Strengths And Weaknesses Of Asynchronous Learning
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What Institutions And Students Should Consider

Asynchronous learning means that the method of delivering information to the student, or the method of the student receiving and reviewing the information of the course, is not synchronized; essentially, you are not in-person or live on a video conference call for the class. Typically, this looks like static content, be that reading materials, written lecture, pre-recorded video lecture, PowerPoint presentations, other videos, and audio presentations such as podcasts. This material is loaded into a Learning Management System (LMS) where the student can access it and review it.

This style of learning presents both strengths and weaknesses, both in consideration of the overall structure of learning and from the student’s perspective. We will address some of those here, and discuss how these can be utilized for the best educational experience possible.

Strengths

One of the greatest advantages of asynchronous learning is the flexibility of the course. A fully asynchronous course has no live video conference requirements. Students are essentially being given a full package of a class all at once, and then expected to work their way through the material. Most asynchronous courses do have various elements on a schedule that are built into each week, such as the discussion board, quizzes, or other assignments. Outside of these deadlines, the students can access the course when it is convenient to their schedules. This means that a student who has a full-time job, is a parent, is a student at another institution, or has any other responsibilities that would make being present in a traditional in-person class difficult, can still participate in this course. This is a huge advantage for some people. This is also an advantage for an institution, as it means that they can widen the student body beyond what might be the traditional undergraduate or graduate students to include many who desire to attain a degree, but would otherwise not have been able to. The flexibility of asynchronous learning can be a victory for both the student and the institution.

Asynchronous courses may greatly appeal to students who tend to be more independent and those who may prefer less social engagement. If a student would typically be happy to sit alone and read and take notes in the privacy of their home as opposed to the experience of a traditional classroom, then this method of engagement may actually increase productivity and allow the student to focus more on the aspects of the material that are more challenging for them. Essentially, this kind of student will likely do better in this kind of learning style than in a traditional classroom environment.

Weaknesses

While asynchronous learning appeals to some for the freedom it allows in approaching the material, it also has some weaknesses, and for some students, that very same flexibility can be a hurdle that is hard to get over. Freedom in approaching the material necessitates that a student is proactive, responsible, and good at time management. A student must be able to determine how much time is needed to review the materials that are part of the course, on top of dedicating time to studying them, and of course, time for completing any assignments. This can be a problem for those who rely on the structure of courses to give them the dedicated time to review material and ask questions during traditional lectures or class meetings. If they are left without this kind of structure and guidance, they can become frustrated and fall behind easily. This places further pressure upon the instructor to practice vigilance in reviewing student activity and monitoring student engagement in their online course. Instructors need to be ready to check in with students and send personalized messages to determine how students are doing with the course even in the first week.

In contrast to what we discussed under strengths, students who are more social in nature and who enjoy the community aspect of the traditional classroom may find this kind of learning environment to be at least disappointing, or worse, ineffective. Students who typically would find that they develop further ideas and are sparked to new curiosities by the comments and questions of their classmates may find this independent environment to be too sterile. In response, they are less motivated in their coursework. In fact, this can lead to the student feeling isolated. Without the accountability of the interactions with friends in the classroom, the student may end up giving up on the course altogether. This is why community development in an online course is so vital, even more so if the course is wholly asynchronous in nature.

A final potential weakness of asynchronous learning has to do with the accessibility of the technology, rather than the learning style itself. Wifi access varies from one location to the next, as do the pieces of hardware used by those accessing the course material. This means that for some, a wholly asynchronous course may be less effective because they are not able to take advantage of the flexibility the course offers. Students who cannot consistently be online may need to download course content as a PDF or other file and read it offline. If the asynchronous course contains video files and other media, this means that the student needs to be able to download this as well to remain informed and engaged in the content. The student may also struggle to participate in required discussions with poor internet connectivity. While this would also be an issue in a synchronous course, students in this situation could typically join a conference call by phone if their web access was limited or not possible. While this is not a problem that an institution can control, it does mean that this kind of course may not be a reasonable option for some students.

Conclusion

Asynchronous learning can be an ideal way for students to engage higher learning from the comfort of their homes, with the flexibility that allows them to work on their own schedule, around the many other responsibilities that they may have. It especially appeals to those who are good independent learners, and to those whose schedules would keep them from being able to pursue education in a traditional course structure. It does have weaknesses, and those should be taken into account and seriously considered by course developers and students alike. Institutions need to be cognizant of their student body and the limitations and potential of asynchronous learning [1]. Students need to be aware of their responsibilities in asynchronous courses and be prepared to remain committed to their independent work.

References:

[1] This article discusses in further detail some of the nuances of students with different learning styles and how they can be successful in an asynchronous course.

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