As a working professional, attaining new skills and working toward an advanced degree can be difficult. It may seem daunting to consider going back to school or continuing your education when you are already busy with family, work or other responsibilities. You might not have time to rearrange your schedule to go to campus at a local college or university that might not even offer your desired program.
You also don’t want to move away from your job, family and friends to attend the right school. Meanwhile, even if you do find the right program, your responsibilities might not allow you to participate in courses with rigid schedules.
So what should you do? Many online programs offer unique asynchronous learning environments for people just like you. Instead of participating in a traditional synchronous learning setting where you must be present, physically or virtually, with the instructor and other students, you can choose an online program that offers independent, asynchronous pedagogical practices where you can proceed at your own pace. Continue reading to learn more about this innovative learning style.
What defines asynchronous learning?
In an article for Learning Solutions, Andrew Hughes, president of Designing Digitally and former curriculum evaluator for ACICS, describes asynchronous learning as a method specifically designed for self-study, particularly for online learners. Through this method, students read, watch, interact with and listen to various types of content at their own pace and complete coursework and take tests at their convenience. Instead of having to meet at specific times or finish their work on a strict timetable, asynchronous learning environments allow students to balance their learning with their already busy schedule.
In this manner, students can study at their pace and have the ability to bring in additional resources to boost their knowledge. While some less organized learners do not thrive without constant guidance or interaction, many adult or continuing education students find self-paced learning to be the right choice for their unique educational journey. For example, Michael Higley, NCCE professional learning specialist and Manatee School for the Arts director of assessment and data, writes in eLearning Industry that asynchronous learning allows students to have more time to collaborate, reflect, research and interact with their peers.
Higley explains how in this particular educational setting, learners aren’t just given assignments and not given time to provide peer feedback or really contemplate the nature of their work. Instead, they are encouraged to explain, synthesize, create and apply the concepts they are learning at their own pace, making it easier for busy professionals to gain the skills and knowledge they need without feeling rushed to meet arbitrary deadlines or learn at the instructor’s pace.
Due to the rise in online learning environments, asynchronous learning has never been more popular or easy to pursue. As Stefan Hrastinski, a professor and KTH Royal Institute of Technology director of the Technology for Learning unit, writes in Educause Review, many online programs leverage discussion boards, email and other digital media to support collaboration between learners, their peers and instructors. Most e-learners choose online courses due to their asynchronous benefits, as they may be busy with family, work or other life responsibilities and do not have time to participate in on-campus or highly synchronous educational opportunities.
Unlike traditional learning methods, many students enjoy being able to take the time they need to refine and contemplate their contributions before final submission. Instead of needing to complete assignments quickly or take tests at a particular time, asynchronous learners can avoid unnecessary testing anxiety or stress because they can complete their assignments, tests or group work when it is convenient for them, not for a set syllabus.
How is asynchronous different than synchronous learning?
In contrast, Hughes describes synchronous learning as a more hands-on learning environment where instructors use traditional classroom methods, such as team collaboration or group discussions. These sessions are usually supervised and there is plenty of interaction between instructors and their students, as assignments and learning blocks are completed on a schedule. While synchronous learning usually takes place in a physical classroom, it can be enacted online.
If conducted online, instructors usually facilitate class through a chat room, video conference tool or other online conference application. One of the primary advantages of synchronous learning is that instructors are able to work with students in real time, making it easier for students to receive answers to their questions immediately. However, two significant disadvantages are that students must adhere to a strict timetable and that the learning pace is set by the instructor, not the learners.
In his research on the differences between the two learning styles, Hrastinski found that synchronous is more effective when students are discussing less complex issues, getting acquainted or planning future projects or tasks. Meanwhile, he suggests that asynchronous is more beneficial when students need to take time to reflect on complicated problems or for students who cannot participate in scheduled meetings and require learning flexibility.
Why is asynchronous learning beneficial for students like you?
While both learning styles possess certain benefits based on learning preferences, for most continuing or returning online learners, there is no question that asynchronous is right for them. After all, you just can’t beat the flexibility and self-paced learning environment this style offers.
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