronous learning route, something else to keep in mind is that your traditional 2-3 hour lectures cannot be upheld in the virtual, remote learning arena. You will lose your learners. What needs to happen is that these courses that are typically that long in duration need to be reviewed and chunked into smaller, more digestible portions and delivered over time—perhaps a few times a week for that one course topic vs in one very full day. Tools such as Zoom, Google Meet or Microsoft Teams are highly effective platforms to use for synchronous, remote learning. Zoom even has a Whiteboard feature for extra emphasis on concepts. These tools are not meant for content delivery, they are best used in an interactive manner, which separates them from your Google Classrooms and learning management systems. Not all students will be able to partake in synchronous learning, as many have found out during the thick of the pandemic. Many might be managing other responsibilities, have low bandwidth, be ill themselves, etc. This is when the option for asynchronous learning can be a huge benefit to your learner.

Asynchronous learning….

This is online learning in its truest form. It is the thoughtful, time-based, planned out approach to learning, where content is vetted ahead of time to meet course objectives and outcomes. Due to COVID19, Educators who went this route now had to have content posted and ready within incredible time frames, which is suboptimal but was done, in many cases, out of necessity. Many Educators were advised to “just get it online”, so this immediate action can be confused with how asynchronous learning is facilitated. the content is typically posted to a learning management system with deadlines for completion. It is absent of an actual Educator in real time; however, the Educator needs to continue to be in the picture and ready to answer questions or concerns, usually in the form of office hours. There are some critics that will say that asynchronous learning, in general, can be of lower quality and it is often not as highly regarded as Instructor led formats, however there are plenty of robust and rigorous online courses that think of almost everything to keep the learner engaged and for content to be retained. Effective asynchronous learning usually involves the influence and guidance of instructional designers, as they are typically well curated and created over a matter of months, with (ideally) multiple QA checks to make sure everything is working and displaying as it should. There are some instances where the same Educator who created the content (hopefully alongside an instructional designer) is also facilitating the class-not an ideal situation but it happens.

When to use online (asynchronous) learning…

This is best used for content that does not require immediate interaction or feedback. Some of our courses on ethics or policy, for example would be good to format asynchronously. Honestly, any course can be done asynchronously but some have a better fit for this format than others. This method works well for those that cannot make it to a class (albeit virtual) at the set date/time. It also fosters a community among the learners in that there are often discussion forums that are assigned and even group work can be assigned online.

Tools to engage learners…

As mentioned, often times there are discussion boards and forums that are assigned to the learner, where they are expected to answer questions based on either a video that was assigned to watch, a chapter they needed to read or articles, etc. There are also papers and projects that can be assigned, keeping in mind that theses classes depend heavily on clear deadlines and clear objectives. Most often, learning management systems are used but absent of those, Educators can use Google Classroom to post and assign content. There is often a misconception that since it is asynchronous, there is no room for it to be interactive but that is certainly not the case. “Add-ons” on Google Slides can make the slides interactive as well for the online learner. Features such as Pear Deck, provide slides that allow the learner to input information right on the slide deck, which can then be shared with the Educator or fellow learners feedback. We can use platforms such as Voicethread or Flipgrid, which have our learners record video of their presentations and even can be used for discussion forums vs the typically typing out very wordy responses to the question(s) posed. Students can comment right on Voicethread to another students submission as if in real time. It works well for group projects in the online/asynchronous arena, especially during this period of social distancing, where groups cannot meet to discuss project plans. Even us as Educators can use video or audio when explaining assignments. The expectations for certain online assignments, when only available in written form, can be easily misunderstood. I have used video to explain an online group assignment and it was very well received. Feedback is also huge in asynchronous learning. Since the Educator is not there in real-time to provide real time feedback, it must be given once the assignment has been submitted. I cannot stress how important it is to provide pointed, detailed feedback to your learners, especially in this space, as they are in cyberspace and not sure if they have met expectations for the assignment or not.


In the end…

Think positive…at least this is not the 1918 pandemic where we had no technology whatsoever to keep us and our learners accountable and actually learning. There might have been a brief pause when COVID hit us in the very beginning but, as I have mentioned in prior blog posts, now that the “emergency”, so to speak, has dissipated for some, expectations will run high as to how Educators will pivot and look to change how Education is being delivered. Both options may not work for everyone. Some combination of both synchronous and asynchronous learning is ideal.

Be patient and have an open mind. Rome wasn’t built in one day…nor was it built in a summer between semesters. This will take time but try to put forth your best effort. This is new to everyone involved so it’s the perfect time to try new modalities and innovations to enhance the learning process. Definitely does not need to be super high tech, low tech done well gives good outcomes too!

Bring your learners along for the ride! Actively involve your learners in your tech journey and that will enhance their patience levels with their new learning conditions.

Seeking your own professional development is key. IT, instructional design and tech teams are avenues one can explore to get better equipped for a change in Education delivery, but keep in mind that those departments are for entire organizations, not just for Nursing Education and Professional Development.

ProDevo Design and Consulting can help. Feel free to reach out if you are an Educator and need assistance with using ed tech tools that will retain content and keep learner engagement, even if it is behind a screen.


**Coming soon! ProDevo will be providing virtual ed tech coaching and consulting sessions for Nurse Educators. Look out for more details coming soon on your major social media channels!


Until next time…


References:

Flaherty, C. (29 April 2020). Zoom Boom: Synchronous Instruction is hot right now, but is it sustainable? Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from https://insidehighered.com/news/2020/04/29/synchronous-instruction-hot-right-now-it-sustainable?utm_source=Inside+Higher+Ed&utm_campaign=bb542191d1-InsideDigitalLearning_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_1fcbc04421-bb542191d1-236323205&mc_cid=bb542191d1&mc_eid=34b01e22c3

Hodges, C., Moore, S., Lockee, B., Trust, T., & Bond, A. (27 March 2020). The Difference Between Emergency Remote Teaching and Online Learning. EDUCAUSE. Retrieved from https://er.educause.edu/articles/2020/3/the-difference-between-emergency-remote-teaching-and-online-learning

Thackerberry, A. (20 March 2020). Remote in a Time of Pandemic: Six Considerations As We Adapt to COVID19. Retrieved from https://evolllution.com/revenue-streams/distance_online_learning/remote-in-a-time-of-pandemic-six-considerations-as-we-adapt-to-covid-19/

Young, J. (8 April 2020). When to Teach Online Classes Live and When to Let Students Learn on Demand. EdSurge. Retrieved from https://www.edsurge.com/news/2020-04-08-when-to-teach-online-classes-live-and-when-to-let-students-learn-on-demand

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