By far the most popular blog on this site (in recent years) is the The Unproductive Debate of Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Learning post that I wrote right as COVID hit, a post that already seems out of date. In a close second is the Scheduling Remote Learning to Allow for “Flow”. In both posts, I argued that there was a role for asynchronous learning, especially if it is structured in such a way that it guides students from novice to expert with clear and concise instructions, slowly removing scaffolds as learners progress through a carefully sequenced module, and embeds ample opportunities for practice, feedback, and interaction. That is to say, great asynchronous instruction looks a lot like great live teaching but without the Zoom meeting.

As a former elementary teacher, a lot of this advice was directed towards elementary school contexts, where classroom teachers tend to have a great deal of flexibility over the way that the week’s lessons are scheduled. Rather than running the students through a fully-synchronous Zoom conveyor belt, I argued that teachers should choose between synchronous or asynchronous by determining which format best matched how the content is best learned at any given point in time in the learning progression.

I’ve since moved from elementary to directing an edtech program at a middle/high school that uses 55 minute lesson blocks. Without the flexibility to dynamically adjust the schedule, some teachers have, up till this point, exclusively taught synchronous lessons. My initial feeling about that is, honestly, as long as students are learning… you do you. That may not be how I would teach if I were in their position, but I’m not in their position.

Lately, however, teachers are starting to view remote learning as a bit of a drag. Those of us who have been in continuous remote learning mode since March of last year are exhausted on so many fronts, from the lack of clarity from our leaders, to the endless holding pattern about when and how we are going to reopen, to confusion about where we are in line for a vaccine. Reports from students and colleagues that they are burned out are becoming harder to ignore, and all those other school responsibilities, such as updating parents on student progress and marking assessments, are starting to pile up. It’s at this point that I see the humble asynchronous module providing some much needed reprieve before the next phase comes, whatever and whenever that will be.

I recognize that it’s a new experience to create an asynchronous module for some teachers. To help, I created this little infographic to give teachers some ideas for ways to structure a 55 minute asynchronous lesson, and I’m providing opportunities for training and co-planning of lessons in the coming days. Feel free to share this with your faculty if you find it useful.

– Zach Groshell @mrzachg

5 thoughts on “Asynchronous Learning: The Answer to Mid-Year Monotony and Teacher Burn-Out?

  1. The ability to define what constitutes “clear and concise instructions” is both the key and a sticky wicket. As an educator, and a parent of primary school age children, I have run the 2020 gauntlet. Any effort to free students from the rigidity of synchronous lessons and toward self-paced, productive learning needs to be mindful of the variables at play in comprehending instructions.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Right, and it’s tough. I encourage teachers to use the student view and try out all of their lessons that way, but it isn’t second nature. If you’ve only taught in person you’ve likely relied on verbal instructions and clarifying questions in real time, something not available in asynchronous

      Like

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