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  January 1, 1970

Asynchronous Learning Explained: Examples, Benefits, and More

Asynchronous learning used to be a term that was rarely mentioned by anyone other than professionals in the fields of education, corporate learning and development, and instructional design. However, widespread changes to teaching and learning in the last year have ushered asynchronous learning into the spotlight.

The Zoomification of Education

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic thrust more than one billion students globally into the world of online learning. Teachers went above and beyond to adapt lesson plans designed for learning in a physical classroom to an online learning environment.  With little time to prepare and a limited set of tools at their disposal, however, teachers spent much of their days educating students in real-time video conferences via Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Webex and other popular services.

Live, synchronous online classes that meet at a specific time began to receive mixed reviews from students and parents alike who expressed concern about the quality of education in this environment. Educators, too, acknowledged challenges with student engagement, attendance, assessment, and performance.

Rather than simply accept the “Zoomification of education” as an imperfect and temporary solution that could suffice until it’s safe to return to the classroom, educators have proactively sought ways to adapt and enhance the virtual learning experience.

Now, almost a full year into remote teaching and learning, educators are decreasing their reliance on fully synchronous video instruction and are instead moving towards blending synchronous and asynchronous learning to improve the online learning experience.

Infographic detailing a 4-phase response to COVID-19 in higher education; source: PhilonEdTech

Source: Revised Outlook for Higher Ed’s Online Response to COVID-19

What is asynchronous learning?

Asynchronous learning describes educational activities, discussions, and assignments that engage students in learning at their own pace, on their own time.

Examples of asynchronous learning:

  • Watching pre-recorded lecture videos or lessons
  • Viewing video demonstrations
  • Reading and writing assignments
  • Research projects
  • Student presentations
  • Online class discussions via course discussion boards 
  • Individual or group projects
  • Learning activities such as quizzes, problem solving, and games

The Benefits of Asynchronous Learning

For remote students, asynchronous learning not only helps alleviate the “Zoom fatigue” that can lead them to disengage, but also offers flexibility to personalize learning to suit their specific needs. Asynchronous learning offers a decisively effective learning experience that enables students to benefit from the following:

  • Never miss a class
  • Learn at any pace
  • Personalize and optimize the learning experience
  • Revisit lessons as needed to improve comprehension and retention
  • Take advantage of extra time to process, practice, and respond
  • Adapt learning to self-accommodate for a disability

Of course, synchronous learning also offers advantages that contribute to student success. In live sessions, either in-person or online, students can engage in real-time social interactions and discussions, and they can get immediate feedback and guidance from instructors.

Synchronous Learning vs. Asynchronous Learning

Experts in online learning argue it’s the way a course is designed, not whether it’s asynchronous or synchronous, that determines whether students will succeed. Since students can benefit from both asynchronous and synchronous learning, many emerging pedagogies utilize both types of instruction. 

In the flipped classroom, for example, instructors assign pre-recorded lessons to students to watch on their own before class instead of presenting a didactic lecture live. During synchronous class time, instructors engage students in active learning and discussions, guiding them through critical thinking activities in which they can apply what they’ve learned. According to the Flipped Learning Network, 71% of teachers who flipped their classes noticed improved grades, and 80% reported improved student attitudes as a result. 

HyFlex or Hybrid course design models, which have grown significantly in popularity since the start of the pandemic, provide students with a flexible course structure that gives them the option of attending live sessions in the classroom (synchronous), learning online (asynchronous), or both, according to their personal need or preference. This model makes class sessions and course materials available so students can access them online at any time or in-person. All students can achieve the same learning objectives in a HyFlex course, regardless of the path taken.

Zoom University vs. Panopto University

TechCrunch credits the rise of the “Zoom University” to a pandemic response from universities that simply weren’t ready to support remote learning at scale. Almost a year into the pandemic, universities are working diligently to build a better virtual classroom with the right mix of synchronous and asynchronous learning technologies.

The Stanford Daily recently published a study that analyzed students’ preferences for synchronous and asynchronous lectures. As attendance waned in live Zoom classes throughout the semester, the decline in attendance was countered by the number of students viewing recorded classes in Panopto. The results suggest that a majority of students prefer asynchronous Panopto recordings to synchronous Zoom classes, leading the study’s author, Benjamen Gao, to posit the following:

Should Stanford be a Zoom University or a Panopto University?

Panopto’s own data show a similar trend in demand for asynchronous video learning. Over the course of the Fall 2020 semester, the number of class recordings uploaded to Panopto increased 522% over the previous year, with over 3 billion minutes streamed by users. Additional data showed that over 37% of students who participated in a live, synchronous class also rewatched the class later on their own.

Related Reading: Zoom vs. Panopto: What’s the Difference?

Watch an asynchronous video learning assignment in Panopto:

Pushing Innovation in Education Forward

Despite the hardships impacting teachers, students and parents through the continuing pandemic, their resilience is nonetheless pushing innovation in education forward faster than ever before, and at unprecedented scale. 

As schools across the globe adopt innovative pedagogical approaches and educational technologies that allow for real-time transformation, it’s students who will ultimately come out ahead. The full breadth of skills and competencies they’ll acquire through this pivotal moment in their lives — from problem solving to collaboration — stands to make them successful lifelong learners, able to easily adapt to an ever-changing world.

CASE STUDY: Leaning into asynchronous learning to optimize the experience for remote students

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