Sunday, February 21, 2021

Why Completely Asynchronous Doesn't Work for PL

Got your attention? Great. This sounds like an extreme statement, and I agree it is. I make this statement based on my experience of being a student taking asynchronous sessions and as a coach designing professional learning opportunities for educators. Also when I say 'doesn't work' what I mean is that it isn't the most optimal design for motivating and engaging learning. Let me explain.

It's all about connection

I believe the most critical component of any learning environment is the connection and community that makes learning real. When I am in a professional learning session, say a workshop or conference session for example, I get more out of it when I somehow connect to the other participants and the person leading the session. Feeling this connection is definitely possible in an online synchronous session. This type of session might start off with a 'how are you feeling' today rating discussion.

Then could involve breakout room discussions, sharing, and/or collaborating using various strategies. These types of activities help create a community and connections.

It has been my experience that in a totally asynchronous session or online class no matter how many activities you build in to try and get the students to interact, it often will simply become an obligation and not build community. For example, if I'm a student in a totally asynchronous online class I'm more likely to just check off my requirements. If I need to post in the discussion and respond to two of my fellow students I'll do it, but will I do it to build relationships or simply to check off the task and move on? I feel more often than not in this type of environment it is the latter.

Do asynchronous classes have their place in our learning plans?  Sure, if all you want to do is provide students with a repository of materials and tasks for them to complete then this might be a possible route. An example might be the required trainings for the year to fulfill state and federal employee requirements. If all you need is to prove that the employee saw, read, and /or listened to the materials then asynchronous is an easy solution. But, if you want a dynamic collaborative learning environment I just don't think it is the way to go.

So what might be the solution?

Here's what I have found that has worked when designing online sessions for educators, especially in the last year.
  • Create a session that includes both synchronous and asynchronous components.
  • Conduct an initial 'kickoff' synchronous session where the participants can meet and start getting to know each other. They also get an overview of class expectations and know how to get support as they need it.
  • Design asynchronous work that allows the authentic application of the learning goals. Also, have them be prepared to share when we meet again.
  • Weekly check-ins work best. If the class is 3 weeks long then you would design an initial kickoff, with two more sessions, one every week. These sessions would include a scaffolded approach, as well as time for sharing and collaborating. (to continue building your community)
With this type of example, I could have an online discussion as part of my asynchronous work, but since I have met my fellow students and started to build relationships I'm more apt to truly engage in the discussions.

Would love to hear your thoughts on this. How do you design engaging professional learning for educators online? How do you create and build a collaborative learning community? Have you been successful with asynchronous sessions where educators are actively engaged with the content and each other? Please share in the comments.


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