Asynchronous interactions allow students to join and participate in class activities on their own schedule (though usually by a deadline). An example of asynchronous learning is a pre-recorded lecture that students watch followed by discussion board interactions. Some asynchronous learning is self-paced or self-study – meaning, no peer or instructor interaction – which you may have experienced if you’ve ever had to complete a workplace training module. However, we want to stress that asynchronous learning can also be active and completed in a learning community of peers and instructors. In this cookbook, we offer recipes for the latter: asynchronous online learning that is designed for peer and instructor interaction, but which takes place over time, instead of at the same time. For all of the recipes presented in this cookbook, interaction is a key ingredient.
Whether you are designing a hybrid course (with some in-person and some online activities), or a fully online course, having regular, meaningful asynchronous activities in place in which everyone can participate, means fewer interruptions to learning should you need to pivot based on changes in the learning context (illness, shutdowns, etc.). If students are already using social annotation tools to discuss the weekly readings, that’s one less adjustment you need to make.
And we know that synchronous learning may not be the best for all students, all of the time. (And asynchronous learning is the preferred mode for some students all of the time, for example, for students who have full time jobs.) There are a number of barriers to full and equitable participation in synchronous learning, including time zone, Internet access, accessibility, and Zoom fatigue.
Blending synchronous and asynchronous activities provides the opportunity for all students to fully participate in your course. We’d like to think about synchronous and asynchronous as working together, rather than at opposite and opposing ends of a spectrum. Research indicates that blending synchronous and asynchronous interactions in remote/online courses can promote social presence and combat students’ feelings of disconnectedness while supporting student learning.
Daniel Stanford of DePaul University created the Bandwidth/Immediacy Matrix as a way of visualizing activities that span the range from synchronous (high immediacy) to asynchronous (low immediacy) as well as high bandwidth and low bandwidth. You might consider plotting your class activities in the matrix, aiming for a spread of activities across the 4 quadrants.
In Camp Design Online, we offer some big-picture theory and practice for creating engaging online courses, based on research and good practice. The activities in this cookbook draw on many of the principles we share in Camp Design, packaged into recipes that provide concise and specific instructions for adding asynchronous activities to a course.
Most of the activities in this cookbook can be used in any discipline; however, online learning provides unique challenges for teaching foreign languages, for performance based disciplines such as interpreting, the performing arts, and teacher education, and for lab disciplines. You may wish to refer to the resources linked below for a general overview of the types of asynchronous activities that work well for these disciplines, and then return to the cookbook to find out how to put the activities into practice.