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Asynchronous learning

Asynchronous learning provides students with opportunities to engage ideas, develop skills, and interact with each other outside of a physical classroom or required synchronous meeting. Just as they do in in-person courses, students in asynchronous learning environments can learn and interact in any number of ways, including through discussion, collaboration, project work, experiential learning, and more.

What is asynchronous learning?

An asynchronous learning environment is one in which students and instructors always interact with others and engage course materials at different times.

Often people assume that asynchronous learning is synonymous with self-paced learning. But credit-bearing courses at UW are not typically self-paced. Self-paced learning is more often found in training settings or continuing education. Undergraduate and graduate students in asynchronous courses should expect to complete academic work with regular deadlines, engage and collaborate with peers in online learning activities, and perhaps even to meet (virtually) with the instructor, just as they would in hybrid or in-person courses.

What do we know about asynchronous learning?

Because many have never taught or been a student in an asynchronous course, some instructors have a lot of assumptions about what is and isn’t possible in asynchronous learning environments. The field of online education has been active since the late 20th century and there’s a lot of clear research on student performance and the student experience. Here’s what the research suggests:

Asynchronous learning is effective.

Research confirms that well-designed asynchronous learning environments can be effective in helping students reach learning outcomes. As with any mode of instruction, student success and satisfaction in asynchronous courses depend upon effective course design, active learning opportunities, meaningful facilitation, and the instructor’s commitment to fostering an inclusive learning community.

Meaningful connection is possible in asynchronous courses.

Online learning environments are full of the same UW students that make in-person classes so engaging. Every day, many of our students (and many of us!) use digital spaces to make connections and work toward shared interests and goals. Through thoughtfully structured activities, collaborative work, and discussions, students in asynchronous learning environments can get to know both their instructors and each other and build personal connections and professional skills that will enrich their lives during and after their time at UW.

Instructors are the most crucial variable in online learner success.

Asynchronous courses do not run themselves. Just as they do in in-person and hybrid courses, instructors play a vital, active role in designing learning experiences and supporting students throughout the learning process. Successful asynchronous courses are the result of instructors who:

  • Deeply engage with their students. From day one and throughout the quarter, instructors work to engage students and establish a strong online presence. Through discussion forums, recorded videos, office hours, and announcements, instructors convey care and provide students with a variety of opportunities for interaction.
  • Carefully design and sequence activities to align with course objectives. Asynchronous activities that are intentionally scaffolded help students construct the knowledge and skills they need to succeed.
  • Employ inclusive, active teaching strategies. Instructors of successful asynchronous courses do more than ask students to passively read text or listen to pre-recorded lectures. Through a variety of formats (e.g., text, audio, visual), engagement opportunities (e.g., interactive lectures, online discussions), and assignments and activities (e.g., essays, presentations, podcasts), instructors create learning environments where a diverse range of learners feel welcome, capable, and valued.
  • Provide timely feedback. By providing students with feedback on their work, whether in discussions, activities, or graded assignments, instructors help students succeed in asynchronous learning environments. Students rely on this feedback to gauge their progress or modify their approach to learning.

Well-designed asynchronous learning empowers students.

When learning asynchronously, students have the opportunity to make choices that can reduce stressors that may exist for them in synchronous or in-person settings. Asynchronous learning environments can make it easier for some students to keep pace with course goals and adjust their learning experience to fit their unique needs and schedules. For some students, asynchronous learning offers the following benefits:

  • Greater accessibility. Asynchronous learning can be particularly beneficial for students who are neurodiverse or have physical disabilities. Students with chronic medical conditions can work when they are feeling well or can work in shorter increments.
  • Greater flexibility. In asynchronous learning environments, students can log in and work on their courses at the time of day that works best for them. This is especially important for students who are negotiating work or family schedules along with course work.
  • More time to learn or review. Some students need more time to process information. In asynchronous learning environments, students have the power to read, think, and respond at a pace that works for them. They can revisit learning materials and review concepts before contributing without worrying about holding up the class or being embarrassed in front of their peers for not grasping things quickly.

Where can I learn more about teaching asynchronously?

If you are preparing to teach an asynchronous course, consider using the Hybrid/Online Course Development and Evaluation Rubric to guide your course planning and design. The rubric reflects practices that have been shown to increase learner engagement and success in online learning environments, including fully asynchronous ones.

Additionally, the Center for Teaching and Learning has a guide to inclusive teaching strategies that can help engage and empower students in any learning modality.